Author Archives: Andrea Chevalier

What will a Biden presidency mean for education?

Embed from Getty Images
On November 7, the Associated Press and numerous other news outlets called the 2020 Presidential Election for former Vice President Joe Biden. Since then, much speculation has surfaced on what a Biden presidency will mean for education, especially in light of a Congress that will likely be divided. Let’s take a look at what a Biden presidency may mean for education.

Highlights:



Biden’s education platform: Early childhood, teachers, equity, and CTE

The cornerstone of President-Elect Biden’s education platform during the 2020 election was a promise to triple Title I funding and require the increase to first be used for pre-K, teacher pay, and ensuring a robust curriculum across campuses in a district. Related to funding, Biden’s policy advisor Stef Feldman told the Education Writers Association (EWA) in a recent interview that Biden would ban for-profit charter schools from receiving federal dollars. “No one should be getting rich by taking advantage of our kids,” Feldman stated during the campaign.

Biden ran on a platform that included providing teachers with competitive wages and benefits, investing in teacher mentoring, leadership, and continuing education, and helping educators pay off their student loans. Additionally, Biden proposed doubling the number of psychologists, counselors, nurses, social workers, and other health professionals in schools, which is aimed at addressing student mental health while freeing up teachers to focus their time on teaching.

President-Elect Biden’s focus on equity included supporting grow-your-own educator preparation programs and working with historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and minority-serving institutions to diversify the teacher pipeline. Biden also proposed supporting schools with wraparound services and efforts to desegregate and diversify schools. The president-elect promised to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) over the next 10 years, citing that current funding levels only cover 14% of the extra costs for providing special education services rather than the law’s original intent of subsidizing 40%.

The Biden education platform heavily emphasized the concept of “investing in all children from birth,” which included providing high-quality universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds and placing early childhood development experts in community health centers. Biden also proposed expanding home visiting so families can receive coaching from specialists on preventative health and prenatal practices.

Biden’s plan also covered career and technical education, namely making sure middle and high school students have access to meaningful vocational training by investing in this area. For a detailed overview of the Biden plan, see a breakdown of Feldman’s interview with EWA.

In terms of higher education, the Biden plan touts relieving student debt, making college affordable, eliminating controversial Title IX policies, reversing course on the previous administration’s treatment of DREAMERs, and renewing regulations on for-profit colleges. Biden has proposed making community college free and providing additional funding and incentives to help vulnerable students graduate. Additionally, Biden wants to double funding for Pell Grants.

Most items on the president-elect’s wish list will require the approval of Congress. These proposals will face an uncertain partisan makeup in the U.S. Senate, where two seats in Georgia remain undecided pending a runoff election in January.



Addressing education during a pandemic and school reopening

Over the summer, Biden rolled out a plan to reopen schools that focuses on getting the virus under control and providing enough funding and resources for schools to reopen safely. Biden supported the HEROES Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year, which the Senate has not acted upon; and he said he would work with Congress to provide funding for ventilation, custodial and health services, and reducing class sizes.

Biden’s plan tasks the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) with developing metrics such as the level of community spread and risk to guide schools through reopening. His plan aims to work against politics-driven reopening plans that have been based on ultimatums, such as withholding funding until schools return to in-person instruction.

President-Elect Biden wants to ensure high-quality learning during the pandemic by initiating a U.S. Department of Education effort to share best practices. He plans to create a White House initiative to work towards combating equity gaps exacerbated by the pandemic and launch a grant program to help fund efforts in this area.

When asked whether Biden would waive federal testing requirements due to the pandemic, Feldman didn’t promise anything. She said the answer “depends on how much progress we can make in supporting our schools and getting them back up and running.”



An educator as U.S. Secretary of Education

This week we saw the first names released as Biden’s cabinet picks. An announcement could be made soon regarding the important post of U.S. Secretary of Education. In her EWA interview back during the campaign, Feldman confirmed that Biden would nominate a public school educator to be his Education Secretary, but she did not clarify whether this meant a K-12 educator or one from higher education. The U.S. Senate must confirm the president’s cabinet nominees, and with two Georgia Senate races not set to be decided until January, it is too soon to know the partisan makeup of the upper chamber and how that might have an impact. According to this Education Week article, some potential picks could include national labor union leaders (who would have a tough, if not unsuccessful confirmation process in a Republican-led Senate), high-profile school district leaders, state education chiefs, or even U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-Conn.), who was the 2016 National Teacher of the Year.

Those in the higher education community argue that a community college-level expert would fit the bill and potentially alleviate problems with Senate confirmation. Dr. Jill Biden is a community college expert herself, having completed a dissertation in the subject and being a longtime community college professor. Other potential picks could be HBCU leaders, especially since Biden’s running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), is an HBCU graduate.

One thing we do know is that President-Elect Biden’s education transition team is being led by former public school teacher Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, a legend in the education policy and research world and a leader for equity in education. She is a professor at Stanford University, president of the Learning Policy Institute, and president of the California State Board of Education. Darling-Hammond also led President Obama’s education transition team in 2008.



Dr. Jill Biden: A veteran educator

Dr. Jill Biden (credit)

In his acceptance speech November 8, President-Elect Biden said, “Jill’s a mom — a military mom — and an educator. She has dedicated her life to education, but teaching isn’t just what she does — it’s who she is. For America’s educators, this is a great day: You’re going to have one of your own in the White House, and Jill is going to make a great First Lady.” Biden’s reverence for his wife may mean she will have a meaningful influence on education policy during his tenure.

Dr. Biden has been an educator for over three decades. While earning her two master’s degrees, she taught English to adolescents with emotional disabilities at a psychiatric hospital. She also taught at the high school and community college levels. Biden has a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware. Her dissertation focused on maximizing student retention in community colleges and her work as former Second Lady focused heavily on community colleges. This background may influence the president to pick a higher education educator for U.S. Secretary of Education.

Also of note, Dr. Biden has announced her intent to continue teaching while serving as First Lady. She reportedly will have the distinction of being the first woman to maintain outside employment while holding that role. Dr. Biden teaches courses at a community college in nearby Virginia.

ATPE releases report on educator experiences during COVID-19

Texas Educators Find Themselves in an “Impossible Situation,” Worried about Health and Increasing Workloads—and Lacking Trust in State Officials’ Response

Educators find themselves in an “impossible situation” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the state of Texas and are increasingly dissatisfied with state and district leadership’s handling of the crisis.

On November 18, ATPE released a 14-page analysis of three educator-focused surveys designed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Texas public education. The report, titled “An Impossible Situation: Why Texas Educators Are Struggling to Serve Students During COVID-19—and Pathways State and District Leaders Can Follow to Correct the Course,” breaks down the results of three surveys we conducted between May-October 2020.

View the ATPE survey data and analysis here.

Most respondents expressed that the health and safety needs of students, faculty, and staff are a top concern. The amount of mental stress and anxiety educators are experiencing in the return to school is at an all-time high. Respondents expressed a feeling that teachers “were an afterthought” in COVID-19 back-to-school planning at the state and district levels, and they said the implementation of safety protocols by their districts were, in their words, “inconsistent.” In addition, the responses showed that between May and October, educators began experiencing concerns about increasing workloads reflected in longer work hours and the need for extra planning time.

More than 75% of respondents were “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” (41%) with state leadership’s handling of the crisis, with many criticizing the state’s insistence on tying in-person learning to school funding.

“Many respondents felt district and state-level COVID-19 policies weren’t designed with educators in mind,” said Andrea Chevalier, ATPE lobbyist and author of the report. “This leads to impractical and unreasonable job expectations and extreme stress. Educators are concerned with students’ overall well-being and success, of course, but they believe that in-person instruction must be safe, well-resourced, and effective.”

As the name of the report implies, however, the surveys also offer indications of pathways state and district leaders can take to increase the number of educators who feel safe on campus and ensure a more effective teaching and learning environment. Some positive responses to the surveys indicate that certain districts are, in fact, navigating the pandemic successfully largely due to clear, transparent communication that involves educators in the process.

Based on the results and analysis of the surveys, ATPE shares the following recommendations:

  1. Educators should be included in school districts’ COVID-19 planning.
  2. Districts should be transparent and consistent about COVID-19 policies and their enforcement across all school programs, including maintaining a confidential, trustworthy line of communication between employees and district leaders.
  3. Class sizes should be limited to enhance the effectiveness of physical distancing in mitigating the spread of the virus.
  4. The state should ensure districts have adequate cleaning supplies and PPE.
  5. The state should provide resources, such as funding for substitute teachers, custodial staff, and additional teachers, to ensure districts can accommodate increased staffing needs to relieve educators from extra duties, both during the pandemic and after when students have increased learning needs.
  6. Districts should ensure educators who need medical accommodations are being appropriately served under applicable federal law, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  7. The state should not tie district funding to a requirement for in-person instruction and should instead allow districts to make the best decisions for their communities.
  8. Educators’ mental health must be prioritized through all policy decisions, including providing funding that affects staffing levels and the ability of districts to allow educators to focus on a reasonable workload.
  9. To reduce the risk of viral spread and alleviate fears of exposure, the state should reconsider current standardized testing requirements that will increase the number of students required to be on campus for testing days.

Find additional information and resources on ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page at www.atpe.org/coronavirus.

State issues report on educator compensation increases under HB 3

Texas Governor Greg Abbott and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a new 2019-20 compensation report this week showing the pay increases teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses received as a result of last session’s House Bill (HB) 3.

HB 3, authored in 2019 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), increased the funding for public schools through a variety of provisions, such as raising the Basic Allotment and increasing the state’s Minimum Salary Schedule (MSS). The bill required that at least 30% of a district’s funding increase go toward improving compensation, with 75% of that amount dedicated to raising the salaries of teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses, prioritizing those with more than five years of experience.

HB 3 also increased the formulas used to calculate the MSS. While this change has not been talked about as much, it was for many educators as big, or even bigger, a driver of any compensation increase they saw as a result of the bill. Increases to the MSS also shifted some of the state’s costs associated with payroll, freeing up additional dollars in all districts that could be spent on compensation increases. It is not yet clear based on the information released in this week’s new report how much each of these provisions of HB 3 contributed to the overall increases in teacher compensation.

Across the state, teachers with 0-5 years of experience received an average raise of $3,839, and teachers with more than five years of experience received an average raise of $5,215. The report indicates higher average raises in rural regions and in smaller districts across the state.

Read the governor’s press release here and find individual district compensation data here. A more detailed analysis of the compensation increases will be forthcoming here on Teach the Vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 16, 2020

Here are this week’s education news highlights, brought to you by ATPE Governmental Relations:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), Governor Greg Abbott announced this week that eight school systems would be included in a COVID-19 rapid testing pilot. Participating schools will receive rapid antigen tests that can produce results in 15 minutes. The tests will be administered to students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate. The state hopes eventually to expand rapid testing in schools to mitigate the spread of the virus as more students return for in-person learning. Read more about the program in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.

This week’s updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that, compared to last week’s reported numbers, positive cases rose by 2.6% among students and 6.8% among staff. As districts are notified of positive test results, they may update their numbers, and the dashboard’s values for the prior week (ending Oct. 4) have increased beyond what was previously reported. The updated data show last week’s positive cases rose by 11.8% among students and 15.5% among staff. (The increases reported last week were significantly less than this, at 2.3% among students and 7.8% among staff.) As a reminder, positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities.

ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page includes newly updated information about educators returning to school. Here are additional ATPE resources:

  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring our latest video on helping kids thrive in today’s world.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our interactive timeline.
  • ATPE members can send messages to their government officials through Advocacy Central.

ELECTION UPDATE: The first week of early voting is almost over, and record numbers of Texans have already cast their votes. Early voting lasts until Oct. 30! If you haven’t voted yet, check out ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on her early voting experience, which includes tips for a smooth trip to the polls.

ATPE Exec. Dir. Shannon Holmes sports his “I voted early” sticker

Court decisions continue to impact ballot drop off locations and the use of drive-thru and curbside voting. The Senate District 30 special election runoff between Shelley Luther and Rep. Drew Springer has been set for Dec. 19. For more election-related news, see this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

You may have noticed on ATPE’s Twitter and Facebook that ATPE members and staff are posting videos on why they vote. Share your own video on social media using #WhyIVoteTXEd and tag @OfficialATPE and @Teach the Vote! Find additional general election voting dates and reminders here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


As mentioned in this article by the Dallas Morning News, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was invited to testify on teacher workforce issues during a Senate Education Committee interim hearing this week. Exter advocated for streamlined professional development and reduced paperwork burdens on districts and educators. The committee also heard invited testimony from adult education providers and education preparation programs. Read more about the hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and see ATPE’s written testimony here.


The 2020 Census count ended this week after an October 13 Supreme Court order shortened the deadline from October 31 to October 15. The deadline has fluctuated multiple times as the Trump administration played tug-of-war with the courts. Some argue the administration wanted to cut the deadline to ensure time to manipulate the census data to exclude unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Read more about the development in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


TEA sent out a notice this week to Education Service Centers and district testing coordinators describing a new method for calculating the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-2021 school year. The modified measure would reach back in to 2018-19 student testing data, skipping over 2019-20 since no tests were given due to the pandemic. Questions remain as to whether the STAAR testing is appropriate at this time and how a modified progress measure might be used in the accountability system for 2020-21. Read more in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

TEA announces modified STAAR progress measure

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) sent a notification to Education Service Centers and school district testing coordinators this week that outlines how the agency intends to approach the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-21 school year.

Typically, the STAAR progress measure is based on the change in a student’s scores between the current year and the prior year. Because the STAAR tests were cancelled in Spring and Summer 2020 due to COVID-19, calculations using results for the 2019-20 school year are not feasible.

As a workaround, TEA will temporarily modify the calculation of the progress measure to be based off student scores from the 2018-19 and 2020-21 school years. Due to this change, students currently in 4th grade will be excluded, as they were in an untested grade (2nd grade) in 2018-19.

According to the notice, STAAR progress measures will be calculated for STAAR and STAAR Alternate 2 for the following grade levels and subject areas:

  • Grade 5 Reading English, Reading Spanish (STAAR only), Mathematics English, and Mathematics Spanish (STAAR only)
  • Grade 6 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 7 Reading and Mathematics
  • Grade 8 Reading and Mathematics
  • Algebra I
  • English I (STAAR Alternate 2 only)
  • English II

The agency has not determined whether these modified progress measures will be used in the Texas public school accountability system’s “School Progress” and “Closing the Gaps” domains, which are two of three domains used to determine academic accountability “A-F” ratings and interventions for public schools. The third domain used to calculate a composite score for districts and campuses is the “Student Achievement” domain.

TEA warns in the notice that the modified progress measure for 2020-21 is different from previous years both in context (massive educational disruptions) and in methodology. The agency also advises against using the measures for the new optional Teacher Incentive Allotment.

Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott and TEA announced that STAAR scores would not be required factors in determining fifth and eighth grade promotion this year. However, state officials have not shown a willingness to waive testing requirements for a second year. At a Sept. 18 event in Dallas, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.”

The admitted difficulty in relying on modified measures during a pandemic points to the inappropriateness of using STAAR scores for any high-stakes purposes at this time. While standardized testing may provide some insight into learning, any interpretation of STAAR data will be highly suspect and unreliable due to the myriad other factors that have arisen during the pandemic. As urged by our House of Delegates earlier this year, ATPE will continue to advocate at the state and federal levels for relief from testing and accountability requirements during this challenging and unusual academic year.

Census deadline is now Oct. 15 following Supreme Court ruling

At the request of the Trump administration, the United States Supreme Court yesterday issued an order to cut the 2020 Census count short — bumping up the deadline for individuals to submit their online census responses to October 15 at 11:59 P.M. Hawaii time. For residents here in Texas, that deadline for online submissions translates to Friday, October 16, at 4:59 A.M. Central Daylight Time or 3:59 A.M. Mountain Daylight Time. Paper responses to the census must be postmarked by Thursday, October 15, 2020.

If you have not filled out your census, you can do so online HERE.

The deadline for the census count has fluctuated ever since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted census operations. Before the Supreme Court ruled, the most recent deadline as ordered by lower courts was to be October 31. That came after lawsuits were filed in response to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s August 3 announcement that it would end census collection on September 30.

Under federal law, the census data must be delivered to the states in the form of apportionment counts (to determine how many seats each state gets in the House of Representatives) by December 31, 2020. The U.S. House of Representatives has already filed and passed bipartisan legislation that would extend the census deadlines required by federal law to give the U.S. Census Bureau more time to process and tabulate census data before sending it to the states. The U.S. Senate, however, has not taken similar action.

The U.S. Supreme Court order was made at the request of the Trump administration, who argues that there will not be enough data processing time in order to meet the December 31 deadline to send apportionment data to the states. Others argue the push to shorten the timeline advances a Trump administration policy that aims to exclude unauthorized immigrants from census counts, which could decrease the number of U.S. House members representing Texas in Congress. This exclusionary proposal was blocked by a lower court in September but has since been appealed by the Trump administration and now sits pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Due to the extensive field work of census enumerators, Texas is at a response rate of 99.9% while other states such as Louisiana and Mississippi are at lower rates and need more time. What is really at stake is if the Trump administration follows through with its plan to exclude individuals from the count, as the long-standing interpretation of the census has been to count all persons living in the United States. Any exclusion would not only impact representation, but also essential funding for public education, transportation, and health care.

Early voting in the 2020 general election, pandemic-style

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas for the 2020 general election. Plenty of time to make a plan and choose a time when the lines may be shorter. Here is what my voting experience was like and a five-step checklist for those who want to vote in-person. Remember, early voting lasts until October 30. Be sure to check the days and times the polls will be open in your county.

Checklist for in-person voting:

Step 1: Research candidates and propositions that will be on your ballot (see step 2 for finding your ballot). Here on Teach the Vote, you can review candidate profiles for those seeking state legislative or State Board of Education seats to learn more about their views on public education issues. The profiles include responses to ATPE’s candidate survey and voting records for incumbent legislators. Other nonpartisan resources such as the League of Women Voters of Texas Voters Guide, sponsored in part by ATPE, can provide information on other races.

Step 2: Create a sample ballot that is customized for the races in your area.

With the Vote411.org voter guide, you can make your ballot selections and have them emailed to you for easy printing. Alternately, you can visit your county website to find your FULL ballot, which will include local and municipal candidates and propositions that Vote411 may not cover. Print out or write down on paper your selections to take with you to your polling place. Remember, state law prohibits the use of cell phones within 100 feet of a polling place.

Step 3: Find your early voting and/or election day polling locations and hours here.

There are many places to case your vote, especially during early voting. Check the list of polling places in your area, and verify that your preferred polling place is open during early voting. Plan ahead with your partner on child care arrangements, picking up dinner, or whatever you need to do to ensure you have enough time to vote on the date you choose. I recommend getting to the polls earlier in the day and giving yourself plenty of time, just in case there is a line and because Texas is hot! Some counties use online tools that post live wait times at each polling location. Check your county election clerk’s website to find out if yours does.

Step 4: Get your materials ready.

Pack up your paper copy of your sample ballot with candidate selections, voter ID, stylus or pencil with eraser (optional), and a mask. If you have the appropriate voter ID, bringing your voter registration card is not necessary, as all you need to check in is your photo ID.

Step 5: VOTE!

 

Optional Pro Tips

Pro tip 1: Bring a friend to the polls. This will help both of you remember to cast your vote.

Pro tip 2: After you vote, post a selfie with your I Voted sticker. Tag @TeachTheVote and use the hashtag #TxEdVotes2020.

Highlights of the Oct. 9 SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today to take up several agenda items, including final adoption of a new, ATPE-supported rule that will eliminate the expiration date of the Legacy Master Teacher certificates. ATPE testified against another proposal that would lower the security and reliability of discipline-related communications made by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to educators.

Highlights:

  • Final approval of Legacy Master Teacher lifetime certificates sends the proposal to the SBOE.
  • Extension of the EdTPA pilot into a third year.
  • Positive discussion of adding K-12 representatives, including ATPE, to advisory committee.
  • Board cautiously moves forward with discussion of discipline-related email communications to educators.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified against a discussion-only proposal that would substitute email for certified and regular mail methods of communications used by TEA during the disciplinary process. TEA justified the change by citing that email is more modern and will save the agency money. Chevalier argued that disciplinary communications carry deadlines and serious consequences for educators and their careers, making it inappropriate to use email, which is not federally protected like regular mail, can be impacted by spam filters and hackers, and does not have a reliable proof of receipt mechanism, unlike certified and registered mail. Chevalier said the change would open the door to litigation by educators who feel their due process rights have been violated. Read Chevalier’s written testimony here and view her oral testimony here (at the 2:00:00 mark).

After a lengthy process initiated by ATPE last year, the board unanimously adopted new language that will effectively transition the Legacy Master Teacher certificate into a lifetime certificate. After being reviewed at the November State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting, the changes are expected to take effect at the end of December 2020. TEA has stated that they will reach out to all impacted educators. Read our written testimony in support of this change here.

Items adopted by the board:

  • The four-year rule review of 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 234, which provides requirements relating to certification and preparation for members of the military community.
  • Changes to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP) allowing EPPs to be “Not Rated: State of Disaster” for 2019-20, include a third indicator accounting for student achievement, provide an index system that combines the five performance indicators into an index for purposes of accreditation, and update the ASEP manual.
  • Changes to the assignment rules to update references to “legacy” master teacher certificates and to incorporate course changes approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) such as ethnic studies and the consolidation of CTE and Technology Applications courses.
  • The five-year continuing approval of 16 EPPs based on the results of their 2019–20 reviews.
  • The extension of the edTPA performance assessment pilot period for an additional, third year during which new pilot participants can be admitted.
  • The approval of these SBEC meetings dates in 2021:
    • February 12, 2021
    • April 30, 2021
    • July 23, 2021
    • October 1, 2021
    • December 10, 2021

Items discussed by the board:

  • Proposed amendments regarding how individuals licensed in other states may obtain a standard Texas educator certificate, providing for a temporary one-year certificate in certain cases.
  • TEA staff provided an update on the Science of Teaching Reading (STR) examination requirement transition, stating that only 70 out of 122 EPPs that offer STR-impacted certification areas have submitted attestations that they are able and ready to prepare candidates for the new STR exam requirements beginning January 1, 2021. Test development for new certification areas such as Special Education EC-6 and DeafBlind will be discussed at a future meeting.
  • TEA staff also discussed a proposal to change the composition of the Educator Preparation Advisory Committee (EPAC), the only standing committee that advises on SBEC matters, to include more K-12 representation in addition to EPPs. The proposal includes a provision calling for a representative from ATPE to be included on the committee.

At the end of the meeting, newly appointed board member Julia Dvorak requested that a special work session be convened to look at administrative rules on contract abandonment and equity in contract abandonment.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 2, 2020

Here is this week’s recap of the latest education news from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATEATPE released a response to a press statement sent out by The Texas Education Agency (TEA) this week stating that the agency would extend the “hold harmless” funding period for school districts by six weeks to help mitigate the effects of enrollment drops across public schools in Texas. However, in a move that seems contradictory to the TEA’s acknowledgement last week of COVID-19 hotspots, the agency has tied a district’s access to the additional “protected” funding to whether a district offers in-person instruction. Read more about the development in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier, or in this article, quoting ATPE, by Aliyya Swaby of the Texas Tribune.

ATPE is here for educators. Be sure to check out our COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page and other resources:


ELECTION UPDATE: Are you registered to vote in the county you live in? Has your name recently changed? Have you been purged from the voter rolls? The deadline to register to vote is October 5, this coming Monday! Be sure to check your registration and learn how to register. Early voting begins October 13 and lasts for three weeks through October 30. Find more voting dates and reminders here.

The Texas Senate District 30 special election ended this week in a runoff. The date of the face-off between salon owner Shelley Luther and current state Representative Drew Springer (R-Muenster) has not yet been set by Gov. Greg Abbott. For more on this week’s election news, including the recent straight-ticket voting court battle and Gov. Abbott’s proclamation Thursday limiting mail-in ballot drop-off locations, read this informative blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

October is Voter Education Month, so let’s get learned! To learn about who makes education decisions (and which of these positions you can vote for), check out this post by our partners at the Texas Educators Vote coalition. Also, click here to learn about candidate forums being sponsored by Raise Your Hand Texas starting next week.


Sec. DeVos at a Feb. 2020 House Approp. subcommittee hearing

FEDERAL UPDATE: Remember when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asked public schools to spend an unheard-of amount of their Title-I-based federal emergency dollars on all students in all private non-profit schools within their boundaries? With DeVos’s decision last Friday to not appeal a recent court case that vacated her inequitable interpretation of the CARES Act, it seems the “equitable services” saga has come to an end. Read more about the saga, from start to finish, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


After data discrepancies, this week the state adjusted numbers on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Department of State Health Services (DSHS) dashboard that tracks COVID-19 cases in public schools. Updated every Wednesday, this week’s numbers show 1,490 new student cases and 819 new staff cases reported for the week ending in September 27. Compared to the previous week’s numbers for students and staff, both have changed slightly (2% decrease for students, 2.5% increase for staff). Read about the adjusted numbers in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


This week, ATPE responded to formal requests for information from both the House Public Education committee and the House Appropriations Article III subcommittee, which focuses on public K-12 and higher education. ATPE’s submissions covered educators’ concerns with COVID-19, STAAR testing and accountability, educator and student mental health and well-being, and ways the state can prioritize funding to maintain the public education gains made by the 86th Texas Legislature. Read more about ATPE’s submissions and our contribution to these committee’s interim work in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.


Are you retired or considering retiring? Be sure to check out these upcoming events to be in the know.

  1. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has opened registration for its 2020 TRS-Care virtual information sessions. These webinars are intended to help retired public education employees, or those considering retirement, learn more about the TRS-Care Standard and TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plans for 2021. They will also introduce the new providers that will administer TRS health plans starting Jan. 1, 2021. You can register for these webinars at trs.texas.gov/trs-care-events.
  2. This week, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) hosted a virtual townhall on teacher retirement issues with incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The second TRTA townhall will feature Cornyn’s challenger, retired U.S. Air Force combat veteran M.J. Hegar on October 3 at 2:15 pm. Find more details on Cornyn’s townhall and register for Hegar’s townhall here.
  3. ATPE is partnering with RBFCU and the RBFCU retirement program on a webinar on October 7 at 5 pm about retirement planning for educators. Find the sign up information here.

TEA extends funding hold harmless period, ties to in-person instruction

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a press statement today regarding how Texas public schools will be funded during the pandemic amid unstable enrollment.

TEA’s new funding mechanism will offer full funding to districts for a full 18 weeks, an extension of six weeks over the original 12 weeks of “hold harmless” offered by the agency, but with a significant strings attached. The hold harmless creates a cushion for districts that would otherwise lose funding due to unforeseen drops in enrollment because of the pandemic. Some districts have reported significant declines, especially in their prekindergarten and kindergarten grades, which are not mandatory in Texas.

The strings? In order for districts to receive the full funding for the 18 weeks held harmless, they must offer, or continue to offer, an in-person instructional option to all parents who request it. Additionally, the TEA release says that districts, “will be required to identify students who are missing from enrollment and determine their location.” Placing an additional administrative burden on already time and cash strapped districts of not only identifying students who were previously, but are not currently, enrolled in the district, but also of tracking down the whereabouts of students who are not currently enrolled.

As for future funding, the press release states, “TEA will address whether further funding adjustments for the second semester are needed based upon information and data gathered between now and January 2021.” As the Texas Legislature convenes in January, lawmakers will surely weigh in on school funding.

ATPE released a statement in response to the development from TEA, expressing gratitude for the change but regret that the agency has decided to tie funding to in-person instruction. In the statement, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter commented on the agency’s conflict with their own recent guidance on extending remote instruction.

“Since schools have opened around the country, the percentage of new COVID-19 cases in the school-aged population has increased, according to a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” said Exter. “Just last week, TEA itself recognized that there are currently existing COVID-19 hotspots in Texas that warrant a delay in returning to in-person classes.”

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.