Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

Texas election news roundup

It’s another week and another round of election news in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) has been busy setting special elections to finish the unexpired terms of legislators who have decided to step down before the next election. Voters will decide who succeeds state Reps. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) on November 5, 2019, which is also the date of the state constitutional election. The winners of those two races will have to turn around and defend their seats in the 2020 elections next year.

In the meantime, another Democrat has filed to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the 2020 election. Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is a Latina organizer who started the Workers Defense Project and Jolt Texas, the latter of which aims to mobilize young Hispanic voters. Ramirez will join a Democratic field that already includes state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), former congressional candidate MJ Hegar, and former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell.

Finally, Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) announced plans late last week to challenge state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), who has often sided with his Republican colleagues in the 31-member Texas Senate on issues such as school privatization. This sets up a potentially heated Democratic primary for the South Texas Senate district.

This November’s election will decide a number of important potential amendments to the Texas Constitution, including one relating to school finance. It is critical that educators stay engaged beginning this November and following through the party primaries in March 2020 — all the way to the November 2020 general election. Now is a good time to check if you’re registered to vote, which you can do by using resources put together by the Texas Educators Vote coalition of which ATPE is a member. Check out the coalition’s new website at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

November 2019 ballot propositions and other election news

This week saw a steady trickle of election-related news. Some of it had to do with the upcoming constitutional election this November, and some of it had to do with races on the primary election ballot next March 2020.

First up, the Texas Secretary of State announced the ballot order for 10 proposed constitutional amendments that will go before Texas voters this November 5, 2019. Proposition 7 is the measure with the greatest direct impact on public education. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 passed by the 86th Texas Legislature describes the measure as “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

Proposition 7 would increase the maximum annual distribution of revenue derived from public land by the General Land Office (GLO) or other agency to the available school fund (ASF) for public schools. If approved by voters, that maximum amount would increase from $300 million to $600 million per year. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board was unable to predict whether this would provide enough additional permanent school fund (PSF) revenue to significantly offset state spending from general revenue.

Next up, a couple of familiar names in Texas politics surfaced in relation to federal races on the November 2020 ballot. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) announced Monday he plans to enter the Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). West joins a crowded Democratic primary field that includes M.J. Hegar, who narrowly lost a general election race against Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in Congressional District (CD) 31. Also on Monday, former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) announced plans to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy in CD 21. Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson announced late Thursday he will not run for reelection in CD 22, which is expected to be a hotly contested race next November. Expect campaign announcements to continue throughout the summer and fall.

As our friends at Texas Educators Vote (TEV) point out, now is a good time to review your voter registration status. Have you moved since the last election? Click here to find out if you’re registered to vote. If you need to update your registration, click here. The deadline to register to vote in this November’s constitutional election is October 7.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 12, 2019

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


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) invited education stakeholders, including ATPE, to a meeting with Commissioner Mike Morath on Monday to go over the agency’s plan for providing public information on the implementation of the tax compression and school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3. The commissioner walked attendees through a high-level presentation on the various aspects of the 300-page bill that will be enacted over the coming months and years, including subjects related to teacher training and compensation.

The gist is that the agency has created an informational website and will be releasing a new video each week discussing a single topic of HB 3. This week, the agency released a new video detailing changes to the compensatory education allotment, which provides funding for economically disadvantaged students. You can watch that video here. Read your ATPE Governmental Relations team’s full post on Monday’s meeting here.


The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees will be in Austin next week, July 18-19, for a regularly scheduled board meeting. Of note at this particular meeting, the board will decide the timing for delivery of the 13th check that will be delivered to retirees as a result of the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 12. Board materials and a link to a live stream of the meeting can found here.


ATPE is headed to Houston next week for the 2019 Summit, where educators from every corner of Texas will come together, elect ATPE state officers, and set our association’s policy agenda for the next year.

Members will enjoy valuable opportunities to network and make friends with colleagues across the state, as well as learn about important legislation and earn CPE credit. The ATPE Governmental Relations team will be presenting an update on what happened during the 86th legislative session, as well as what you can do to stay engaged and make sure the state follows through on promises made to educators in 2019. ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist, David Pore, will also participate in the legislative update for members, addressing federal issues of interest to the education community.

If you’ll be attending the ATPE Summit, we look forward to seeing you there!


TEA begins deep dives on HB 3 topics

The Texas Education Agency held an information session Monday, July 8, 2019, in which Commissioner of Education Mike Morath briefed education stakeholders, including ATPE’s lobbyists, on various components of House Bill (HB) 3 that will be rolling out over the next several months.

As the session’s major tax compression and school finance bill, HB 3 orders the state and school districts to implement several programmatic changes over the coming months and years. In order to make the process more transparent, TEA has created an HB 3 resource website, which you can view here.

DEEP DIVES

TEA’s website is intended to host a number of “deep dive” updates on various components of HB 3, with a new deep dive posted every week. One of the first is an update on master teacher certifications, which are being phased out as a result of HB 3. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has received several questions about what will happen to teachers who are currently certified as reading masters. The long and short of it is that all master certificates will be converted to “legacy” master certificates and remain valid until their expiration date. Current master teachers should consider whether their underlying certifications are aligned to their current teaching assignments and may reach out to ATPE or TEA with any questions. The official TEA guidance on the subject can be viewed here. The agency’s next deep dive will address compensatory education and is scheduled for release this Thursday, July 11, on the TEA’s HB 3 website. A list of scheduled deep dives can be found here.

SCHOOL FINANCE

The school finance bill should provide additional funding for most districts, worth an average of $635 more per average daily attendance (ADA). Along with the new funding, HB 3 orders school districts to do several things and suggests they do several more. Commissioner Morath conceded to stakeholders Monday that the state has not calculated whether the additional funding schools receive will be enough to do all of what they are being asked, and he indicated that it is likely that roughly 15 school districts will not receive sufficient funding to cover the increase in the educator minimum salary schedule (MSS) mandated under HB 3.

TEACHER PAY

Under HB 3, districts will have the option of accessing a “teacher incentive allotment” if they develop a local program to offer differentiated pay based on teacher quality. This allotment may provide participating districts from $3,000 to $32,000 in additional funding per teacher who qualifies under an approved local program, but it is important to note that this funding will not go directly to the teacher. Instead, that money will go to the district with the requirement that 90 percent of it be spent on compensation for teachers at the participating campus. Schools with existing programs will likely see additional funding in September 2020 for programs in effect during the upcoming school year, and new programs will likely be eligible to receive funding by 2021.

OTHER RULES IMPACTING EDUCATORS

The school finance bill also expanded the “do not hire registry” of public school educators who have been convicted of an inappropriate relationship to non-certified employees. This change is effective immediately, and a deep dive on this topic is scheduled to be released by TEA before the start of the fall semester.

Every teacher in kindergarten through grade 3 must attend a reading academy within the next three years at the school district’s expense. Each academy is expected to include a five-day summer institute, two days of pull-outs, and 12 coaching sessions during the year, plus three days the following summer. Educators will not receive a state stipend for attendance, but the agency indicated there is an expectation that districts will provide them with a stipend. All future K-3 educators will be required to cover the reading academy’s curriculum before placement, which means reading academy instruction will transfer to educator preparation programs (EPPs) going into the future.

New teachers certified for pre-K through grade 6 will also be required to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading (STR) by January 1, 2021. The agency is currently working on a test for STR proficiency.

OUTCOMES FUNDING

Districts may receive additional outcomes-based funding under HB 3 for each annual graduate above a certain threshold percentage who checks a box indicating they are college, career, or military ready (CCMR). Districts are expected to receive money this year for Class of 2018 graduates.

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONAL DAYS

HB 3 allows schools to add instructional days beyond the current minimum of 180 days up to 210 days. These days will not be subject to compulsory attendance and will be optional at each district’s discretion. The funding will not cover the full cost of operating schools on those days, and the agency acknowledged that many districts may simply use this program to subsidize their existing summer school programs.

You can view the complete slide deck TEA presented to stakeholders on Monday by clicking here. This slide deck includes graphical presentations on many of HB 3’s main components. The agency will continue to produce informational content each week, with compensatory education scheduled for this week and pre-K scheduled for next week. You can see what the agency has already published by clicking on the HB 3 resource page.

Pension review board discusses recent legislation

The Texas Pension Review Board (PRB) met Thursday, June 27, 2019, in Austin with a focus on reviewing pension-related legislation passed by the 86th Texas Legislature.

Members began by recognizing outgoing Chair Josh McGee, who passes the gavel to new Chair Stephanie Leibe. The PRB governmental relations team then walked the board through a handful of items resulting from the most recent legislative session. The bills include:

  • Senate Bill (SB) 2224 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) requires every public retirement system to adopt a written funding policy that details the system’s plan for achieving a funding ratio equal to or greater than 100 percent. Each plan must be submitted to the system’s sponsor and the PRB.
  • SB 322 by Sen. Huffman relates to the evaluation and reporting of investment practices and the performance of certain public retirement systems. Public retirement systems must now include in their annual financial report information about how much investment managers are being paid, as well as hire an independent firm to evaluate the system’s investment practices.
  • SB 12 by Sen. Huffman relates to contributions into and benefits under the Teacher
    Retirement System of Texas (TRS). This bill increases the annual base employer contribution, supplemental employer contribution, and member contribution rates over a five-year period. Certain retired members will also receive a 13th check this year capped at the lesser of the amount of their monthly TRS annuity check check or $2,000.
  • House Bill (HB) 2763 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton) relates to the police pension fund in certain municipalities.

The agenda book for the current PRB meeting included additional bills related to pensions, such as HB 3. While the school finance bill does not directly address TRS, PRB staff suggest that a significant increase in the salaries of some educators could affect the financial position of TRS over the short term. You can read the full agenda book for today’s meeting here.

PRB Executive Director Anumeha Kumar also explained the agency’s legislatively approved budget, as well as the revised rule review plan for the board. This plan will lay out the process by which the board will review rules for adoption, revision, or repeal.

Staff indicated that as a result of legislation passed this session, the TRS pension’s amortization period is projected to drop from 87 years to under 30 years. This would meet the minimum requirements for being considered actuarially sound and therefore eligible to provide members a cost of living adjustment (COLA). The plan’s amortization period jumped to 87 from 32 last year as a result of the TRS board’s decision to change actuarial assumptions to reflect more conservative economic forecasts.

TRS is by far the largest active plan under the purview of the PRB, with more than $154 billion in assets. The next largest plan, the Texas County & District Retirement System, is worth $30 billion. The PRB briefly mentioned a new resource that is available for members of the public to see a snapshot of the health of the state’s various public pension plans. The Texas Public Pension Data Center can be found here.

TEA rolls out resource website for HB 3, school finance changes

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is rolling out a new website and video series to try and explain the various components of House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance bill passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year.

At more than 300 pages in length, HB 3 sets in motion a significant number of policy changes that will have marked effects on schools and classrooms. Among these changes is language in the bill that directs school districts that see a substantial increase in school funding as a result of HB 3 to dedicate some of that new funding to increasing compensation for school employees, with priority given to classroom teachers with more than five years of experience.

In the month that passed since HB 3 became law, some districts have awarded raises for school employees, although it’s unclear whether HB 3 was the catalyst. Many districts will await further guidance from TEA before implementing the compensation sections of HB 3 in order to know exactly how they are expected to distribute any new funding and what form the additional compensation may take — i.e. salary, healthcare and retirement contributions, or other benefits that carry a dollar value.

To answer questions like these for the general public, TEA has set up an HB 3 information website that can be found here. The website currently hosts an introductory video by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. The agency plans to release a series of 30-minute videos entitled “HB3 in 30,” each of which is intended to explain specific components of HB 3. According to a press release from the agency:

“Videos will be released every Thursday and will be accompanied by supporting documents available for download. A full schedule of weekly release dates, a summary of HB3, frequently asked questions, and implementation guidance for school districts can be found on the TEA House Bill 3 information site.

The first video in the series, an overview of Budget Planning for Teacher Compensation, is scheduled for release on Thursday, June 26.”

Districts will continue to receive formal guidance documents from TEA, the first round of which was released earlier this month. Links to these documents are also provided at the bottom of the HB 3 information site.

For more on the anticipated impact of HB 3, be sure to check out the ATPE Governmental Relations team’s comprehensive analysis of the bill here on Teach the Vote.

SBOE rejects application for new charter by Harmony founder

SBOE meeting, June 14, 2019.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday, June 14, 2019, to conclude its nearly week-long meeting. As we reported on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog yesterday, the most high-profile item on this week’s agenda was the approval or veto of five new charter school applications. All were recommended for approval prior to this SBOE meeting by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The new charter applications being considered this week were on behalf of Elevate Collegiate Charter School (Houston), Houston Classical Charter School (Houston), Royal Public Schools (Austin, Houston), San Antonio Preparatory Charter School (San Antonio), and The Gathering Place (San Antonio). The full board discussed the applications today, following a similar review by an SBOE committee yesterday. After hours of testimony by educators and administrators universally opposed to each of the new applicants, members of the board’s Committee on School Initiatives voted 3-2 to veto all but one of the applicants on Thursday. Members of that committee voted 4-1 to approve the application from The Gathering Place.

During Friday’s full board meeting, SBOE Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) highlighted the ability of charter holders to expand in an unrestricted manner after their initial approval. He urged the board to vote against the new applicants. Members raised concerns including negative fiscal impacts on nearby school districts, lack of experience and qualifications among top staff of the applicants, and false information included in some applications. SBOE Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) expressed concerns over the negative consequences each charter would have on the funding available to local schools in each district.

The board has the legal authority to veto applications for new charters that have been approved by the commissioner. Members voting to effectively approve the charters contended that it is not the board’s purview to reject new charters on a wholesale basis, and any issue with charters in general should be taken up by the legislature. The full board voted to reverse each of the committee’s veto recommendations and instead effectively approve the remaining applications, with one exception.

The board spent an extensive amount of time this week questioning Soner Tarim, the founder of Harmony Public Schools and principal applicant on behalf of Royal Public Schools. SBOE Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) walked Tarim through six pages of questions ranging from the lack of local and demographically appropriate board members to numbers in the application that indicate its schools would serve lower percentages of English language learners and students in special education than surrounding district campuses. Members ultimately voted 8-5 today to veto the application from Royal Public Schools.

SBOE takes hard look at new charter school applicants

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Thursday morning in three separate committees to consider various items. The highest profile item on Thursday’s agenda was a hearing of the Committee on School Initiatives to consider whether to approve five new open-enrollment charter school applications recommended by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

SBOE School Initiatives Committee meeting, June 13, 2019.

SBOE Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) raised a concern that the mission of charter schools has strayed from the initial reason for their creation decades ago, which was to become laboratories of innovation. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) expressed concern regarding the fiscal impact of the new charters on local independent school districts. Members Robinson and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) also pointed out discrepancies in the application submitted by Royal Public Schools, in particular that it cited failing public schools as a reason for opening despite the fact that there are no failing schools in the areas in which the schools would be opened. Royal Public Schools is operated by the founder of Harmony Public Schools, one of the state’s largest charter operations.

Dozens of educators and administrators testified against the new charter applicants, raising concerns ranging from fiscal and academic consequences to the lack of educational credentials of the applicants. After several hours of testimony, the committee voted 3-2 to veto all but one of the new charter applicants. Members Robinson, Cortez, and Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) voted to veto the applicants, while Members Ellis and Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) voted to approve. The committee voted 4-1 to approve The Gathering Place. The committee’s recommendation will go before the entire board on Friday for a formal vote.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this week’s SBOE meetings continue.

 

Commissioner updates SBOE on HB 3 and other education bills

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath updated the State Board of Education (SBOE) today, June 12, 2019, on recent bills passed by the 86th Texas Legislature affecting public education. His remarks included comments on the major school finance and reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3.

Commissioner Morath began with a review of HB 3906, which makes several changes to how state assessments are delivered. Intended do reduce test anxiety, the bill bthis blog post from the ATPE lobby team.

Under HB 3, TEA is required to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a public institution to study the STAAR and ensure that the assessment meets certain criteria: It is to be written at the appropriate reading level; should only include content aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for that grade level or earlier grades; and should only include passages written at or below the reading level of the grade level for the assessment. This report is due to the legislature by December 1, 2019.

Commissioner Mike Morath addressing SBOE members on June 12, 2019.

The commissioner provided the board with a high-level review of the main components of HB 3, which the agency estimates will provide an average increase of $635 per student in average daily attendance (ADA). You can read the full analysis of HB 3 by ATPE’s lobbyists here.

Aside from new legislation, Commissioner Morath indicated that the agency has found the financial resources to follow through with the SBOE’s request to create a charter school transparency website, which will provide easy access to more information on charter schools. A beta version of the website will be available by spring 2020. This segued into a discussion on TEA’s process of reviewing applications for new charters, and the commissioner walked the board through the five applications he has recommended for approval, which were announced late last week. SBOE member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) pointed out the short notice and requested that the agency provide its charter recommendations further ahead of time.

SBOE member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) asked the commissioner to review the incentive pay program created under HB 3. Morath noted that local school districts will be able to develop programs based upon the current T-TESS evaluation system, with Texas Tech University tasked with reviewing districts’ programs for quality control. The commissioner added that while “master” teacher designations were envisioned as roughly the top five percent of teachers based on performance, the bill requires that the system enable all teachers to be mathematically able to qualify for the designation. Commissioner Morath pointed out that HB 3 requires that 90 percent of a district’s incentive pay funding must be used to increase the salary of teachers working on the campus at which the incentive pay program is in place, though not necessarily each teacher. With that in mind, Morath suggested that districts could “craftily invest in a teacher group.”

After the commissioner spoke, TEA’s governmental relations team updated the board on how the SBOE’s legislative recommendations fared during the 2019 legislative session. Hunter Thompson walked members through changes the legislature made to governance of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), which the board oversees, as well as incentives to hire and retain teachers, which Thompson suggested were included in the provisions of HB 3. Thompson also credited HB 3 with accomplishing a number of objectives laid out in the board’s Long-Range Plan (LRP) for Public Education. SBOE chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) and member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) suggested in the future that the board may consider drafting legislative recommendations earlier in order to spend more time educating legislators about those issues in the run-up to a legislative session.

Session Recap: The big school safety bill

One of the largest education-related bills the 86th Texas Legislature passed was Senate Bill (SB) 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the omnibus school safety bill passed in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in May 2018.

The final version of the ATPE-supported SB 11 contained a number of provisions, the most important of which is a school safety allotment, which may be used for a wide variety of purposes, including securing facilities, purchasing security technology, hiring security personnel, and providing training. According to the fiscal note, the allotment is expected to provide an additional $9.72 per student in average daily attendance (ADA) at a cost of roughly $100 million over the next two years. The other major provisions of SB 11 are as follows:

MULTIHAZARD EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLANS

  • Each district’s multihazard emergency operations plan must include measures to ensure employees have classroom access to direct communications with emergency personnel, and the district’s communications infrastructure must be adequate to allow for communication during an emergency.
  • A multihazard emergency operations plan must include a chain of command, provisions that address physical and psychological safety, provisions ensuring the safety of students in portable buildings and people with disabilities, provisions for providing immediate notification to parents of a significant threat, training and strategies for suicide prevention, and implementation of trauma-informed policies.
  • If a district does not comply with the requirements for its multihazard emergency operations plan, the school board must hold a public hearing. The commissioner may also appoint a conservator or board of managers to order the district to put a plan in place. If the district refuses, the conservator or board of managers may take over the district.
  • Local school safety and security committees must include law enforcement and emergency management officials, provide periodic recommendations to update the district’s multihazard emergency operations plan, consult with local law enforcement regarding ways to increase law enforcement presence near district campuses, and hold regular public meetings.
  • The Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) may audit a district’s plan and must establish a regular review cycle.

THREAT ASSESSMENT & SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE SCHOOL TEAMS

  • Each district’s board of trustees must appoint a threat assessment team and a safe and supportive school team to serve at each campus to assess threats and to develop and implement a new safe and supportive school program developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the TSSC.
  • Teams must immediately report to the superintendent any determination that a person poses a threat to himself or others.
  • Teams must report demographic data back to the TEA regarding assessments and disciplinary actions.
  • TSSC must adopt model policies and procedures to assist districts in training threat assessment teams.

TEXAS CHILD MENTAL HEALTH CARE CONSORTIUM

  • The bill creates a new Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, established to leverage the expertise of institutions of higher education to address urgent mental health care challenges.
  • The consortium will establish a network of comprehensive child psychiatry access centers and expand telemedicine for identifying mental health needs.
  • The consortium will be funded using $99 million from state general revenue.

OTHER PROVISIONS

  • The commissioner of education must adopt rules regarding best practices for school district and charter school facilities that provide a secure and safe environment.
  • District improvement plans must include a trauma-informed care policy.
  • The commissioner must provide a waiver of operational and instructional time for a district that requires each educator to attend a school safety training course, provided that the waiver does not result in an inadequate number of minutes of instructional time for students or reduce operational and instructional time by more than 420 minutes.
  • Physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention are added to the Health curriculum.
  • The State Board of Education (SBOE) must require each district to incorporate instruction on digital citizenship and cyberbullying.
  • Suicide early warning signs, mental health, and identifying community resources for suicide risks and behavioral health concerns are added to the responsibilities of local school health advisory committees (SHAC).
  • A district that receives a bomb threat or terroristic threat must provide immediate parental notification.
  • The commissioner must adopt rules providing school evacuation procedures and designating school drills, including fire exit, lockdown, lockout, shelter-in-place, and evacuation drills.
  • The TEA must develop a rubric for use by the regional education service centers (ESC) in identifying local mental health resources. Each ESC must create an inventory of local resources and report it to the TEA.
  • The TEA must develop a statewide plan for mental health, which includes connecting people to local mental health resources. The plan must be used to revise the agency’s long-term strategic plan and progress must be reported to the legislature.
  • Districts may issue bonds for retrofitting vehicles for safety or security purposes.

Full implementation of SB 11 will require multiple entities to work in coordination with each other and districts, as well as what will likely be significant rulemaking to implement aspects of the law.