Author Archives: Mark Wiggins

SBOE wraps up November meeting with goodbyes

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday, November 20, to conclude its week-long meeting with a final vote on revisions to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for health, physical education, and science.

Former SBOE chairs Donna Bahorich (left) and Barbara Cargill (right)

Before discussing the TEKS, the board said goodbye to former chairs Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) and Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands), as well as Members Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) and Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio). All four members announced their intent to retire at the end of the current term and will be succeeded in January by winners of the November 2020 general election. ATPE thanks these outgoing members for their years of service.

On Wednesday, the board approved a list of its recommendations for legislation in the upcoming session of the 87th Texas Legislature. SBOE members also voted Friday to add a recommendation that their board be empowered to impose administrative penalties on publishers who fail to follow the instructional materials process.

Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) noted that Wednesday’s board vote to set the distribution rate for the next biennium to 4.18% marked a total two-year distribution of $3.34 billion, “the largest in the history of the fund.”

The SBOE also gave the final green light to a new administrative rule that will allow Legacy Master Teachers, including Legacy Master Reading Teachers, to retain their certificates without expiration. After receiving feedback from master reading teachers whose certificates were scheduled to expire as a result of last session’s House Bill 3, ATPE brought the issue to the attention of Texas Education Agency staff and state officials. This solution will ensure those certificates do not expire and Legacy Master Teachers will remain eligible to retain their current teaching assignments.

SBOE Update: Board seeks more authority over charter expansion, ATPE advances Master Teacher rule fix

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is meeting this week for the last time this calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been attending the virtual meetings and reporting on them here on our ATPE advocacy blog. Here are the latest developments:

Wednesday highlights:

On Wednesday, November 18, the board began its day with a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the discussion between the board members and commissioner in this blog post from yesterday. Also on Wednesday, the board debated its legislative recommendations for 2021, and set the Permanent School Fund (PSF) distribution rate for the next two-year state budget.

The board held a preliminary vote to set a distribution rate of 4.18% from the PSF for the 2022-23 budget biennium, directing $1.17 billion per fiscal year and $3.34 billion for the biennium to fund public schools. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the board’s Committee on School Finance/PSF, noted that the Legislature will ask the board to contribute as much as possible due to the financial strain on the state caused by the recession. In response to questions about why the board can’t contribute more than it does, Maynard explained that the nature of endowments is that they are limited in how much they can distribute while protecting the corpus and maintaining growth of the fund.

TEA staff updated the board on the results of the SBOE’s legislative recommendations for the previous session in 2019. Among the items included in the board’s recommendations last session were changes to PSF governance to address conflicts between the SBOE and the School Land Board (SLB), which manages the fund’s real estate assets and is housed within the General Land Office (GLO). The 86th Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2019 designed to mitigate those conflicts and requiring the two boards to meet together at least once a year.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis presides over the November meeting.

The board then considered its legislative recommendations for the upcoming 2021 legislative session, beginning with readopting recommendations that had not been addressed in 2019. The recommendations comprise legislation the board would like to support.

The board approved a legislative recommendation introduced by Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) to expand the SBOE’s authority to approve or reject charter school expansion amendments. The board currently has veto authority over the approval of new charter chains, but no authority over the expansion to additional campuses once a charter chain is approved. The commissioner is the sole authority who decides whether charter chains can open additional campuses; the current commissioner has allowed charter chains, including those with failing accountability ratings, to expand exponentially. The SBOE did not approve a recommendation, however, calling for a moratorium on new charter chains.

Perez also proposed a recommendation on reducing the number of high-stakes tests to only those that are required under federal law, as well as removing A-F grades used in the state’s accountability system for schools. ATPE has advocated for removing harmful labels from the accountability system that oversimplify educational factors and only serve to stigmatize schools and communities. Unfortunately, the SBOE did not adopt this recommendation today.

The board also did not approve a number of recommendations Perez proposed that explicitly expressed support for protecting the health and safety of educators and students by granting local districts the flexibility to make determinations about educational delivery, as well as requiring that local educators and parents have meaningful input into reopening decisions.

Members then resumed discussion on curriculum standards (TEKS) up for final adoption at this month’s meeting. The board will vote on the revised TEKS for health, physical education, and science during their Friday meeting.

Thursday highlights:

The board divided into its three standing committees Thursday morning, with the School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/PSF Committees holding separate hearings.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified before the Committee on School Initiatives Thursday morning in support of a new administrative rule that will allow Legacy Master Teachers to retain their certificates without expiration. ATPE’s Governmental Relations team approached Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff in the summer of 2019 with concerns raised by Legacy Master Teachers whose certificates were scheduled to expire as a result of language in House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE worked with agency staff and other stakeholders to develop a solution that would allow Legacy Master Teachers, including Legacy Master Reading Teachers, to continue teaching in their current positions. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) approved the final rule in October of 2020.

By law, all rules passed by SBEC must be reviewed by SBOE, which holds veto authority that is rarely executed. Wiggins thanked TEA staff, SBEC members, and House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) for their work to ensure that the expertise of Legacy Master Teachers remains in the classroom. After Wiggins’s testimony, the committee advanced the rule to the full board with a favorable recommendation. The rule will go into effect pending a favorable review by the full SBOE on Friday.

SBOE presses commissioner over STAAR

Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before the November 18, 2020 meeting of the SBOE.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) Wednesday morning at the board’s November meeting. The commissioner updates the board at each meeting on various Texas Education Agency (TEA) initiatives. Many SBOE members at Wednesday’s meeting voiced consternation over the planned administration of the STAAR this school year, as well as other concerns that echo what ATPE has been asking of Morath and other state officials.

Morath began his presentation this morning with a brief overview of the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR), which is a formal document each agency submits to the incoming legislature outlining its recommendations for the next two-year budget. The agency’s LAR includes $26.2 billion for the Foundation School Program (FSP), which directly funds public schools, as well as $164.6 million for the agency’s administration. Spending on Titles I-VI totals $2.2 billion, along with $2.5 billion for nutrition and $1.1 billion for special education.

According to Morath, the agency has already executed a request from state leaders for all agencies to cut their spending by 5% in response to the economic recession. This cut is already included in the agency’s LAR. The commissioner said the LAR includes one “exceptional item” requesting $10 million to attract and train effective and diverse educators and $10 million for targeted interventions and campus supports. Separate from state funding, Morath said the state had received roughly $2 billion in CARES Act funding, including $908 million in net new funding.

The commissioner also touted Schoology, which is learning management software (LMS) the state has purchased and made available to approximately 400 local education agencies (LEAs). The state has spent $64 million on Texas Home Learning, which is a virtual learning platform. Morath said 256 LEAs have registered to engage with THL content since June. Board Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) noted this is an engagement rate of only 24% of LEAs and suggested that CARES Act funding would be better utilized for more equitable, sustainable, and long-term supports that benefit all schools.

SBOE Member Barbara Cargill

Outgoing Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) pointed out that many teachers are thinking about leaving the profession because of the overwhelming increase in workload resulting from the combination of virtual and in-person classroom responsibilities. “What encouragement can we give them?” asked Cargill. Morath responded that what teachers need most is time. The commissioner stated the vast majority of schools are using a concurrent model, which makes teachers conduct both virtual and in-person instruction and requires twice the prep work. The commissioner noted that the agency has shared alternative staffing models with districts that could reduce the workload demands on individual teachers. Increased workload demands have been cited frequently by educators, including in a new comprehensive ATPE survey report released today.

Several members asked the commissioner about waivers or adjustments to STAAR administration for the 2020-21 school year. Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) directly asked the commissioner to scrap this year’s STAAR test. Morath indicated that the agency’s plan is to apply for waivers for certain participation requirements in spring and that TEA is considering adjustments to the A-F accountability system. Yet Morath seemed to imply that there are no plans to cancel the test, despite the growing backlash against the high-stakes test.

Member Perez-Diaz pointed out that there is no reliable data this year with which to evaluate student progress. Member Pam Little (R-Fairview) asked whether schools could be allowed to use the measure of academic progress (MAP) instead of STAAR for accountability purposes. The commissioner suggested that approach is complicated by lack of consistent protocols or benchmarks, but that it was under consideration.

Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) asked whether TEA was considering easing up on teacher evaluation requirements, pointing out the difficulty of evaluating remote learning under the current system. Echoing a response to ATPE when our association similarly asked for a moratorium on appraisal requirements, Morath told Perez today schools already have flexibility on evaluations, but he said the agency will explore whether additional flexibility is needed.

Members also pressed the commissioner over his claim that schools are “remarkably safe environments” with regard to COVID-19. Perez-Diaz asked whether contact tracing was being conducted on campuses that could back up the claims that there isn’t much spread in schools. The commissioner said the agency hasn’t found evidence of underreporting by districts, despite many reports to the contrary. The commissioner conceded that identifying the source of transmission has proven to be difficult due to the level of community spread, but he pointed to data about the spread of COVID-19 in schools in other countries to justify his claim.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) pointed out that the Rio Grande Valley is home to 4.7% of the state’s population, yet has experienced 18% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths. Cortez shared reports that some 200 employees have tested positive for the virus in Hidalgo County schools and emphasized the importance of giving schools the flexibility to continue remote-only instruction while infections are spiking. Morath responded by suggesting that schools have existing flexibility.

Senate Education Committee discusses virtual schools, special education, and COVID-19

The Senate Education Committee met Friday, November 13, at the Texas Capitol to discuss an agenda including digital learning, special education, House Bill (HB) 3, and state assessments. Like the committee’s last interim hearing, senators met in person and sat separated by clear plexiglass dividers. The committee only accepted invited testimony, which was delivered virtually.

Most of Friday’s witnesses were school superintendents who testified about their various experiences with virtual learning. The brunt of the testimony was geared toward expanding virtual schools, which ATPE has long cautioned against. Research has consistently found that full-time virtual schools are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. ATPE submitted testimony to the committee warning that although educators have adapted to virtual learning for now in order to protect public health, it is unwise to expand full-time virtual schools on a permanent basis. ATPE recognizes that the pandemic has necessitated widespread virtual instruction this year in the short term, but it will be important in the long run for students to resume in-person instruction as soon as it is safe in order to minimize learning loss.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath presented the committee with an update on the implementation of HB 3, the school finance bill legislators passed in 2019. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), HB 3 added $4.9 billion in state funds while decreasing local funding by $2.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2020, for a net increase in total funding of $2.7 billion.

Thus far, 26 school districts are part of the first cohort of the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which is the performance pay program established under HB 3. Through the September settle-up process, TEA reported distributing $40 million to districts on the behalf of 3,650 teachers participating in that program. A handful of superintendents testified regarding implementation of the program. The bill also established a Teacher Mentor Program Allotment (TMPA), which had 67 districts approved as of August to provide stipends for mentor teachers in the 2020-21 school year.

The agency is also charged with tracking the unintended consequences of HB 3. Morath said one item for consideration by lawmakers next session is a quirk in the funding formulas whereby a district with 700 or fewer students may paradoxically lose net funding when adding CTE students who should qualify for additional funding.

Josh Sanderson from the Equity Center urged the state to use any additional federal stimulus money to ensure districts receive their anticipated funding. Sanderson pointed out that districts need consistent, reliable funding and face additional unanticipated costs as a result of COVID-19, including an increased need for transportation services. ATPE’s testimony urged the state to fully fund the commitments made under HB 3, including protecting gains to school funding and educator compensation.

The committee also heard updates on the implementation of HB 3906, which made significant changes to STAAR implementation. Most notably, the bill required TEA to transition to fully electronic administration of the STAAR by the 2022-23 school year. The agency is scheduled to report on its progress toward this objective at next week’s State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting. Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) cautioned that online testing could disadvantage students who are less comfortable with technology or have learning disabilities. A number of school administrators asked the committee to extend the timeline for the transition. ATPE’s testimony recommended that the state waive STAAR administration for the 2020-21 school year.

COVID-19 was another topic discussed in the hearing. TEA touted its response to the pandemic, including its extension of funding flexibility for remote instruction, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to districts, and launching Operation Connectivity to provide technology and internet access to underserved areas. Morath suggested that determining how remote instruction will be funded in the long term will be a challenge for the legislature.

Morath also highlighted the challenge of tackling learning loss as a result of the disruption to the educational environment due to COVID-19. ATPE has consistently pointed out that this need for remediation should serve as a warning to those looking to expand full-time virtual schools outside of a pandemic setting. In written testimony, ATPE highlighted the resolutions ATPE members passed during the 2020 ATPE Summit urging the state to prioritize the health of educators and students.

Special education was the final topic of the day. TEA staff testified that the state has increased special education spending by 27% over the past four years. A 2016 investigation found that Texas had under-identified students who are eligible for special education services, and the U.S. Department of Education notified TEA in 2018 that it had violated federal law in doing so. According to TEA, special education enrollment went from 8.7 percent in the 2015-16 school year to 10.7% in the 2019-20 school year.

The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) testified that Texas must change the way special education services are funded so as to correspond to the costs of specific services provided. Disability Rights Texas noted that schools have lost contact with many students in special education over the course of the pandemic and echoed the need for special education funding reform.

Today’s hearing is expected to be the last for the Senate Education Committee before the legislative session begins January 12, 2021.

Texas election roundup: The final tally

Texas has begun canvassing the votes for the 2020 general election, the process by which counties certify the official votes and open the window for any challenges or recounts. This is the tallying process that formalizes the election results. ATPE has posted a complete list of all the unofficial election results for the Texas House, Senate, and State Board of Education here on our blog.

A handful of close state House races could head to recounts. State Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) leads Republican challenger Justin Ray by 317 votes out of more than 74,000 cast. State Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin) leads Republican challenger Justin Berry by 1,324 votes out of more than 134,000. Neither challenger has conceded defeat. Democratic challenger Brandy Chambers conceded to state Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson) this week after falling 224 votes short out of more than 69,000. The threshold for requesting a recount is a winning margin of 10% or less of the total votes cast.

In the Texas House, state Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) continues to proceed as the presumptive future speaker after announcing last week that he had collected enough commitments to win that office. Members of the Texas House elect their speaker at the beginning of each new session, but speaker candidates campaign long beforehand trying to collect enough commitments to win the vote. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) voiced support for Phelan this week after Phelan was lambasted by Texas Republican Party Chairman Allen West for his courting of Democratic votes. West moved to Texas from Florida and was elected the state GOP’s chairman in July.

Meanwhile, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has offered a $1 million reward to anyone who can present evidence of voter fraud in the 2020 election leading to a criminal conviction. There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the November election, despite unsubstantiated claims made by President Donald Trump. While Democrats held onto a slimmer majority in the U.S. House, control of the U.S. Senate now rests on a pair of January runoff races for Georgia’s two seats. A successful Republican defense of those offices would protect the GOP’s two-seat advantage in the upper chamber, while a pair of Democratic upsets would result in a 50-50 partisan split next year that could be broken by the vice president.

Our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition tabulated the turnout numbers and found that the number of Texans registered to vote grew 12% between 2016 and 2020, adding nearly 1.9 million registered voters for a total of just under 17 million. Almost 2.3 million more voters turned out in 2020 than in 2016, an increase of 25% for a total of more than 11.2 million voters.

Voter turnout in Texas was 66% in 2020, up from 59% in 2016, which is a significant improvement. Believe it or not, this was the state’s highest turnout since 1992, which saw an all-time high turnout of 72%. Young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 led the nation in early voting, including more than 1.2 million of them in Texas. According to Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), the top issues motivating young voters were the coronavirus, racism, and climate change.

All of this is encouraging information that suggests we are making good progress toward creating a culture of voting in Texas. It is also an indicator of the work we must still do to engage the one-third of Texans who are registered to vote and either choose not to or were prevented from doing so. Legislators are well aware of the growing voter engagement we’re seeing in Texas, and they have already pre-filed dozens of bills for the upcoming session aimed at either easing or restricting access to the polls.

Texas 2020 election recap: What we know so far

After one of the most unusual campaign seasons we’ve ever experienced, the 2020 election is finally (mostly) in the books! While we’re still awaiting official results in many races, a general picture of the new political landscape is beginning to take shape. It should be noted that some mail-in ballots, particularly those that were postmarked on Election Day and any votes cast by military members serving overseas, have yet to be counted. Some close results could still change once those outstanding ballots are processed.

Republicans look like they will hold onto their majority in the Texas House of Representatives, which Democrats had hoped to capture by flipping at least nine competitive House seats. The current split is 83 Republicans and 67 Democrats, and the early returns showed Republicans narrowly fending off Democratic challengers in all but one race. State Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) conceded to Democratic opponent Ann Johnson Tuesday night on Twitter. That race appears to be offset by Democratic state Rep. Gina Calanni’s (D-Katy) loss to Republican Mike Schofield, who held the seat before Calanni defeated him in 2018.

Control of the House means the next speaker would be drawn from among Republican ranks, and the politicking among GOP candidates for speaker continued through election night and into this morning. State Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), who chaired the House State Affairs Committee during the 2019 legislative session, announced Wednesday on Twitter that he had gathered the votes necessary to be elected speaker, although that election cannot take place until the Legislature meets in January.

The speaker will appoint committees and set the House agenda for the upcoming legislative session, beginning with important decisions about how to conduct the physical process of legislating and whether the House should conduct its business at the Texas Capitol or an alternate location in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Republican control of the House would also guarantee GOP control of the redistricting process, ensuring that the new voting maps will favor Republicans for the next 10 years.

In the Texas Senate, former state Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) was elected to succeed retiring state Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). Democrats reclaimed a seat lost to Republican Pete Flores in a 2018 special election. Former state Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) defeated Sen. Flores by a relatively narrow margin of 10,000 votes. The Democratic win shifts the split in the Texas Senate to 18 Republicans and 13 Democrats, which would give Democrats the ability to block controversial legislation under the current Senate’s rule requiring three-fifths of members present and voting to consent to hearing a bill on the floor. The Texas Senate had previously boasted a long history of requiring a supermajority to pass legislation, a rule that was intended to prevent the chamber from becoming a partisan theater. Republican Dan Patrick immediately lowered that threshold from two-thirds after his election as lieutenant governor, and he has already announced his intention to lower the threshold to a simple majority should Democrats gain more seats.

Democrats appear on track to gain one seat on the 15-member State Board of Education (SBOE). Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau leads Republican Lani Popp in District 5, which was previously held by retiring Member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio). Democrats had hoped to pick up two additional seats, which would have wrested the board majority from Republicans. Instead, the new board looks like it will be split between nine Republicans and six Democrats. The board will feature new members from both parties, including Republicans Audrey Young from East Texas and Jay Johnson from the panhandle, both of whom replaced retiring members. Over the past few years, the SBOE has become markedly less partisan and even at times a model of bipartisan productivity. We’re optimistic that the new class will continue along that path.

At the state level, Democrats’ hopes that Texas would step into the blue or purple column were dashed Tuesday night. Republican Donald Trump won 52% of the presidential vote in Texas, which is about the same share of Texas voters that he won in 2016. U.S. Sen. John Cornyn defeated Democratic challenger MJ Hegar by 10 percentage points, which was roughly double the margin that separated Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Democrat Beto O’Rourke in 2018.

Stay tuned to our blog here on Teach the Vote for more detailed election results as we obtain more finalized information.

Texas election roundup: The final countdown

There are just five days left before Election Day, and it’s becoming clearer by the hour that every single vote will matter in this historic election.


According to the Texas Tribune, 8.6 million Texans have voted as of Wednesday. That’s 51% of registered voters, 5.4% of whom voted by mail. The number of Texans who have voted early in this election has already surpassed the 43.5% turnout over the two weeks of early voting in the 2016 election, and is approaching the total 2016 turnout of 59.4%.


The Cook Political Report this week moved Texas from “lean Republican” to “toss-up” in its analysis of likely Electoral College outcomes. The polls continue to show Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden neck-and-neck in Texas, with the RealClear Politics polling average giving Trump a 2.3% advantage — well within the margin of error. Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris is scheduled to make a campaign swing through Texas on Friday, visiting Houston, Fort Worth, and the Rio Grande Valley.


Campaigns continue to raise and spend prodigious amounts of cash in the final week before Election Day. Candidates vying for competitive seats in the Texas House of Representatives raised nearly $40 million over the past month. Republicans outraised Democrats $24 million to $15 million, mostly through a few massive contributions from individuals such as Gov. Greg Abbott and organizations such as Texans for Lawsuit Reform. Democratic organizations meanwhile poured roughly $20 million into the U.S. Senate race between MJ Hegar and Republican incumbent John Cornyn.


This week has been another busy one for the U.S. Supreme Court. The court’s conservative majority ruled Monday that mail-in ballots in the battleground state of Wisconsin could only be counted if they arrive by Election Day, which means that state will be forced to throw out any ballots that are delayed by the postal service, regardless of when they were placed in the mail.

Before conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation, the court deadlocked 4-4 last week over a Republican lawsuit seeking to block the critical swing state of Pennsylvania from counting mail-in ballots received after Election Day. On Wednesday, the court declined to take up a new challenge filed by Republicans. As a result, Pennsylvania can count ballots that are postmarked by Election Day as long as they are received by Nov. 6. However the court’s conservative bloc signaled they would be open to throwing out ballots received after Election Day in Pennsylvania, regardless of when they are postmarked, if the election results are challenged in court.

The cases in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania don’t directly impact mail-in voting in Texas, but they do shed some light into how the highest court in the land may decide questions about mail-in ballots if the outcome of the election is disputed. This shouldn’t discourage anyone from voting, but it does highlight the fact that time is critically short for those planning to vote by mail.


Without the guarantee that mail-in ballots will be delivered in a timely manner, the safest option is to deposit mail-in ballots at your county’s designated drop-off location by November 3. If you have received a mail-in ballot and decide you would rather vote in person, you must take your ballot with you and surrender it at the polling location. Otherwise you will be forced to vote a provisional ballot and your vote may not be counted.

We’re in the final countdown now. The polls continue to narrow in Texas, which means that every single vote could make the difference. If you’ve already voted, make sure every eligible voter you know does so as well. If you haven’t voted yet, don’t wait. Lines could be long on Election Day. Early voting ends Friday, October 30. Research candidates here at Teach the Vote, make your voting plan, and go vote today!

Texas election roundup: Less than two weeks remaining!

There are less than two weeks, and only one weekend, remaining to vote in the 2020 elections, and the clock is ticking! Early voting continues through Friday, October 30, with Election Day on November 3.


The presidential candidates wrapped up their second and final debate of the campaign season last night in Nashville, Tennessee. The final debate had been rescheduled by the Commission on Presidential Debates after an earlier townhall-style event was canceled when the president contracted COVID-19. Now the campaigns will go their separate ways for the remainder of the election. A new Quinnipiac University poll this week showed Donald Trump and Joe Biden tied at 47% each among likely Texas voters. A rolling average of recent polls tracked by RealClearPolitics shows Trump with a 4% advantage in Texas.


The Texas Tribune reports that 5.9 million Texans have voted early as of October 21, or about 34.7% of registered voters. Of those, 4.3% submitted their ballots by mail. According to early voting statistics compiled by Republican consultant Derek Ryan, 32.1% of early voters last voted in a Republican primary, compared to 29.0% who last voted in a Democratic primary. Another 26.3% have voted in a general election but have no primary election voting history, and 12.7% of the early voters have no history of voting in any election before now.

The Texas Supreme Court continued to release election-related decisions this week. The state’s highest court ruled in favor of Harris County on Thursday and tossed out a challenge by the Republican Party of Texas to block drive-through voting in the state’s largest county. This means voters in Harris County can continue to visit one of 10 drive-through voting locations set up by the county to allow voters fearing COVID-19 to cast ballots from the safety of their automobiles.


In the race for U.S. Senate here in Texas, Democratic candidate MJ Hegar reported raising three times as much as incumbent Republican Sen. John Cornyn in the first half of October, $3.7 million to $1.3 million. Hegar also ended with more money in the bank, $6.9 million to $3.8 million. Both candidates spent around the same amount, with Cornyn spending $5.6 million and Hegar spending $5.3 million. This week’s Quinnipiac poll shows Cornyn with a 6% advantage over Hegar, 49% to 43%.


Speaking of polls, Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey points out in this handy video how polls have their strengths and weaknesses. Many polls in 2016 inaccurately predicted Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would win the presidential election. Polls are based on estimates of what the electorate will look like, and predicting that is part art and part science. Polls are generally quite accurate, but unexpected changes in the electorate can throw off a poll’s results. Pollsters have therefore spent the years since 2016 trying to develop better models of the electorate, especially at the state level. A poll is also a snapshot of a single moment in time, which is why you see margins shift over the course of an election cycle. The best way to consume polling information is to look at an average of recent polls.

The first two weeks of early voting have already set records, and there is still a full week of early voting left! If you haven’t voted yet, go to the candidates section here at Teach the Vote and research the races based on your address. Then make your plan to go vote with the aid of this handy guide. Your vote is the single most impactful tool you have to ensure our schools are safe, healthy, and well-funded. Now get out there and exercise it!

Texas election roundup: Early voting breaking records

Early voting is now underway in Texas, and over one million Texans have already cast their ballots! If you haven’t voted yet, you have until October 30 for early voting and Election Day is November 3!

Voters in Harris County cast nearly 170,000 ballots on the first day of early voting, up from 130,000 in 2016. The total includes both in-person and mail-in ballots received on the first day of early voting. According to the Texas Tribune, first day early voting in the state’s ten largest counties was 6.71% in 2020, compared to 5.82% in 2016 — roughly a 15% increase in turnout.

High turnout is always a good sign, but it’s too soon to draw many conclusions after just two days of early voting. The first day of early voting was also not without incident. Issues in Fort Bend, Tarrant, and Travis Counties led to some voters waiting five hours or more. The counties moved quickly to resolve those problems and if the increased voter participation numbers are sustained, Texas could be on the path to record turnout.

Even as Texans headed to the polls, the courts continued to hand down decisions this week affecting their ability to vote. Harris County, which is home to 4.7 million people and spans nearly 1,800 square miles, had set up 12 locations for voters to drop off mail-in ballots. The Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Gov. Greg Abbott could limit counties to a single drop-off location for mail-in ballots, forcing Harris County to close all but one of its drop-off locations. On Wednesday, a state appeals court allowed drive-through and curbside voting to continue in Harris County by rejecting a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of Texas to block the service.

A new poll by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune found that 62% of registered Texas voters believe the U.S. is on the wrong track. The same poll showed 41% believe the state of Texas is headed in the right direction, compared to 44% who believe it’s on the wrong track. Respondents listed the coronavirus/COVID-19 (18%), political corruption/leadership (14%), and the economy (10%) as the most important issues facing the country right now. The poll showed Republican Donald Trump leading Democrat Joe Biden 50% to 45% in the presidential race here in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott has set a special runoff election for Saturday, December 19, to fill the seat in Senate District (SD) 30 being vacated by state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper). The runoff will be between state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) and Dallas-area salon owner and Republican Shelley Luther, who led Springer in the special election by just 164 votes. Early voting for the special runoff election will begin Wednesday, December 9.

Before you head to the polls, make sure you arm yourself with resources that will enable you to maximize the impact of your vote. It’s always smart to check your county website first in order to find out the nearest polling location and hours. Many county websites also list current wait times at polling locations! If you need help finding your county’s website, check here. You can also check out this handy checklist for in-person voting by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. And as always, make sure to visit the candidates tab here at Teach the Vote in order to do your research on the education views of those running for office in your area. Now get out there and vote!

ATPE discusses teacher workforce issues with Senate committee

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday morning, Oct. 14, in Austin to discuss teacher workforce and adult education topics. Members of the committee met in person and heard testimony from invited witnesses who spoke to the committee virtually. The committee did not hear public testimony.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) said each committee member was tested for COVID-19 prior to the meeting. Members on the dais were separated by clear plastic dividers and some wore face coverings. Chairman Taylor said the committee plans to hold one more meeting before the 87th Texas Legislature meets in January.

The committee first discussed the Goodwill Excel Center, which is a public charter school system serving adults between the ages of 18 and 50. There are six Excel Center campuses across the state that provide non-traditional adult students with a flexible school setting so that they can earn high school diplomas or their equivalent, as well as industry certifications. During the 2019 legislative session, ATPE supported House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which made permanent the Goodwill Excel Center and codified its best practices. Because of issues regarding how the current public school accountability system “fits” the Excel Center model, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff said the agency is developing an alternative evaluation regime that addresses differences in educating adults.

In addition to the Excel Center, there are several independent school districts across the state that serve adults up to age 25, in addition to the state-run Windham School District, which also offers adult education to incarcerated persons up to age 25. Windham staff testified their district serves 27,000 students per year, offering courses that lead to a high school diploma or career and technical certification. Unfortunately, Windham is subject to proposed TEA budget cuts that ATPE advocated against, citing potential harm to at-risk and disadvantaged student populations. The committee additionally heard from the San Antonio College Empowerment Center, which also offers adult education services.

The committee then discussed the recommendations of a working group on teacher workforce issues convened by the lieutenant governor. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was one of three representatives of the group invited to provide testimony today. The work group pointed out the gradual accumulation of confusing and often duplicative training requirements placed on educators. The requirements found in both Texas statutes and rules have become excessive and repetitive, preventing educators from pursuing training opportunities that best support their individual needs.

Monty Exter testified virtually before the Senate Education committee, Oct. 14, 2020.

The group recommended the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) create a statewide clearinghouse of training requirements that includes recommendations for best practices and frequency of training. The group said the state should empower local school boards to take information from that clearinghouse and adopt those requirements on a an annual basis. ATPE’s  Exter testified that the state should streamline professional development to eliminate duplication and confusion. Exter also pointed out there is a wide variety of requirements for recordkeeping and reporting, and suggested records should be retained locally, with districts allowed to provide them to TEA upon request in order to reduce paperwork.

The work group is preparing to release a 70-page document containing consensus recommendations approved by a large number of education stakeholders, including ATPE. The committee lastly heard from a number of educator preparation providers (EPPs) regarding the importance of preparing teachers for online learning.

ATPE submitted written testimony to the committee that offered a number of recommendations on the broader topic of teacher workforce issues. ATPE recommended the legislature ensure funding is in place to maintain any raises educators received as a result of House Bill (HB) 3 last session and fully fund mentoring and induction programs. ATPE recommended lawmakers also fund continuing professional education initiatives and maintain the freedom of educators to choose the professional development programs best for them. ATPE also recommended the state provide tuition assistance to increase diversity in the teacher workforce and lower the financial burden of attending high-quality undergraduate EPP programs.