Monthly Archives: August 2018

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 31, 2018

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


State leaders have been busy talking about the issue of school safety this week. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott’s office released a “School Safety Action Plan Summary” as a follow up to its previously released “School and Firearm Safety Action Plan.” It outlines measures being implemented by school districts to address violence in schools. Highlights include offering educators training in Mental Health First Aid to help them identify the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse issues through a course eligible for eight hours of Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credit. Another program featured in the report is the School Marshal program that trains school employees authorized to carry arms on how to respond to violent incidents in schools.

State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich was a part of a separate school safety discussion earlier this week in Montgomery, Alabama. Bahorich participated in a federal panel facilitated by the Federal Commission on School Safety in which she spoke on the need to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and seeking mental health treatment. You can read more on these school safety discussions in our blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell here.


Gov. Greg Abbott has been making the rounds in recent weeks to visit with school leaders and others to discuss school finance and teacher compensation, in particular. Based on some of his comments, including those written in a new op-ed piece, the governor has seemingly become a proponent of increased school funding and property tax relief. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains why the governor’s recent comments deserve a closer look in the context of recent legislative actions. Check out Mark’s blog post here.


ELECTION UPDATE: Important races will decided in the general election slated for November. What can you do now to prepare? First, make sure you are registered to vote before the deadline. Ask friends, family members, and colleagues if they are registered.

Take the educator’s oath pledging to vote and visit the website of our Texas Educators Vote coalition to find additional nonpartisan election resources.

Research the candidates to find out where they stand on public education issues. ATPE’s Teach the Vote website features profiles of every candidate running for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, and Lieutenant Governor. Profiles include incumbents’ voting records, responses to ATPE’s candidate surveys, contact information for the campaigns, information about noteworthy endorsements by other organizations, and a calendar of events submitted by the candidates themselves or third parties. Have the candidates running in your area responded to our candidate survey? If not, ask them why not! Invite them to contact ATPE at government@atpe.org for additional information.

Dates to put on your calendar now:

  • Last day to register to vote in the general election: Oct. 9, 2018
  • Early voting: Oct. 22 – Nov. 2, 2018
  • Election Day: Nov. 6, 2018

This week two national union-affiliated educator groups in Texas filed a lawsuit against Commissioner of Education Mike Morath over his interpretation of a new law regarding school district-charter school partnerships. Passed by the legislature in 2017, Senate Bill (SB) 1882 identifies a path for school districts to partner with an open-enrollment charter school or other entity to operate one or more of its campuses. While originally intended as a lifeline for campuses facing harsh progressive sanctions under Texas’s accountability system, the new law has been eyed by some districts as a potential strategy for accessing additional funding outside of the typical school finance structure, and in some instances at the expense of school employees’ rights and protections.

The unions’ lawsuit claims that commissioner’s rules adopted after SB 1882 was passed last year violate state law. While ATPE shares concerns about how the district-charter partnership law is being interpreted and used, we do not believe it is likely that the courts will intervene in this matter. For that reason, instead of pursuing costly litigation that is unlikely to produce a remedy, we’ve chosen to support the local advocacy efforts of our members while continuing to lobby for state-level legislative improvements to our school finance and accountability systems.

ATPE supports innovation but believes it need not come at the expense of educators. While maybe not as splashy as well-publicized legal filings, our success in defeating local efforts that could strip away educators’ rights proves the effectiveness of our strategy at the local level. ATPE is also working hard to shape the debate around school finance and bills that are expected to be filed in the 2019 legislative session, urging lawmakers and those vying to become lawmakers this election cycle to prioritize funding for such critical needs as educator compensation, protecting the TRS pension fund, and providing affordable healthcare for active and retired school employees.

Stay tuned to our blog here at Teach the Vote for the latest news about our advocacy efforts around this and other issues.

 


 

Does Gov. Abbott want to spend more on schools?

Election season is truly magical.

There’s just something about the seething mercury, the colorful proliferation of yard signs, and the specter of an existential showdown that awakens a – dare we call it – miraculous clarity in political combatants seeking votes.

When else can one witness folks who’ve spent the past 20 months fighting in bitter opposition to a particular set of constituents suddenly discover a deep love for the values they hold? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

It’s no surprise that we’re now hearing support for improving the school finance system from unexpected corners. To a certain degree, it’s positive evidence that educators are being heard, and that the powers-that-be realize that there is more to gain by working with the education community than working to dismantle it.

That doesn’t mean that efforts to dismantle it behind the scenes will stop. In politics as in statistics, things tend to revert toward the mean. The governing happens long after the polls close. Nonetheless, election season opens a brief window of opportunity to use our seat at the table to advance the conversation.

Let’s apply this lens to the latest Dallas Morning News opinion column by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), with the promising headline, “Texas must boost school funding.” The key passage summarizing Gov. Abbott’s message is as follows:

“We need to pay our best teachers more, reward teachers and districts for student growth, prioritize spending in the classroom and reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes. I’ll add up front that I believe the state will have to provide more funding.”

That last line seems to offer an acknowledgment of what we in the education committee have known for some time, but which many in the Capitol have resisted mightily.

The problem, of course, is that many of the people who have opposed investing more state dollars in public education have falsely argued that the state is already increasing education spending year over year. They point to raw dollars going back to a low-water point in 2006 in order to obscure the reality of the deliberate and steady erosion of state support for local schools. Troublingly, Gov. Abbott takes this very tack in writing that “overall education spending in Texas has increased by more than 50 percent since 2006, and the state is contributing 29 percent more education funding per student in that time period.”

Let’s look at that claim.

The numbers in the latter half of that statement come from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) presentation before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The headline of the slide below seems to confirm the governor’s assertion, but look at the orange line indicating funding adjusted for inflation. It clearly shows that in terms of purchasing power, total per-student funding has risen only slightly since 2006, and is roughly equal to per-student funding in 2008. (Click the image to view a larger version.)

Source: Texas Education Agency

What’s perhaps more telling is the blue bar indicating how much funding the state has contributed. I’ve added the red brackets and red horizontal line to make the minute changes easier to see. You can tell that the raw dollar amount the state has contributed has actually decreased slightly since 2008 – and that’s not even adjusted for inflation.

To get to the inflation-adjusted number, we look at the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-up for the 2016-2017 biennium. In the chart below, we can see how spending from local property tax revenue (circled in green) has increased, while state aid (circled in blue) has changed little from 2008 levels. In total constant dollars adjusted for inflation (near the red arrow), we see that total funding has in fact decreased.

Source: Legislative Budget Board

The governor also wrongly suggests that funding is not making it into classrooms. According to the TEA’s 2016-17 Pocket Edition statistics, districts only spend an average of 3.1 percent on administrative costs.

To his credit, the governor advocates that increases in funding should go to teachers. No disagreement there. His idea is to implement a system in which top-performing teachers can earn significantly higher pay by teaching in areas facing the most need – similar to the “ACE” system tested in Dallas ISD. It’s a conversation that’s worth having, provided that educators are involved in the process and that the system doesn’t rely primarily on student test results to identify those “top-performing” teachers.

Governor Abbott also suggests moving away from a per-pupil funding model and, implicitly, toward a more outcomes-based approach. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is identifying which metrics with which to measure student performance and the threat of schools faced with the most significant socioeconomic challenges receiving even less support.

Finally, the governor writes that school finance reform must be accompanied by reforms in property taxes. It’s true the two are inextricably intertwined.

Increasing the state’s share of public education funding is the surest way to provide relief in property taxes. The governor proposes forcing taxing entities to lower their rates as appraisals go up, with the state presumably stepping in to make school districts whole. That’s a lot to presume, especially to do so in perpetuity.

Districts could hardly be blamed for wanting to see the legislature commit money up front before committing to voluntarily lower their tax rates – and it will take a sizable appropriation to shift the burden back toward the state in a way that will be meaningful to local property owners. School board members are politicians too, and they don’t want to be blamed for high taxes any more than their counterparts in Austin.

So what does it all mean? Does the governor’s column signify a dramatic reversal of his stance on public education, and school finance in particular? Does it mean he’s ready to stop attacking educators through anti-teacher payroll deduction bills and focus on improving teacher pay instead?

At a minimum, the governor is now talking about public education as an important priority, and that’s a good thing. The onus is on us to engage respectfully yet forcefully, and to shape the conversation, to the extent we can, by correcting inaccuracies and providing meaningful input. At best, we hope the governor will listen to educators and incorporate our feedback, even after the elections are over.

Of course, just as election season begins in the frantic furnace of summer, it ends in darkness on a winter night. When the legislature returns in January, we’ll all be faced with cold reality.

State leaders continue to discuss school safety measures

The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a report today on school safety, specifically highlighting actions being taken by school districts to respond to growing concerns about violence in schools and related safety measures. The “School Safety Action Plan Summary” follows an earlier School and Firearm Safety Action Plan shared by the governor’s office earlier this year. The governor also convened a group of stakeholders back in July to discuss the issue, and ATPE’s state officers were invited to weigh in.

Among the safety measures noted in the governor’s summary report out today are training programs for educators, including the Mental Health First Aid course that is available at no cost to public school employees through their local mental health authorities. The eight-hour course for which educators can earn CPE credit focuses on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse problems in students. Educators can learn more about the program here.

The governor’s report out today also highlights an increase in the number of school marshals, who are school employees trained and authorized to provide an armed response to violence incidents on a school campus. The school marshal program has existed since 2013 when the legislature passed House Bill 1009 by Rep. Jason Villalba, but relatively few school districts have opted into it. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter noted in this article for the Dallas Morning News, “Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge of the programs available or a lack of will to implement them, school boards have clearly not made arming educators a priority.” Money is also an ongoing issue in the debate over keeping schools safe, as school districts that are already facing deficiencies in their revenue struggle to find ample cash to pay for additional training, make building updates, or provide mental health resources.

Read the governor’s latest School Safety Action Plan Summary here. Read ATPE’s associated press statement here.

SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich addresses school safety issues as part of a federal panel on Aug. 28, 2018.

On Tuesday, Texas State Board of Education chair Donna Bahorich was a panelist in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety. The event held in Montgomery, Alabama, was part of a series of listening sessions held around the country with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety.

Bahorich talked about the mental health aspect of curbing violence in schools, including the need to remove the stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment. “We need to do a paradigm shift around mental health,” Bahorich told the panel before sharing statistics about the prevalence of mental illness among schoolchildren. She also mentioned the concerns over expecting school counselors to fulfill both a mental health treatment function and academic counseling responsibilities, noting that Texas has been discussing whether such roles should be bifurcated. The full listening session broadcast can be viewed here. (The segment featuring Bahorich begins at 1:25:25 during the broadcast.)

Expect school safety to remain a top issue for consideration during the 2019 legislative session. A Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security held hearings on the issue this year and released an interim report of its findings earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this important issue.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 24, 2018

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


Last week, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick sent a letter to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) insisting that the body not raise insurance premiums on retired educators. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down why many feel the letter is nothing more than a political stunt in this blog post.


Donna Bahorich

Texas State Board of Education Chair Donna Bahorich will be participating in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety on Tuesday, August 28, 2018, in Montgomery, Alabama. This listening session is the fourth in a series of panels that have been held across the nation with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety. Tuesday’s afternoon event will be live-streamed. Find more information and read the press release in its entirety here.


U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is reported to be considering allowing the use of federal funds from Student Support and Academic Enrichment Grants to arm educators. The grants are intended to improve academic achievement; however, nothing expressly forbids the funds from being used to purchase firearms. In the wake of recent school shootings the Texas Education Agency (TEA) received a number of inquiries asking whether the funds could be used for such measures. Wile the agency never received an official response from the Department of Education, the proposal may very well become legitimized. You can learn more in this article from the Texas Tribune.


This week the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a proposed rule change filed by Commissioner Mike Morath regarding students who’ve taken high school end-of-course (EOC) assessments in middle school. Students in grades 3 through 8 who are enrolled in a course that awards high school credit may currently take STAAR EOC assessments prior to entering high school. This includes Algebra I, English I, and English II. However, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires all students to take a math and reading or language arts test in high school.

In order to satisfy this federal requirement, the new rule will require schools to use the SAT or ACT to assess high school students who completed their math or English EOC assessments before their freshman year. This change is expected to cost districts about $50 for each student tested in this way, which number an estimated 109,000 statewide. The total statewide impact is therefore estimated at $5.45 million. The new rule appears in today’s Texas Register and you can read it in its entirety here.

 


 

Return to sender: Letters to TRS are political farce

Earlier this month, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick released a letter sent to the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) urging the board not to increase TRS-Care premiums for retired educators. Quickly following Patrick’s lead, state Sen. Joan Huffman (R–Houston) released a letter of her own also urging TRS to not increase premiums. Huffman chairs the Senate committee charged with overseeing TRS.

With no TRS board meeting until late September and TRS releasing no additional information regarding potential premium increases, these letters came as a bit of a surprise to both education advocates and to TRS. They were also particularly shocking considering the fact that neither the lieutenant governor nor the Senate over which he presides are known for generosity in spending state dollars on education or educators.

Perhaps, however, when put into the context of an election season in which both retired and active educators are still miffed at the way TRS-Care reform was handled last session, the letters, which otherwise seem out of character, make more sense. For example, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s letter was addressed to the chairperson of the TRS board, but was simultaneously delivered to the press. Chairman Jarvis Hollingsworth and the rest of the TRS board are gubernatorial appointees, not an elected body. They serve at the pleasure of Gov. Greg Abbott. TRS, a state agency, operates under the direction and oversight of the legislature. Working directly with TRS, perhaps in coordination with the governor’s office, especially on an issue that isn’t yet public, would have been every bit as effective as making a public announcement of this type. Additionally, aside from the direct request not to raise premiums, the rest of Patrick’s letter sounds more like a campaign stump speech aimed at voters — claiming accomplishments and making future promises — than it does a typical letter expressing direction to a state agency.

Let’s look at some of those “accomplishments” and promises.

Patrick states, “In the last 4 years the Texas Senate has taken the lead in adding over a billion dollars to TRS Care funding including over $200 million in the Special Session last year.”

First, let’s address the funding from the special session. The special session occurred less than three months after the regular session ended, and the state’s economic picture was virtually unchanged. So what did change that allowed Patrick and the Senate to “find” $200 million dollars that they were unwilling to spend less than three months prior? The passage of the TRS-Care reform bill was one of the last things to happen during the regular session. As soon as the bill passed, news of the dramatic increases in retiree premiums hit like a ton of bricks. Hundreds — if not thousands — of retired educators began to call their elected officials, understandably irate. With a special session on things like the failed bathroom bill already on the horizon, additional money to somewhat lessen the blow to angry retirees was added to the call in an attempt to head off an all-out revolt.

Next, let’s put into perspective the amount spent over the last four years and address the way it was spent. A billion dollars sounds like a lot of money; but over four years it represents only about one quarter of 1% of the Texas budget. Additionally, all but $165 million of that billion was put into the budget as one-time supplemental funding. That is significant because the Senate all but refused to add money to the budget as an increase to the funding formulas instead, which is built into the base budget on an ongoing basis and significantly reduces the need to fight for that funding in future sessions. Not only did the Senate resist increasing the formulas beyond the $165 million, it’s in fact unlikely that any of the money would have been put into the funding formula had the House, under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), not fought for the formula increase.

If the dollars put into TRS in the 2015 session had been budgeted as formula instead of supplemental funding, the shortfall during the 2017 session would have only been about $300 million, instead of a billion. It would have been much easier for advocates to rally legislators to find $300 million dollars as opposed to a billion, and retirees could have likely avoided dramatic premium increases. Finally, had Patrick and the Senate put the money spent in 2015 and 2017 into the formulas, there would likely be little to no shortfall going into 2019.

Unfortunately, since the money spent over the last two sessions was not delivered through increased funding formulas, we do have a significant shortfall in TRS-Care funding going into 2019. However, the lieutenant governor goes on to state that he is “confident that the Senate will support additional funding for TRS Care” and that he “believe[s] additional funding should be the responsibility of the Legislature and not fall on the shoulders of our retired teachers.” Considering how hard advocates and retirees had to fight for funding last session, it’s good — though surprising — to hear that the lieutenant governor is confident that full state funding will be available this session. Hopefully that’s not the type of campaign promise that seems to evaporate as soon as the election is over.

Without a doubt, ATPE and thousands of retired educators would prefer TRS-Care premiums either decrease or remain steady, as opposed to increase. Whether or not that preference becomes reality will be entirely up to the next legislature. Let’s hope that retired and active educators remember how much impact elected officials have on them and their students when they cast a ballot in November and that elected officials remember how impactful active and retired educators are during the next session, after those ballots have been cast.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 17, 2018

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


On Wednesday, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its inaugural set of “A through F” accountability ratings for Texas school districts. The A through F district rating system has been criticized by education advocates for its overly simplistic nature that relies too heavily on standardized test scores and does not take into account the unique challenges each district may face. ATPE Governmental Relations Director, Jennifer Mitchell, responded to the release of these ratings in this press release saying “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement.” Meanwhile, in an analysis for the Texas Tribune, columnist Ross Ramsey used the release of the the ratings was to remind voters to look further up the “management ladder” and assign grades to their elected officials at the ballot box this November. TEA released its own flurry of press releases to break down the district and campus rating systems as well as commend the 153 districts that received “A” ratings. You can read more about the A through F announcement and ATPE’s response in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Do you know where your party stands on the major issues facing public education? Earlier this summer, Republican and Democrats met at their respective state party conventions to outline their party platforms. ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down where each party stands on issues such as school finance, privatization, and school security in this blog post. 

 


Former U.S. Rep. Pete Gallegos (left), a Democrat, and Republican Peter Flores are running for state Senate District 19. Photo by Bob Daemmrich: Gallego/Campaign website

September 18th has been chosen as the date to hold the special election for Senate District 19, which was vacated by Sen. Carlos Uresti earlier this year. Having narrowed down a list of eight candidates to two final contenders, voters will now be making a choice between Pete Gallego (D) or Pete Flores (R). Early voting for the special election will be held September 10-14.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Education: Where Texas political parties stand

Dear TeachTheVote: Where does my party stand on public education?

It’s a great question to ask as we turn our focus to the November elections, and the answer can be found in each party’s political platform.

At the most basic level, party platforms are just a long list of beliefs and policy positions that delegates put together at each party’s state convention. This summer, Democrats met in Fort Worth and Republicans met in San Antonio to decide which issues to focus on. In each case, a handful of delegates cobbled together the platform, which was then submitted to the full convention for amendments and a formal vote for adoption.

Now before we get into the details of this year’s party platforms, there are a few important caveats. First of all, the platform committee responsible for writing the first draft is often composed of that particular party’s most ideological partisans. Sometimes the full delegation decides to water down the language and trim some of the fringe positions before voting to approve the platform, but that’s not always the case. Because of this, the end result can sometimes be a set of values that are not fully aligned to those of the party’s central majority and may be skewed toward the extreme edges of the ideological spectrum.

This ties into the next important point: Platforms have traditionally served as guideposts that indicate the party’s default position on a given issue, not marching orders for the legislative session. Each elected official is first responsible to their local district and the constituents who elected them, which is why platforms aren’t meant to be enforceable documents.

That being said, aggressively enforcing the party platform was the key theme for delegates voting on a party chairman at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention. This means that when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, many legislators will be under great pressure from their party leaders to obey the platform committee’s positions over those of the voters they serve. That’s why it’s always important for educators to communicate directly with our elected representatives when it comes to public education issues.

Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at what this election season’s platforms have to say about education issues. For reference, you can find the full 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform here and the 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform here.

School Finance

The 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform calls for ending “Robin Hood,” limiting increases in public education funding, and replacing school district property taxes with a consumption tax.

Each plank in the Republican platform is numbered. Plank 164 calls for “a simple, fair, and efficient method for financing our public school system” and opposes the Robin Hood system of recapture in which some money from property wealthy districts flows to property poor districts. The Republican platform explicitly opposes the Edgewood I and Edgewood II court opinions, in which the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the school finance system at the time was unconstitutional because it relied too heavily on local property taxes without any adjustment for rich and poor areas, which resulted in vastly unequal funding for children living in different communities.

When it comes to additional funding, the platform states, “Before receiving additional dollars through the school finance formulas, school districts must spend at least 65 percent of their current funding in the classroom.” According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) 2016-2017 Pocket Edition statistics, districts spent an average of 56.7 percent of all funds directly on instruction and another 15.6 percent on support. Administration accounted for 3.1 percent of district spending.

Plank 166 states, “We call upon the Texas Legislature to use surplus revenue to buy down the school maintenance and operation property tax rate as a prelude to replacing it with a broader based consumption tax.” The most common consumption tax is the sales tax.

The 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform calls for reducing the reliance on Robin Hood, funding schools in a way that reflects differences in costs between students and districts, and restoring funding that was cut in 2011 and 2017.

Individual planks are not numbered in the Democratic platform, but follow a narrative structure utilizing bullet points. The Democratic platform lays current funding deficiencies at the feet of Republican leadership, and declares restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public education funding in 2011 and $1.7 billion cut in 2017 “a legislative budget priority.” With regard to design, the platform advocates for “a 100% equitable school finance system with sufficient state revenue to provide every child the opportunity to learn in an exemplary program” and that “state funding formulas should fully reflect all student and district cost differences and the impact of inflation and state mandates.”

Private School Subsidies

The Republican platform states, “Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government restraints or intrusion.”

The Democratic platform states Democrats “oppose the misnamed ‘school choice’ schemes of using public tax money for the support of private and sectarian schools; believe ‘school choice’ is a deceptive marketing frame that purports to advocate something that already exists – school choice – but whose true purpose is to divert public school funds to vouchers or tax credit systems supporting private and sectarian schools; [and believe] that adoption of any vouchers or tax credit schemes would unavoidably financially and academically damage public schools.”

Teachers

The Republican platform calls for an end to payroll deduction and converting certain government pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans.

Plank 49 states, “Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks.” Although the language mischaracterizes how payroll deduction works and refers specifically to unions, the 2017 legislative session showed that this plank is in fact aimed at non-union educators, including ATPE members, in an attempt to weaken teachers’ voices at the Capitol.

Plank 151 states, “The Texas Legislature shall enact new rules to begin to transition government pensions for ERS and TDCRS members from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution retirement plan similar to a 403(b).” While the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas is not mentioned here, the language echoes similar attempts during the 2017 legislative session to deny educators a lifetime retirement benefit by converting TRS pensions to 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.

The Democratic platform opposes prohibitions on payroll deduction and supports “protecting the TRS defined benefit pension system against attempts to turn it into a risky 401-k plan that could put most retirees’ pensions at risk; providing a regular COLA for every retired teacher; repealing the federal government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions that unfairly reduce Social Security benefits for Texas educational employees; and improving the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators.”

The Democratic platform includes a plank specifically aimed at teacher recruitment and retention. It advocates that Texas bring teacher pay in line with the rest of the nation, increase the state contribution for teacher health care, restore financial incentives for those interested in pursuing the teaching profession, oppose test-based performance, and guarantee mentors and properly certified teachers in each classroom.

Classrooms

The Republican platform calls for the right to prayer in schools, local control of public education, objective teaching of scientific theories, opposing national core curriculum, teaching American identity, transitioning non-English speaking students to English, and adopting an official position against transgenderism.

Plank 123 addresses prayer in schools, and further states, “We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display religious items on school property.”

Regarding local control, Plank 131 states, “We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Under the US Constitution, the power to regulate education is reserved exclusively to the States and to the people. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children. The classroom should be a place where all viewpoints are welcomed, free speech is celebrated, and ‘person before politics’ beliefs are preached. We support the right of parents to freely choose public, charter, private, parochial, or homeschooling for their children. We support the right of parents to choose the specific public school that their children attend. No child should be forced to attend a failing school. We reject the imposition of federal education standards and the tying of any government funding to the adoption of federal education standards. We reject the intrusion of government in private, parochial, or homeschools. We affirm that the policies, procedures, activities, and finances of public education in Texas at all levels should be fully transparent. To ensure transparency, the check register of all traditional school districts and charter schools should be posted online with the link on the home page. We respect parental authority regarding sex education. We believe that abortion providers and affiliates should be prohibited from providing any curriculum or instruction in schools.”

Plank 135 lists basic standards such as reading and writing, and Plank 136 addresses scientific theories, “such as life origins and environmental change. These should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”

Plank 137 opposes national core curriculum such as Common Core and C-SCOPE, Plank 139 addresses American identity and assimilation, Plank 140 encourages non-English speaking students to transition to English within one year, and Plank 141 states, “The official position of the Texas schools with respect to transgenderism is that there are only two genders: male and female.”

The Democratic platform supports enforcing class size limits, replacing high-stakes tests with more appropriate diagnostic measurements, rejecting efforts to tie teacher performance to test scores, opposing “A through F” school ratings, promoting multi-language instruction, supporting Title IX protections for gender equity, supporting school meal programs, supporting school-community collaboration, and placing the most highly qualified teachers in areas facing the greatest challenges.

The Democratic platform includes a plank addressing early childhood education, which advocates for universal access to full-day pre-K and kindergarten, as well as classroom resources and quality measures to ensure children are performing at grade level by the third grade.

Democrats include a plank regarding the school-to-prison pipeline in their platform. This includes increasing the budget for school counseling, adding training for staff and law enforcement, and “repealing traditional, exclusionary approaches to discipline, such as expulsion and suspension, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority students, as well as special education students.”

School Security

The Republican platform calls for arming teachers and mandating school security plans.

Plank 72 opposes the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, and Plank 143 urges the legislature to “pass a statute that allows Texas school teachers, or other school employees, who are certified and insured to be authorized to carry a concealed gun on the premises of their assigned school for security and protection purposes.”

Regarding school security plans, Plank 144 states, “The Legislature is urged to adopt as a legislative priority to mandate by state law that all publicly funded school districts be required to submit a viable school security plan as part of an accountability program. The school security plan must explicitly provide for the personal security of students and staff by responding with an equal and opposite force to an aggressor that uses deadly weapons or devices. In an effort to customize plans for each district, a parent oversight commission will be consulted and advised as to the threat assessment status of schools at all times and must be allowed to partake in strategy sessions for the creation of the school security plan.”

The Democratic platform calls for “weapon-free and drug-free” campuses, the right of teachers to remove disruptive students, and efforts to prevent bullying and acts of violence.

Specifically, the Democratic school security plank states, “Implementation of systematic programs should be utilized to identify instances of bullying and implement school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports, to prevent violence, disruption, bullying, and harassment: Eliminate disparities in discipline based on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or any other improper grounds.”

Furthermore, the Democratic platform calls for an end to “indiscriminate use of misdemeanor ticketing for minor infractions on campus and indiscriminate expulsion or placement of students in disciplinary alternative education programs for trivial misconduct,” and urges continued strong academic instruction for students placed in disciplinary alternative education programs.

The list of issues related to public education is lengthy and both platforms address many more such topics, including sex education and the role of the State Board of Education (SBOE). You can read more about the 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform here and the 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform here.

Texas school districts receive first A-F letter grades

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the new A-F letter grade ratings for Texas school districts today. Despite concerns from educators and other advocates, the legislature, with strong backing from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has worked to adopt and finalize the new rating system over the past three legislative sessions.

ATPE was among the education groups to express strong concerns about moving to an A-F rating system, especially considering the basis of any rating depends on the underlying accountability system that is too heavily reliant on state standardized tests. In a press release issued by ATPE, we reiterated our concerns and called for additional study of the new system’s impact.

“Educators across Texas have opposed assigning overly simplistic letter grades that may unfairly label schools and their staff and students as failures,” said Jennifer Mitchell, ATPE Governmental Relations Director. “Many educators worry that A-F will stigmatize schools with accountability grades based disproportionately upon data from high-stakes standardized tests.”

Today’s release of A-F ratings is specific to Texas school districts (campuses are not scheduled to receive A-F ratings until next school year), but campus accountability ratings according to the previous system were also released. While ATPE is happy to see an historic reduction in the number of Texas campuses requiring improvement, we stress that we should be considering more than a letter grade when praising their success.

“ATPE recognizes that under any accountability system so heavily determined by test scores, there will be winners and losers,” said Mitchell. “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement. Additional study, much like research commissioned by ATPE in the past to examine the factors influencing successful school turnaround, is warranted with the roll-out of this new system.”

Mitchell referred to a teacher quality study commissioned by ATPE in 2008, in which researchers from the University of Texas explored strategies implemented at schools that had shown significant improvement in their students’ test scores. The researchers interviewed teachers and school leaders at those schools and found that they were prioritizing such practices as recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, empowering teachers to make instructional decisions, and providing high-quality professional development and financial resources.

TEA released its own series of press releases on the topic of school accountability ratings, covering a high-level breakdown of the A-F district ratings and the campus accountability ratings. Commissioner Mike Morath also praised the 153 school districts that received an A rating today.

From The Texas Tribune: Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.

Analysis: School districts are getting report cards. They shouldn’t be the only ones.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

A “Come and Take It” flag depicting an apple instead of the traditional cannon at the Save Our Schools rally at the Texas Capitol on March 12, 2011. Photo by Bob Daemmrich.

It’s time to start grading the papers of the people elected to run the state of Texas, to translate voters’ thoughts and feelings about the way things are going into the job reviews that will be delivered in this year’s general election.

It’s the seasonal cycle of this electoral democracy. We elect them. They do stuff. We decide whether to keep or replace them.

Elected officials adore this sort of judgement when it’s directed at others.

Later today, for instance, the state will issue its inaugural set of A-F grades for more than 1,000 public school districts. That has agitated a lot of Texas educators; when the grades are out, odds are good that it will agitate — in ways both negative and positive — parents, business people and taxpayers. If the politicos are lucky, it will divert angst over public education in Texas away from the folks who’ll be on the November ballot.

Accountability is an admirable thing in politics. It can show citizens where responsibility lies, the better to direct their blame and, more to the point, where to repair or replace policies that don’t work.

It can also diffuse responsibility. When today’s school grades come out, keep an eye on who’s taking the heat and who’s getting the credit. Ask yourself, as it unrolls, whether the right people are getting the right kind of attention.

This is supposed to be a way for the government ministers in Austin and the public across the state to see what results they’re getting for their money. It’s controversial, to say the least. Educators contend the grading system is both too general — not taking the complexity of any given school district into account — and too reliant on standardized tests and other inappropriate yardsticks that don’t give accurate readings of educational progress. Many are not crazy about grades of any kind, but they’re irked that these grades, in their view, will give voters and policymakers false readings about school districts’ performance.

But for a Legislature that can’t muster a consensus for what public schools should do and what they should cost, it’s a way to outsource the blame from the pink building to local “educrats.”

It’s a pre-election test of whether voters trust politicians more than teachers.

Education isn’t the only forum for this sort of deflection. The telling sign is when the people at the top try to separate themselves from the people who work for them, a strategy that allows them to make policy and take credit for passing laws while also blaming someone else when the execution of those instructions falls short.

Maybe the blame should crawl up the management ladder; they’d rather you didn’t make the connection.

Rats, mold and other filth in state buildings? The budgeteers at the Capitol have been skimping on building maintenance and upkeep for years. Multi-billion-dollar contracting troubles at the Health and Human Services Commission? That sort of thing happens if you put all those disparate agencies into one pot and then wander off, forgetting the second part of the business maxim: “Put all your eggs in one basket — and then watch that basket very carefully.”

A federal “zero tolerance” immigration policy that splits adults and children at the border and then cannot reconnect them — whether they’re staying here or being sent home? That is, in fact, a bureaucratic nightmare. But it’s a product of bad design, of putting a policy in place before figuring out how it’s going to work. The blame for that kind of empty-headed governance belongs at or near the top of the organization chart. Roughly 500 of those kids are still unattached to the adults with whom they entered the country. That terrible foul-up took place at the border, but the credit and blame really belong to the high officials who got things rolling.

This is going to be a hard day for some school superintendents and school boards and a great day for others. In both situations, some of them deserve it. Some of them don’t. Examine the results. Make your own judgements. And when you pass out cheers and jeers, think of the people who are responsible for education policy who aren’t on today’s report cards.

They’ll be on your election ballot a few weeks from now.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/08/15/analysis-texas-school-report-card-election-2018/.

 

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 10, 2018

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


On Monday, the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security published it’s interim report covering the charges assigned to it by the Lieutenant Governor in the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Among the recommendations for each of the four charges were increased funding for enhanced school security, updating school building codes, funding school marshal programs, integrating counselor data into school records, and increasing the number of available counselors, among other things. For a more detailed report on the committee’s findings you can read this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlman. The full report is available here.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, August 8, 2018.

Earlier this week the House Public Education Committee met to discuss the last of its interim charges. The hearing featured invited testimony from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who discussed the state’s accountability system and “A through F” ratings as well as T-TESS, the state’s teacher appraisal system, and ways in which the state could address the issue of teacher pay. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was on hand to provide testimony suggesting that the state take a more holistic approach to the matter by improving the career pipeline and pay structure. Afterwards the interim charge on charter schools was discussed by members of the committee and TEA staff. It was noted that charter school teachers are not required to be paid according to the minimum salary schedule and contributions to TRS (which are calculated according to the salary schedule) have not risen along with inflation for that group of educators. ATPE Lobbyists Mark Wiggins discusses the hearing in depth in this blog post.

 


The Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met this week to discuss its recommendations. Included in the recommendations were suggestions to repeal allotments like the high school allotment or the Public Education Grant (PEG) allotment; this would be done to move more funding into the basic allotment, giving districts more discretionary spending power. The group also examined how to adjust formula weights and funding tiers in order to best fund districts. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides a detailed recap of the hearing in this blog post.


TEA announced two new ventures this week that are aimed at keeping parents informed. The first, Answers….In About A Minute, is an online video library that will inform the public about TEA programs and initiatives. The initial series of videos will focus on the “A through F” rating system. The second venture TEA announced this week is the new TEA Time podcast, which will focus on different topics in public education. The first episode is a conversation with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. According to the TEA website, new content for the Answers video series we be produced as new topics arrive while new episodes of the podcast will be recorded weekly.

 


 

This weekend qualifying school supplies and clothing items will be tax free. Happy back to school shopping!