Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

Senate committee advances campus turnaround proposal, hears variety of bills

Senate Education Committee meeting, April 16, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The committee postponed until April 23 a hearing scheduled for Tuesday on House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance reform bill that the House passed last month. For more on HB 3 and the Senate committee’s anticipated hearing of the bill next week, please see this related post on our blog. Instead of hearing HB 3 today, the committee took testimony on a number of unrelated items and approved several pending bills.

The committee heard testimony Tuesday on SB 784 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would add Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversight of human sexuality instruction and require that parents receive notification in advance of when instruction is to be provided, along with a detailed description of the content.

Other bills heard included the following:

SB 722 by Sen. Campbell states that “the board of trustees may not make a severance payment to a superintendent in an amount greater than one year’s salary under the superintendent’s terminated contract.” Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) suggested including charter schools in the bill, and Sen. Campbell indicated she would be willing to work together on such an amendment.

SB 725 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would remove the Brownsville ISD bracket on an existing low-income pre-K pilot program and expand it to any students who are “educationally disadvantaged” in a district operating an early high school graduation program. Sen. Lucio explained the bill would allow a district to take money saved by a student who graduates in three years instead of four and use it to fund two additional full-day pre-K students.

SB 740 by Sen. Hughes would create a “Texas Public Finance Authority” empowered to loan money to districts no larger than 1,600 students in average daily attendance (ADA).

SB 968 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would require municipalities to regard charters as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. The bill would also apply land development standards to charters and would prohibit municipalities, counties, or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a charter school from operation.

SB 1133 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) states that a school district may not have a business interest in an entity or own real property associated with real estate and rental and leasing; arts, entertainment, and recreation; or accommodation and food services — in other words, a water park.

SB 1182 by Sen. Campbell, would add charter language to the approval section of the Texas Public Finance Authority’s bond issuance authority. Sen. Campbell explained this would transfer authority to approve charter bonds from local governments to the state attorney general. Sen. Watson raised questions over how this would cut locally-elected officials out of the loop and whether it would remove discretion.

SB 1454 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would create a mechanism through which TEA could elect to transfer the remaining funds of a defunct charter to another charter holder.

SB 2117 by Sen. Bettencourt, would allow districts that have been granted program charters by their board and have contracted with a charter to jointly operate a campus and receive district-charter funding under last session’s SB 1882.

SB 2285 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would require the TEA committee responsible for reviewing accountability appeals to review challenges by school districts or charters. It would require that the commissioner not limit the challenge if the school district or charter created the inaccuracy and requires that the commissioner correct the rating if the rating assigned was too low.

SB 2293 by Sen. Fallon would make charters subject to the provision of Chapter 617, Government Code, prohibiting collective bargaining and strikes. ATPE supports this bill to create parity between the laws pertaining to charter schools and those that already apply to traditional public schools.

SB 2266 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would give the TEA commissioner authority to consider local charter school saturation in deciding whether to reject an application for a new charter or a charter expansion. ATPE supports this bill.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to approve the following pending bills during Tuesday evening’s hearing:

  • SB 1412 would allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan, which includes paying high performing teachers a premium to work at the struggling campus. The bill includes ongoing support and a three-year commitment from participating teachers, 80 percent of which would be required to come from the top quartile in terms of demonstrating student growth. ATPE submitted neutral testimony that focused on eliminating a vendor contracting requirement from the bill and clarifying that districts may not be required to base their hiring decisions upon test performance of students taught by the educators.
  • SB 351 would include completion of a coherent sequence of career and technology courses to the indicators of achievement under the public school accountability system.
  • SB 426 would ensure that school counselors spend no less than 80 percent of their time on actual counseling, as opposed to unrelated work, such as monitoring tests. ATPE supports this bill. Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • SB 686 would require a personal financial literacy course for high school graduation.
  • SB 712 lists types of behavioral interventions that are prohibited for use with students who receive special education services. This includes such actions as electric shock, suffocation, etc.
  • SB 723 would require a school district to post the superintendent’s annual compensation on its Internet website. Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) voted against the bill.
  • SB 1297 would require uniform general conditions for school district building construction contracts.
  • SB 1390 would add physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention to the foundation curriculum. The bill includes corresponding guidance to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and school health advisory committees (SHAC) to include risk factors such as alcohol.
  • SB 1746 would add previous incarceration of a student or the student’s parent or guardian to the list of factors qualifying a student as being at risk of dropping out.
  • SB 2075 would move some rulemaking authority from SBOE to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) related to dyslexia screenings, specifically to monitor and develop remedial strategies.
  • SB 2135 would require information shared by law enforcement with a superintendent on student offenses to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.
  • SB 2282 would add mental health to the menu of services that may be provided by a school-based health center. ATPE supports this bill.

Senate Education committee hears miscellaneous bills

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, April 11, 2019, and considered a number of mostly unrelated bills.

Members listened to testimony on Senate Bill (SB) 426 by  Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), which would ensure a school counselor spends no less than 80 percent of their time on actual counseling, as opposed to monitoring tests and other unrelated duties. ATPE supports this bill.

Members also heard testimony on SB 686 by Sen. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), which would require high school students to take financial literacy courses.

SB 723 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require a district to post a superintendent’s annual compensation on its Internet website.

SB 1102 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) is specific to school transfer agreements, and would change “guardian” to person “standing in parental relation to” a child. It would also allow the receiving school district or parent to terminate the agreement at any time during the school year.

SB 1297 by Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) would require uniform general conditions for school district building construction contracts.

SB 1390 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) would add physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention to the foundation curriculum. It includes corresponding guidance to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and school health advisory committees (SHAC) to include risk factors such as alcohol.

SB 1517 by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas) would state that “[t]he commissioner may not refuse to designate a high school campus as an early college high school or revoke or refuse to renew a campus’s designation as an early college high school on the basis of the percentage of educationally disadvantaged students enrolled at the high school campus.”

SB 1746 by Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston) would add previous incarceration of the student or student’s parent or guardian to the list of factors qualifying a student as being at risk of dropping out.

SB 2075 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would move some rulemaking authority relating to dyslexia screening from the SBOE to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), specifically in order to monitor and develop remedial strategies.

SB 2135 by Sen. Powell would require information about student offenses that is shared by law enforcement with a superintendent to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.

SB 2282 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would add mental health to the menu of services that may be provided by a school-based health center. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee also voted to advance the following pending bills:

  • SB 608 is the sunset bill for the School Land Board (SLB), which oversees real estate investments within the General Land Office (GLO) that fund education.
  • SB 1776 would require every high school to offer an elective course on “the founding principles of the United States.”
  • SB 2042 would require a study of career and technology education (CTE) programs. This would include a look at what industries are in demand in each region of the state, and whether the CTE courses being offered by local schools adequately address those demands. The study would recommend the elimination of some courses that do not appear to benefit the workforce. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 11 is a major school safety bill heard back in March, which ATPE supported. Members adopted a committee substitute that contained a number of changes, including removing the school safety allotment. Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • SB 1323 would require certain students who are awarded dual credit to complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).
  • SB 1453 would allow students to use calculator functions on their cellphones in lieu of traditional graphing calculators, which would no longer be required.

Senate committee advances bills expanding virtual schools

The Senate Education Committee approved two bills Tuesday afternoon that expand full-time virtual schools in Texas. The committee voted unanimously to advance Senate Bill (SB) 2244, which would remove certain barriers to enrolling in full-time virtual schools and repeal the ability of school districts to charge fees for virtual classes. Members also unanimously advanced SB 1455, which would dramatically expand full-time virtual schools in a number of ways.

ATPE opposed both bills when they were heard the previous week and submitted testimony pointing out the research indicating full-time virtual schools offer a poor quality of education compared to brick-and-mortar classrooms, as well as years of performance data indicating chronic failure among virtual schools already operating in Texas.

The committee also approved the following bills by a unanimous vote:

  • SB 668, which contains recommendations from a working group on school district mandate relief.
  • SB 820, which would require districts to develop cybersecurity networks.
  • SB 1256, which contains cleanup language for the educator misconduct legislation passed as SB 7 in 2017 by the 85th Texas Legislature. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 1376, which contains recommendations from a working group on district mandate relief. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 2018, which would eliminate the committee formed to dissolve Dallas County Schools, now that its task has been completed.
  • SB 2180, which would establish a computer science strategic advisory committee to develop Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) related to cybersecurity.
  • SB 2431, which would create a commission on digital learning that is structured similar to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission would meet during the interim to recommend a framework to incorporate digital teaching and learning in public schools.

Senate Education Committee meeting April 9, 2019.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) began the day by laying out SB 1895, which provides educators with professional development for blended learning. ATPE supports this bill.

Members next heard testimony regarding SB 608 by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). This is the sunset bill for the School Land Board (SLB), which oversees real estate investments within the General Land Office (GLO) that fund education. Typically, the SLB has sent disbursements to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the broader permanent school fund (PSF) portfolio. This oversight power is the board’s sole constitutional duty. Among other things, the sunset bill would expand the SLB to five members from three and allow the SBOE to have a voice in selection of some of the SLB members. SB 1659 by Watson would require the SLB to transfer revenue from real estate to the SBOE for PSF investment and divest and transfer most non-real estate investment assets to the SBOE.

SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., enumerates prohibited disciplinary actions against a student. This includes interventions intended to cause pain, peppery spray, food and water denial, verbal abuse, the immobilization of all four extremities, and similar actions.

SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) would allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan, which includes paying high performing teachers a premium to work at the struggling campus. The bill includes ongoing support and a three-year commitment from participating teachers, 80 percent of which would be required to come from the top quartile in terms of demonstrating student growth. ATPE submitted neutral testimony that focused on eliminating a vendor contracting requirement and clarifying that districts may not be required to base their hiring decisions upon student test performance of the educators.

SB 1453 by Sen. Taylor would allow students to use calculator functions on their cellphones in lieu of traditional graphing calculators, which would no longer be required.

SB 1776 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require every high school to offer an elective course on “the founding principles of the United States.” SB 1777 by Sen. Campbell would require the U.S. History end-of-course (EOC) exam include ten questions from the U.S. citizenship and naturalization test.

SB 2042 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would require a study of career and technology education (CTE) programs. This would include a look at what industries are in demand in each region of the state, and whether the CTE courses being offered by local schools adequately address those demands. The study would recommend the elimination of some courses that do not appear to benefit the workforce. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee also heard SB 2440 and SJR 78 by Sen. Taylor, both of which would move the administration of the PSF from the elected SBOE to a non-elected, appointed board of managers. The bill would additionally create a “bicentennial education fund” for the purpose of providing compensation for highly effective educators. ATPE submitted testimony against both bills, raising the concern that in virtually every case in which educator effectiveness is tied to pay, effectiveness has been determined by student test scores. Research shows that student test scores are neither valid nor reliable indicators of educator effectiveness. ATPE supports differentiated pay for educators who voluntarily take on more challenging tasks or pursue advanced training and certification, but we believe tying test scores to pay serves only to increase concerns about “teaching to the test.”

Senate Education committee discusses virtual schools

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, April 4, to discuss more than a dozen bills, most of which were related to expanding full-time virtual schools in Texas. The committee also approved the following pending bills:

  • SB 863, which would order a study of the costs associated with dual enrollment courses.
  • SB 895, which relates to the language acquisition of children eight years of age or younger who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • SB 933, which would create an office of inspector general (OIG) to investigate the administration of public education. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) introduced a committee substitute that would allow the OIG to investigate the Texas Education Agency (TEA), as well.
  • SB 1276, which relates to an agreement between a school district and a public institution of higher education to provide a dual credit program to high school students enrolled in the district.
  • SB 1731, which would expand the degree requirements for teacher candidates to include those majoring in education.
  • SB 2073, which would allow a school district that provides fewer than 180 days of instruction to reduce the number of days of service required of educators accordingly, without a reduction in pay.

Senate Education Committee meeting April 4, 2019.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) led off Thursday’s discussions with two bills related to cybersecurity. Senate Bill (SB) 820 would require school districts to develop cybersecurity networks, and SB 2180 would establish a computer science strategic advisory committee to develop Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) related to cybersecurity.

Other bills heard Thursday included SB 2018 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), which would eliminate the  committee created last session to dissolve Dallas County Schools, now that the committee’s task has been completed.

SB 713 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would establish a mentor teacher allotment and additional support programs for mentor teacher programs. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 2431 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would create a commission on digital learning that is structured similar to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission under SB 2431 would meet during the interim to recommend a framework to incorporate digital teaching and learning in public schools.

SB 2433 by Sen. Taylor would move the remaining technology applications courses under the umbrella of career and technical education, which would make additional funding available.

SB 2386 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would add the completion of a coherent sequence of courses that leads to an industry certification to the indicators of post-secondary readiness under the public school accountability system.

SB 668 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and SB 1376 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) contain provisions of a working group of education stakeholders that met during the interim to agree upon ways to reduce mandates imposed upon school districts. As one of the participating organizations, ATPE registered in support of SB 1376, which includes the majority of recommendations made by the working group.

SB 1252 by Sen. Lois Kolhkorst (R-Brenham) is part of a larger push to reform or eliminate local Chapter 313 agreements, which offer businesses tax incentives to locate in a particular community. SB 1252 would require the education commissioner to reduce state funding to districts that receive supplemental funding as a result of a Chapter 313 agreement. Sen. Kolkhorst suggested that districts would be made whole for that lost revenue.

The bills on virtual schools include SB 380 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), SB 947 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), SB 2244 by Sen. Paxton, and SB 1455 by Sen. Taylor. Each of these bills would have the effect of substantially expanding full-time virtual schools in Texas. Chairman Taylor offered up a committee substitute for SB 1455 that included some positive provisions regarding vendors, but did not address the large-scale expansion of full-time virtual schools proposed elsewhere in the bill.

ATPE submitted written testimony in opposition to all four bills, pointing to a growing body of evidence that indicates full-time virtual school programs are a poor substitute for brick-and-mortar classrooms. Full-time virtual school programs in Texas have been consistently plagued by performance issues. About 88 percent of the state’s total full-time virtual enrollment, roughly 8,400 students, are served by two providers: Texas Connections Academy, which has been labeled “improvement required” (IR) for three of the last six years, and Texas Virtual Academy, whose campuses have been either not rated or listed as meeting “alternative” standards. The failure rate for virtual schools is far higher than their traditional counterparts. By comparison, just 5.1 percent of campuses statewide were rated improvement required in 2016.

Senate Education committee discusses dual credit

Senate Education Committee meeting, April 2, 2019

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 2, 2019, to consider a handful of bills largely focused on dual credit programs. The committee also voted to advance the following pending bills to the full Senate:

  • SB 1306, which would strengthen the requirement that a school district post the contact information of the campus behavior coordinator.
  • SB 424, which would clarify the criteria for determining the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against a public school student who is in foster care or is homeless.
  • SB 926, which relates to the operation of a public school transportation system. Sens. Lucio and West opposed the bill, which passed by a 7-2 vote.
  • SB 1001, which relates to the suspension of a student who is homeless from public school.
  • SB 1679, which would ensure that a three-year old who is eligible for pre-K remains eligible when they turn four.
  • SB 1707, which would clarify that a school board is allowed to enter into a memorandum of understanding with a local law enforcement agency for the provision of school resource officers.
  • SB 1451, which would protect teachers from adverse employment consequences for simply reporting student behavior. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 2432, which would add harassment to the list of offenses for which a student may be removed from class. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee heard testimony and considered the following items:

SB 591 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) would permanently renew an adult education charter school program that provides adults with the ability to earn their high school diploma. This program has already been running as a pilot, and Sen. Watson’s bill would remove the pilot status. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 676 by Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway) would clarify residency qualifications for the purposes of public school enrollment as they pertain to the children of military personnel.

SB 1276 by Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) would provide for better alignment of dual credit courses between the local school district and partnering institution of higher education. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 1323 by Sen. Taylor would require certain students who are awarded dual credit to complete and submit a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA).

SB 1731 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) would expand the degree requirements for teacher certification to include education majors. This bill was developed jointly by the deans of several state colleges of education.

SB 2073 by Sen. Taylor would clarify that for districts that provide fewer than 180 days of instruction, the number of work days required of teachers can be reduced proportionately without a reduction in pay. ATPE supports this bill.

SB 251 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) would expand the provisions for a public school to enter into an agreement to provide courses jointly with a junior college.

The Senate Education Committee will meet again Thursday, April 4, to consider a number of bill pertaining to virtual schools. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Senate bills threaten to chill educator speech

Senate State Affairs Committee meeting, April 1, 2019

The Senate State Affairs Committee met Monday, April 1, and considered two bills that present serious concerns about free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — particularly when it comes to educators.

Both bills relate to the use of public funds for political advertising, which is already prohibited by state law. ATPE agrees with the current statutes and ethics rules that prohibit public resources from being used for political purposes. Electioneering on school time and with school resources should be illegal. However, the two bills heard by the committee Monday morning would criminalize behavior that is not only nonpolitical, but in some cases even required under state law. Together, they threaten to undermine all of the positive work the Texas Senate has done for public educators so far this session.

Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) filed Senate Bill (SB) 1569, which would dramatically expand the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators.

Electioneering is currently defined as advocating for or against a candidate, political party, or ballot measure. For example: A communication created on school district time or using school district money in support of Proposition X or Candidate Y clearly constitutes electioneering and an unlawful use of public resources. As filed, SB 1569 would include activity that advocates for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” Neither term is defined in law or in Sen. Fallon’s bill, and ATPE contends that each phrase is subject to widely varying interpretation. For example, extolling the virtues of American democracy and our free enterprise system could be considered advocating for a “political philosophy” under this bill – despite the fact that both are required elements of Texas public schools’ curriculum. Likewise, a sign on a school bulletin board promoting a food drive for Hurricane Harvey victims could easily be construed as advocating for “a matter of public interest” if SB 1569 were to be enacted.

Perhaps even more troubling, SB 1569 would expand the definition of “political advertising” to include any political communication “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication (emphasis added).” This could treat private conversations between co-workers as political advertising and subject to criminal penalties. As a whole, SB 1569 would impose a separate set of restrictions on the speech of public school employees that is far more expansive than restrictions imposed upon any other category of public employees.

Read ATPE’s written testimony against SB 1569 here.

SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) aims to prevent third party organizations from sending political advertising to public e-mail addresses, subjecting the sender to a $100 fine per e-mail. This seemingly straightforward idea is complicated by a number of technical factors. First, most political websites allow a visitor to enter their e-mail address and receive automatic campaign updates. This simple process could potentially be abused, either intentionally or unintentionally through “bots” and e-mail spoofing, to rack up massive fines.

SB 904 also extends prohibitions against political advertising to include the use of public communications systems, including WiFi networks. This could have the absurd effect of criminalizing the act of accessing a campaign website from a personal mobile device while off the clock and sitting in a school parking lot. It could also jeopardize a majority of computer use in the Texas State Capitol, where visitors are offered free public WiFi and politics is a major topic of discussion.

Read ATPE’s written testimony against SB 904 here.

Public resources clearly should not be used for electioneering, but such activity is already expressly prohibited in state law. ATPE believes expanding current law in an attempt to broadly restrict the speech of educators as proposed by SB 904 and SB 1569 is unnecessary, discriminatory, and raises serious concerns about potential violations of the First Amendment. Taken together, these bills would likely have a severe chilling effect on educators’ speech.

We urge you to contact your state senator and ask them to OPPOSE SB 904 and SB 1569. ATPE members can use our simple tools at Advocacy Central to send a message to their legislators about these bills.

UPDATE (added 4/5/19): The Senate State Affairs Committee met again on Thursday, April 4, and voted to send these two bills to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. The vote was 6-1 on both SB 1569 and SB 904. Sen. Judith Zaffirini was the only member of the committee to vote against the harmful bills. We urge educators to contact their senators and ask them to keep these bad bills from becoming law.

Senate Education committee considers discipline bills

The Senate Education Committee considered a number of bills Tuesday, March 26, many of which focused on various disciplinary issues. The committee also favorably voted out several bills heard previously. Members approved the following bills:

  • CSSB 243 (by a vote of 6-3 with Sen. Lucio, Powell, and Watson opposing), which would enable school marshals to carry guns on them at all times.
  • CSSB 316 (by a vote of 7-3 with Sens. Lucio, Powell, and Watson opposing), which calls for the attorney general to represent teachers in certain lawsuits. ATPE raised concerns when the bill was originally heard that the subjective determinations made by the attorney general could result in teachers effectively losing or delaying their effective representation.
  • SB 406 (by a vote of 9-1 with Sen. Watson opposing), which would clarify that school marshals could carry concealed handguns.
  • CSSB 213, which would make individual graduation committees (IGC) a permanent option for students who struggle to pass end-of-course STAAR exams. This bill and the rest of the pending bills below passed with the committee’s unanimous approval.
  • SB 372 would allow charter schools to hire and commission peace officers.
  • SB 435 would add opioid addiction to the list of topics addressed by school health advisory committees (SHAC).
  • SB 522 deals with individualized education programs (IEP) for students with visual impairments.
  • CSSB 1230 would create a reporting system for private school educator misconduct.
  • SB 1231 would clarify administrative reporting requirements for child abuse and neglect.
  • SB 1476 would clarify reporting requirements when an investigation reveals an accused teacher was not engaged in misconduct.
  • CSSB 364 would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop model policies on recess.

Today, committee members heard testimony on SB 1451 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which would prohibit a school district from assigning a a teacher an area of deficiency in an appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct. The bill would also prohibit a district from disciplining a teacher for documenting bad student behavior. Sen. Taylor introduced a committee substitute that would clarify that a deficiency may still be assigned separately, provided that a third party documents an issue. ATPE supports this bill.

Another bill by Sen. Taylor, SB 2432, would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a public school student from the classroom. ATPE supports this bill. The following bills were also considered Tuesday:

  • SB 424 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), relating to determining the appropriate disciplinary action to be taken against a public school student who is in foster care or who is homeless.
  • SB 1001 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), relating to the suspension of a student who is homeless from public school.
  • SB 1306 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), which would require a school district to post on the district’s website the name and contact information of each school administrator primarily responsible for student discipline at a district campus.
  • SB 1707 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), relating to the duties of school district peace officers, school resource officers, and security personnel.

A handful of bills heard today were not directly related to discipline. These included SB 926 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), relating to the operation of a public school transportation system, and SB 1679 by Sen. West, which would ensure that any children who are available for pre-K at the age of three remain eligible for enrollment at the age of four. ATPE supports SB 1679.

 

Senate Education passes first bills out of committee

Senate Education Committee meeting March 19, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday to consider several bills and pass its first bills of the legislative session. Members voted the following bills out of committee:

  • SB 244 by Creighton (6-2, with Sens. ‬Powell and West opposing), which would expand the number of school marshals allowed to one per district or charter campus and would remove the cap altogether for private schools.
  • ‪SB 477 by Creighton (8-0, placed on the local and uncontested calendar), which would create a standard renewal date for all school marshal licenses.
  • SB 811 by Hughes (6-2, with Sens. Powell and West opposing), which would create an immunity from liability for school districts that employ armed security personnel, including retired police officers and school marshals, from any damages that arise from any “reasonable action” taken by those personnel.

Members heard testimony on a number of bills, including several that revisited educator misconduct issues addressed during the 2017 legislative session.

Senate Bill (SB) 1256 by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) builds upon the original work done by SB 7 from the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill would expand the ability to track teachers who have been involved in illicit relationships with students to non-certified teachers and school employees by creating a separate registry managed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The bill would also allow TEA to close charter schools and revoke district of innovation (DOI) status for districts that fail to comply with the new law. ATPE supported this bill for thoughtfully filling in the gaps left by SB 7, which ATPE supported in 2017.

SB 1230 and SB 1231 by Bettencourt also build upon SB 7 by pulling in private schools and by expanding child abuse and neglect reporting requirements to private schools and charters, respectively. SB 1476 addresses reporting requirements to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) when an educator has been found to be wrongfully accused of misconduct. ATPE supported this bill.

A related bill, SB 933 by Bettencourt, would create an office of inspector general (OIG) within TEA with the ability to investigate districts and charter schools for potential fraud, waste, and abuse. The committee approved an amendment that expanded the inspector general’s purview to include the agency itself, which is in line with other agency offices of inspector general. Sen Kirk Watson (D-Austin) questioned the cost of creating and staffing an entirely new investigatory division and the veracity of the accompanying fiscal note that stated it would cost the state nothing.

SB 458 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) would add sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children to the list of training topics required of public school board members.

Members also discussed SB 316 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would allow the state office of attorney general (OAG) to defend a teacher in a civil suit “as a result of an act that the teacher in good faith believed was incident to or within the scope of the teacher’s duties if the attorney general determines that the teacher acted in good faith.” Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) asked whether a teacher has the ability to waive the attorney general’s offer and use their own representation. Sen. Watson raised important questions about the subjective interpretation of “scope of duties” and “good faith.” ATPE submitted neutral written testimony that raised similar concerns, along with important considerations regarding legal timelines that could leave teachers in the lurch.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) offered SB 54, which addressed students participating in regional day school programs for the deaf; SB 522, relating to the development of a individual education programs (IEP) for a student with a visual impairment; and SB 895, relating to the language acquisition of children eight years of age or younger who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) offered SB 213, which would repeal the sunset on individual graduation committees (IGC). Currently, a student who fails one or more STAAR tests required for graduation may ask for an IGC to weigh their overall student career and potentially allow them to graduate. This ensures children who are otherwise strong students but may have performed poorly on STAAR for a variety of reasons are not handicapped by the refusal of a high school diploma. Under current law, students will lose this option after the 2018-2019 school year. ATPE supported this bill as an important safety measure, in particular when recent investigations have thrown the validity of the STAAR test itself into question.

SB 364 by Sen. Watson would require TEA develop model policies on the recess period during the school day that encourage constructive, age-appropriate outdoor playtime. The model policies must include guidelines for outdoor equipment and facilities on public school campuses that maximize the effectiveness of outdoor physical activity. ATPE supported this bill.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would allow charter schools to employ security personnel and commission peace officers.

SB 435 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would add opioid addiction to the list of topics covered by local school health advisory councils (SHAC).

 

 

A closer look at Senate school finance and property tax plans

Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 4 at the end of last week, which was the deadline to file most bills for consideration during the 2019 legislative session.

The Senate has focused on property taxes early on this session and also quickly passed SB 3 on March 4, proposing to give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise across-the-board. For its part, the House spent most of the first half of the session preparing to unveil its comprehensive school finance reform plan. After the House released its major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, many were waiting to see how the Senate would respond. SB 4 represents the Senate’s stab at a similar school finance plan.

In its current form, SB 4 is a rough draft with many portions left incomplete. As with the original version of HB 3 as filed, ATPE believes SB 4 as filed includes a mix of favorable and unfavorable proposals. Among its positive aspects, SB 4 would create a full-day pre-K program and allow educators’ children to participate in that. It would also provide professional development materials for implementing blended learning. Below are some additional details on the Senate’s school finance proposal:

SB 4: OUTCOMES FUNDING

The Senate’s bill includes a controversial outcomes-based funding model that would provide school districts additional money for students who perform well on standardized tests. Specifically, SB 4 would create a new third-grade reading allotment that would give districts an unspecified amount of funding for each “educationally disadvantaged” student who performs well on a third-grade reading test chosen by the commissioner of education. The commissioner would determine what it means to be educationally disadvantaged for purposes of this bill.

ATPE and other education stakeholders have continuously pointed out the consensus view of the education community: outcomes-based funding rewards schools that are already performing well, while denying resources to poorly performing schools that need those resources in order to improve. The third-grade reading allotment under SB 4 would likewise leave poorly performing schools to fend for themselves, while sending the resources they need in order to improve to districts that are already doing well.

SB 4: MERIT PAY

Regarding teacher compensation, SB 4 would create an “educator effectiveness” merit pay program. The program would require participating districts to provide merit salary increases based upon the educator’s performance under a new evaluation system that must include student surveys and student academic growth, which is generally measured through standardized test scores. The number of educators who can participate would be restricted to a small percentage of the statewide teaching population, and salary increases under this program would be higher for educators who are assigned to campuses with poor overall or domain performance ratings under the A-F accountability system. While districts would be given a degree of flexibility in designing these programs, the commissioner of education would ultimately have the sole discretion to determine what sort of program meets the criteria.

Research shows that student performance on standardized tests is not a scientifically valid measure of educator effectiveness, especially since the tests were not designed for that purpose. ATPE continues to warn that tying educator pay to student test scores will create a perverse set of incentives that only increases concerns about “teaching to the test.” ATPE supports programs that offer higher pay to educators who volunteer to serve at struggling campuses, take on campus leadership roles above and beyond their classroom duties, or who obtain advanced or high-needs training and certifications. Recognizing that what works for one district doesn’t necessarily work for every district, ATPE recommends that these differentiated pay programs be designed at the local level with input from educators, and not be tied to a single set of agency-approved criteria.

SB 4: OTHER CHANGES

The Senate’s school finance bill also includes school district funding for each student in kindergarten through grade three who is educationally disadvantaged or in a bilingual or special language program. It would create a new allotment to provide district funding for each educationally disadvantaged student who demonstrates college, career, or military readiness.

SB 4 would make the following additional changes:

  • Create new weighted funding for dual language instruction and students with dyslexia.
  • Expand career and technology education (CTE) program funding to the eighth grade.
  • Convert transportation funding to mileage-based from a linear density-based formula.
  • Order a study of the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA).
  • Create new small and midsize and fast growth allotments.
  • Codify the state’s 60×30 graduation goal and order a biennial progress report.
  • Require students to fill out a FAFSA before graduation.
  • Eliminate intensive summer programs for students at risk of dropping out.
  • Adjust the equalized wealth level under Chapter 41.

The bill would eliminate the high school allotment, gifted and talented allotment, and outdated cost of education index (CEI), presumably to roll them into the basic allotment. Placeholder language in the bill indicates Sen. Taylor intends changes to other formula weights as well, but an estimate of the bill’s cost cannot be completed until those numbers are included.

SENATE PRIORITY BILLS

In the Senate, bills that are important to the lieutenant governor receive the lowest bill numbers. As one of the first five bills in numerical order, SB 4 is considered a major priority bill. The top five includes SB 1, which is the Senate budget that includes $3.7 billion to cover the $5,000 raise proposed in SB 3 — another priority bill. The addition of librarians to SB 3 raised the price tag of that pay raise bill to $3.9 billion.

The Senate’s property tax relief program consists of SB 2 and SB 5. Filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), SB 5 would increase the amount of state funding to local school districts in order to raise the individual homestead exemption from $25,000 up to $35,000. This would ease some of the burden on homeowners, who have paid for an increasing share of the cost of public education as property values have risen and the current funding formulas have allowed the state to decrease its contributions.

Also filed by Sen. Bettencourt, SB 2 would cap the annual revenue growth of local taxing entities, including school districts, at 2.5 percent. If local tax collections increase more than 2.5 percent due to an increase in property values, then the local taxing unit most lower the tax rate or hold an election asking voters if they can exceed the 2.5 percent cap. Cities and counties have argued that this could imperil their ability to provide basic services, including first responders.

The Senate has already passed SB 3, but an across-the-board teacher pay raise has faced a chilly reception in the Texas House. SB 2 faces an uncertain future, with members raising serious concerns over the impact the 2.5 percent cap would have on public safety and local services. At this time, SB 2 has yet to be scheduled for debate on the Senate floor. SB 4 and SB 5 are the most recently filed bills, and both await hearings in their respective committees. Keep checking back on here at TeachtheVote.org for updates.

Senate committee discusses school marshal, safety bills

Senate Education Committee meeting March 5, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met today, March 5, 2019, to discuss a school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 11 yesterday, which includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. ATPE supports the bill.

Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) kicked off the meeting by introducing SB 406, which would allow school marshals to carry a concealed firearm on their person. This would eliminate a provision in current law that restricts school marshals who are in regular, direct contact with students from carrying a firearm on their person.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) then laid out several complementary bills, including SB 243, SB 244, and SB 477. These bills would have the effect of increasing the allowable number of school marshals, allowing greater flexibility in their ability to carry firearms, and implementing a uniform license renewal date.

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) introduced SB 811, which would extend liability protection to districts that employ school marshals.

Sen. Taylor explained SB 11 as a work in progress and the result of Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety report and action plan, both of which came in response to last year’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The bill includes requiring districts to adopt a multihazard emergency operations plan and create threat assessment teams. It would require additional grief and trauma training for school employees. The bill proposes a $50 per average daily attendance (ADA) allotment for mental health and school safety expenses and a one-time drawdown of economic stabilization fund (ESF) or “rainy day fund” dollars for school hardening.

Santa Fe ISD Board of Trustees President Rusty Norman testified that school hardening is not the only solution to school safety, and things like metal detectors require an enormous amount of ongoing funding. Norman stressed the importance of school counselors and mental health services to prevent tragedies.

The committee is expected to continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays as needed, with the early focus on the emergency items declared by the governor.