Category Archives: 86th Legislature

State legislators preview budget, public education ahead of 2021 session

State legislators offered up a preview this week of what debates over public education policy and the budget could look like in the 87th Texas Legislature. Legislators spoke to the Texas Tribune as part of the Texas Tribune Festival 2020, which is being held virtually throughout the month of September.

On Tuesday, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) and state Rep. Mary González (D-Clint), who serves on the subcommittee that oversees public education spending, addressed the budget.

Earlier this summer, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced that the state will end the current two-year budget cycle at a $4.6 billion deficit, marking an $11.5 billion decline from what was estimated before the economic recession driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We definitely know this will be one of the worst budget sessions that we’ve ever experienced,” said Rep. González. “We haven’t really dealt with a deficit this big in a significant amount of time.”

González expressed optimism that Texas has fared better than other states during the economic recession, and suggested the House will look for innovative solutions for addressing the budget crunch, such as looking for areas to cut or raise new revenue.

González said her personal wish list includes drawing down additional federal funding by expanding Medicaid and reducing the amount of additional state money legislators have chosen to spend on border security. Chairman Capriglione said he is hopeful that future relief funds from the federal government will support state and local municipalities as well.

Regarding Texas’s Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), Capriglione noted that the “rainy day fund” will likely not be the only solution and legislators will want to be able to save some money for future emergencies, such as another hurricane. Rep. González suggested the fund will not be enough to meet all of the state’s needs. The chairman also pointed out that legislation passed during the last legislative session allowed the state to invest some of the ESF, which generated $230 million in interest income last year.

State leaders have asked most agencies to cut their budgets by 5% ahead of the next budget cycle, which Chairman Capriglione said will have to be cleared by legislators. The chairman said cuts made now will serve to ease some of the pressure during the next budget cycle. Rep. González cautioned that cuts must be made in a way that does not harm vulnerable populations. Capriglione added that public health, public safety, and public education should be protected.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) and Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) spoke on Monday about the shape of the public education discussion when legislators meet in January. Chairman Huberty suggested the next legislative session will be about maintaining rather than expanding the changes made by House Bill (HB) 3, the school finance bill legislators passed last session. This includes preserving the funding that went to providing a modest increase to some educators’ salaries.

Both admitted they haven’t looked at new revenue sources for HB 3 other than relying on the economy to improve. Huberty suggested we could find money by pausing some programs under HB 3 right after mentioning the incentive program. On the other hand Taylor talked about continuing the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) because districts are using it.

The chairmen also addressed the concerns of districts that have voiced frustration over federal relief funding Congress appropriated for schools, which the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has used to supplant rather than supplement state funding for schools. Chairman Taylor explained the decision was made in order to keep the state’s commitment to provide funding at the same level districts expected to receive before the recession hit. Yet, both chairmen suggested school districts will need to use some of their fund balances to fill in budget holes.

The 87th Texas Legislature is scheduled to meet January 12, 2021.

House Public Education committee posts formal requests for information

House Public Education Committee meeting, Oct. 28, 2019.

We won’t see familiar images of the Texas House Public Education Committee meeting in person anytime soon. In accordance with procedures released in July for carrying out “distanced” interim committee business during the pandemic, the committee posted five formal requests for information on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Four of the requests reflect the interim charges assigned to the committee by House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, while the fifth request relates to COVID-19. Anyone can submit information to the committee by September 30, 2020. Here is a summary of the requests:

1: The committee seeks information related to interim charge 1, which is related to monitoring and oversight of relevant agencies, programs, and the implementation of a slew of bills passed in recent legislative sessions. These include bills and rule-making related to school finance (House Bill 3, mentor teacher allotment, teacher incentive allotment, etc.), accountability and testing (STAAR, A-F ratings, district-charter partnerships), and school safety and mental health in schools. The formal request also includes several questions that the committee seeks answers to that largely relate to school finance, including a specific emphasis on teacher pay, and the efficacy of charter schools and district-charter partnerships.

2: This request seeks information related to interim charge 2, which seeks to determine barriers to providing a digital learning environment for all children. Specific questions related to this request ask where gaps in internet coverage exist and how internet providers may fill these gaps.

3: With regard to interim charge 3, the committee is seeking information related to the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with the U.S. Department of Education in correcting their errors related to special education. This includes the implementation of TEA’s Special Education Strategic Plan and other requirements the state has come out of compliance with, such as annual maintenance of financial support.

4: This request will not likely apply to many educators and the general public, as it is related to the committee’s fourth interim charge of monitoring the State Auditor’s review of agencies and programs.

COVID-19: The committee has posted seven questions to gather information on the pandemic. These include whether public schools are ensuring the health and safety of students, what plans are in place for on-campus COVID-19 testing, what plans are being made for athletics this fall, what projected enrollment might look like for 2020-2021, whether there is a noticeable impact on staff retention, if funding has already been impacted, and how the pandemic has specifically impacted the finances of small and rural school districts.

ATPE encourages educators to participate in this information-gathering process. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information and news on ATPE’s submissions to the committee and other House committees that have requested education-related information.

Highlights of the Feb. 2020 SBEC meeting

At their first meeting of the year, the certification board discussed rule changes to implement recently passed legislation, enact numerous technical updates, and approve new supplemental certifications in special education and bilingual education.

On Friday, February 21, 2020, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met for the first time this year and for the first time under the leadership of new Chairperson Dr. Arturo Cavazos (Superintendent of Harlingen CISD). The board discussed several agenda items, including allowing high school students to obtain the educational aide certificate, changes to contract abandonment rules, and educator preparation program (EPP) commendations.

Master Teachers

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified before SBEC on Feb. 21, 2020.

On Friday, SBEC adopted the standard, four-year rule review of 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates, voting to continue the existence of the chapter without changes. Chapter 239 specifies rules pertaining to the school counselor, school librarian, educational diagnostician, and reading specialist certificates. This chapter formerly housed the rules for the Master Teacher certificates, which were repealed by House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature (2019). Master Teacher certificate holders will now find a “legacy” designation on their certificates and an expiration date five years from their last renewal. Unfortunately, these “legacy” certificates are non-renewable, which will leave some teachers unable to maintain their current teaching assignments.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided written and oral testimony today urging SBEC to exercise its authority to remedy this situation, specifically through the creation of new certificates that Master Teachers can transition into without having to pay additional fees. (See Andrea’s testimony here at 1:07:00 into the video.) ATPE previously submitted written testimony to the board on this topic at the October 2019 SBEC meeting, written and oral testimony at the December 2019 SBEC meeting, and submitted public comment to SBEC on the rule review earlier this month.

Rep. Dan Huberty addressed the Texas House during final passage of his House Bill 3 in May 2019.

Ahead of today’s meeting, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee and authored HB 3, also sent a letter to SBEC members at ATPE’s request to clarify legislative intent behind the bill’s elimination of the Master Teacher certification statutes. Chairman Huberty wrote, “Our intent was never to abandon the expertise of these highly trained educators…. Holders of legacy master teacher certificates should be entitled to maintain their existing assignments without interruption, additional cost, or the need to seek additional certifications.”

Ultimately, the board agreed to allow TEA to present them with options to address the Master Teacher issue at the next SBEC meeting in May.

Other action items on the agenda:

The SBEC board adopted several changes to professional educator preparation and certification rules in 19 TAC Chapter 230. The rules will implement several bills by making changes such as removing master teacher certificates from the list of active certifications, reducing the time for certification test retakes from 45 to 30 days, and specifying that the Early Childhood: Prekindergarten-Grade 3 certificate cannot be obtained via certification by exam. Other changes will require candidates taking the intensive pre-service route to take the English as a Second Language Supplemental assessment before being issued an intern certificate and require requests for certificate corrections to be submitted within six weeks of the original date of issuance.

ATPE is pleased with a change in this chapter to allow the Educational Aide I certificate to be issued to high school students who have completed certain courses within the Education and Training career and technical education cluster. See the public comment ATPE previously submitted in support of this change here. TEA staff made some last minute changes to this item, including a delay on the implementation of testing changes to comply with HB 3 regarding the requirement to take the science of teaching reading exam. Staff said they will propose entirely new certificate names, such as “EC-3 Core Subjects with Science of Teaching Reading”.

SBEC also adopted revisions to general certification provisions and professional development rules in 19 TAC Chapter 232 to implement several bills passed by the 86th Legislature in 2019. These include continuing professional education instruction regarding mental health and substance abuse training (HB 18 and SB 11); training requirements for superintendents regarding sexual abuse and human trafficking (HB 403); and the removal of student loan default as grounds to deny the renewal of a certificate (SB 37). Edits will also be made to the National Criminal History Record process to update the rule with current technology and TEA practice. The chapter will also be simplified and reorganized as suggested by ATPE and other stakeholders.

The board took several actions relating to educator preparation programs (EPPs), including the approval of accreditation statuses under the 2018-19 Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP). Sixty percent of EPPs have an accredited status, 20% are accredited-warned, and 20% are on an accredited-probation status. SBEC also approved proposed 2018–19 commendations for EPPs, which complement the ASEP system by highlighting high-performing EPPs in three categories with indicators such as teacher retention and percentage of prepared teachers in shortage areas. Prairie View A&M University, Texas A&M International University, Baylor University, Austin Community College, and McClennan Community College all appear in the commendations multiple times, among others. The board voted to create a committee to review and evaluate EPP applications for a fourth category relating to innovative educator preparation, to be chaired by SBEC member Jose Rodriguez and include members Laurie Bricker, Shareefah Mason, and John Kelly. Lastly, the board approved an agreed order to close Intern Teacher ACP Alternative Certification Program, which decided to voluntarily close after lack of compliance with administrative rules.

SBEC also voted to formalize an already informal policy that non-voting members of the board may not make or second motions and may not serve as officers. The non-voting members of the board are an employee of TEA, and employee of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, a dean of a college of education, and a person representing an alternative certification program.

Discussion only agenda items (no action taken):

At the July, October, and December 2019 SBEC meetings, the board discussed potential changes to contract abandonment rules for educators. After disagreements surfaced between stakeholders and board members, the board voted to split contract abandonment off from other rules being revised, saving it for future discussion after stakeholder meetings (in which ATPE was involved). Today, the board discussed proposed revisions that would add “change to a position that requires a new class of educator certification” (such as moving from teacher to counselor) to the definition of good cause for contract abandonment. Additionally, the changes would cross-reference the mitigating factors that the SBEC considers when evaluating a contract abandonment case. After several witnesses from both the teacher and administrator perspective shared their feedback on the proposed language, the board seemed to reach a near-consensus that the contract abandonment rules did not need to be altered.

The board also discussed proposed revisions to requirements for EPPs (19 TAC Chapter 228). The changes would simplify a table of requirements in the chapter; implement portions of HB 18 passed by the Legislature in 2019; authorize teaching sites outside of Texas under certain situations such as military assignment; provide admittance policy guidance to EPPs that are closing or consolidating; restrict a summer-only practicum unless it is part of a year-round school or extended year program; add language for a dismissal policy for candidates who violate the code of ethics; provide concise reasons that an EPP would no longer support a candidate in an internship; and clarify the number (three) and spacing of formal observations conducted during a practicum.

SBEC also discussed changes to certificate standards (19 TAC Chapter 235), including a TEA-recommended split certification for special education, with separate certificates for grades EC-6 and 6-12. TEA staff also presented information on two sets of supplemental certificate standards: one for bilingual Spanish, grades EC-12, that focuses on bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism; and another for “DeafBlind” grades EC-12. The proposals reflect input from stakeholders in the bilingual and special education communities and from an April 2019 SBEC work group meeting.

TEA also updated the board on the EdTPA performance assessment pilot. Thirty-five applications have been submitted for Year Two of the pilot, including 16 from alternative certification programs. Two programs participating in Year One have submitted portfolios already and the rest of programs will submit theirs in the spring. Dr. Christina Ellis of Sam Houston State University gave an update on the T-TESS-based alternative pilot to the EdTPA pilot, stating that 13 EPPs are participating. Additionally, TEA staff updated SBEC on certification test development, stating that development of new health and physical education tests is delayed due to the State Board of Education’s (SBOE) work on revamping the standards.

In a final item, the board discussed proposed amendments to the criteria for personnel assignments (19 TAC Chapter 231) to add the word “legacy” to all master teacher certificate references and include new courses approved by the SBOE such as African-American studies.

Future meetings:

The upcoming SBEC meeting dates for 2020 are:

  • May 1, 2020
  • July 24, 2020
  • Oct. 9, 2020
  • Dec. 11, 2020

Educator resources for Holocaust Remembrance Week and related legislation

Hamburg classroom in 1933

First grade pupils study in a classroom in a public school in Hamburg, Germany, June 1933. Jewish pupil Eva Rosenbaum (with the white collar) is seated in the center desk on the right. On Dec. 12, 1938, Eva left for England on the second Kindertransport. —US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Eva Rosenbaum Abraham-Podietz. Photo sourced from the USHMM Website.

For those of us who are old enough, we may have heard stories from our grandparents or parents about the unimaginable death and sadness of the Holocaust. My grandfather was a Belgian paratrooper for the Allies and told us painful, often angry accounts of his time before and during service. I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. a couple of summers ago. While I traversed the permanent exhibit, I came across photos and descriptions of teachers who had lost their lives due to their profession, which had become politicized, and due to their commitment to their students, often taking great risks to hide children. As a former teacher, this hit home particularly hard. While we mourn the victims of this tragic time in our past, it is important that our students know the significance of the Holocaust as we say, “Never again.”

This week in Washington, DC, the U.S. House passed H.R. 943, referred to as the “Never Again Education Act” to provide grants and resources for Holocaust education programs. The legislation by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-New York) has numerous bipartisan co-sponsors, including the following members of the Texas Congressional delegation: Reps. Colin Allred (D), Brian Babin (R), Joaquin Castro (D), Dan Crenshaw (R), Henry Cuellar (D), Lizzie Fletcher (D), Bill Flores (R), Sylvia Garcia (D), Vicente Gonzalez (D), Lance Gooden (R), Kay Granger (R), Will Hurd (R), Sheila Jackson Lee (D), Kenny Marchant (R), Michael McCaul (R), Pete Olson (R), Van Taylor (R), Marc Veasey (D), Filemon Vela, Jr. (D), Randy Weber (R), Roger Williams (R), and Ron Wright (R). ATPE members can follow this bill’s progress on Advocacy Central.

In 2019, the 86th Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1828 by Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), which directs the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) to provide materials for a statewide Holocaust Remembrance Week, beginning with this school year (2019-2020). Governor Greg Abbott (R) chose this week of Jan. 27-31, 2020, for Texas to observe Holocaust Remembrance Week, due to January 27th’s significance as International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the day that the most infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz, was liberated by Allied troops.

As also featured on the ATPE blog, the THGC has listed Holocaust Remembrance Week resources on its web page for this week and future Holocaust Remembrance Weeks. Additionally, Texas is home to several Holocaust Museums:

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website also has several resources specifically for teachers, students, and an online exhibition.

Commissioner presents SBOE with annual report

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2019, as part of the board’s week-long January meeting. Commissioner Morath presented the 15-member body with the annual “state of education” report from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). View a copy of his presentation to the board here.

Texas SBOE meeting, Jan. 28, 2020

According to the agency, House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance reform bill enacted in 2019, produced a $3.4 billion net increase in public education spending by the state. The report showed slight increases in STAAR scores and graduation rates, as well as a one percent decrease in college enrollment. Texas remains 42nd in the nation in 4th grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as well as 46th in 8th grade reading, 12th in 4th grade math, and 32nd in 8th grade math. Texas ranked 36th in per-pupil funding for the 2017-18 school year, which is consistent with long-term trends in the level at which Texas invests in public schools.

SBOE Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) questioned the use of the NAEP to evaluate statewide performance. Maynard asked, “Is there a better evaluation at least for us, as a measure of how we’re doing overall?” Responding to a separate question about how Texas compares to other states, Morath suggested that ranking public school systems by the amount being spent is not a good determinant of school quality.

Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) noted that many teachers around the state have grown increasingly frustrated by administrative duties, testing, and other tasks that take up their time and reduce the amount of attention they are able to spend on teaching. Hardy suggested that TEA increase campus audits to ensure that schools are complying with rules intended to address this.

Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) pressed Commissioner Morath on new charter application rules that provide for the automatic approval of expansions of existing charters. The commissioner responded that there would be no automatic expansions, and conceded that language in the rules may need to be adjusted in order to avoid that perception.

The commissioner responded to questions regarding a readability study of the STAAR test ordered by the legislature last year. The mandate was the result of research showing that questions on the test were often written at a reading level above the grade level for which the test was intended. The recent readability study suggested the test was still misaligned, but Morath said the agency is making adjustments to the STAAR as a result of the study.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional updates as the SBOE continues its meetings this week.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 24, 2020

There is just over one week left to ensure you are registered to vote! After you have your voting plan ready, sit back, relax, and check out this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the special election runoffs has been going on this week and continues through today with the election wrapping up next Tuesday, January 28.  So far turnout for most of these elections has been low. In House District (HD) 148, for example, fewer than 500 people had voted either in person or by mail through the first three days of early voting. Even in the race to represent HD 28, the most hotly contested of the races, only about 2000 votes had been cast, a small minority of the districts total registered voters. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looks at more of the trends in the HD 28 race in this week’s Election Roundup.

With such low turnout in this sort of election, every vote cast is hugely important. We encourage all educators and public education supporters to vote in every election for which they are eligible. For more information on the special election candidates see our recent blog post by ATPE Government Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

As soon as the special elections wrap up next week all eyes will turn to the Texas primary elections. Early voting for the primary starts in just over three weeks, February 18, 2020, with election day two weeks later on March 3, 2020.

Remember that the deadline to register to vote in the primaries is Feb. 3. You can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state, kicking off next Friday January 29, being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

 


The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue this week. The case centers on a voucher proposal passed by the Montana legislature that was subsequently stuck down by Montana’s supreme court for violating that state’s constitutional provisions against the use of public funding for religious schools. Check out this post on SCOTUSblog.com for more insights on the oral arguments. A decision in the case is expected by this summer.


Thank you to all ATPE members who answered our first “Your Voice” survey this winter on Advocacy Central. The results provided valuable insight into which policy issues our members want lawmakers to work on in the future. For a closer look at the issues ranked highest, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

Breaking news: Capriglione appointed chairman of House Appropriations

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione

Today, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) was appointed chairman of the House Appropriations Committee by Speaker Dennis Bonnen. The appointment was made in the wake of former Chairman John Zerwas’s (R-Fulshear) retirement from the legislature. Rep. Capriglione will remain the chairman of the Appropriations Committee until the next legislative session, when a new speaker will be chosen and new committee assignments will be made.

Rep. Capriglione is a small business owner and has an extensive professional background in finance and investment. As part of their duties, the House Appropriations Committee deliberates on and approves the billions of dollars necessary to fund our Texas public schools. ATPE congratulates Rep. Capriglione on his appointment and wishes him well!

STAAR readability study, part one, released

Yesterday, the University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) readability study required by the 86th Legislature’s House Bill (HB) 3. The mandated study follows numerous reports that STAAR test items were above the reading level of students taking the test, such as this peer-reviewed study by Texas A&M University-Commerce researchers.

Here are the three main questions of the study and the answers gathered by its authors:

Question 1: Are the items on the 2019 STAAR tests (and the tests as a whole) aligned to grade-level Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)?

Answer: The TEKS that each test item is precoded to match are mostly in alignment. Across all 17 tests analyzed, eight questions were not in alignment, which means that the question did not adequately assess the standards it was meant to address. As for the test as a whole, all questions were found to be in alignment with grade-level TEKS.

Question 2: Are the items on the tests at a grade-appropriate readability level?

Answer: Due to a lack of research in the area, the authors used several different methods to try to measure the readability of each test item. For each method, the researchers obtained different results, which meant that none of the methods were reliable indicators of readability. Therefore, the study is inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items and provides no further insight in this area. Because parents and advocates have expressed concerns with the readability of mathematics test items, this lack of findings is rather unsatisfying.

Question 3: Are the passages on the reading and writing tests at a grade-appropriate readability level?

Answer: The authors developed their own “test” to determine if a passage was grade-level appropriate in readability. In order to pass the test, each passage had to meet two out of three measures: sentence length and difficulty, syntactic simplicity or “syntax,” and vocabulary load or “narrativity.” For syntax and narrativity, the authors used a measure called “Coh-Metrix” that can either be based on English/Language Arts (ELA) norms or social studies norms, depending on the genre of the text.

While many passages met grade-level for sentence length/difficulty and syntax, only 31% of passages fell within or below the specified grade band for narrativity when using the ELA norms. However, because each passage only had to meet two out of the three criteria, 86% of writing and reading passages were found to be grade-appropriate. Additionally, the authors stipulate that the passages are more of the informational genre and thus could be evaluated using the social studies norms, which produces higher readability results, yet still comparatively low in the narrativity index.

What’s next?

This study leaves many questions unanswered. Is it acceptable that some test items are not correctly aligned to the TEKS? Are the STAAR test items, such as those on the mathematics tests, at the appropriate readability level? Is the 2/3 criteria test valid when it allows for narrativity to slip through the cracks? Is it good practice to allow for the majority of a test to use vocabulary that is outside the scope of commonly used language for a particular grade level?

The second part of this legislatively mandated study should surface by February 1, 2020. Stay tuned to ATPE’s Teach the Vote as we track the implementation of this important provision in HB 3. Read more about changes to student testing that resulted from the 2019 legislative session here and here on our blog.

Breaking news: Texas House Speaker releases interim charges

Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) released the 86th Legislature’s interim committee charges for the House of Representatives today. Over the course of the next year, House committees will meet to discuss and hear from stakeholders on these issues, ultimately preparing a report before the start of the next legislative session. In the committee charges cover letter, the speaker also announces that he will create, “several Select Committees addressing issues of extraordinary interest and concern.” The ATPE Governmental Relations team will be monitoring the work of these committees.

ATPE’s lobbyists have reviewed the interim charges and will be following those that are of importance to our members and giving testimony when possible. In particular, the House Committee on Public Education will monitor legislation from the 2019 legislative session, including House Bill 3 and various accountability bills from this and previous sessions. Additionally, the committee will discuss digital learning options and the Virtual School Network, as well as looking broadly at monitoring and improving special education.

The House Committee on State Affairs has also been charged with studying “how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes.” ATPE will be monitoring the committee’s review of this topic, which was the subject of a major legislative battle last session and could impact how school districts participate in legislative advocacy efforts.

Stay informed with Teach the Vote as the House committees begin to work on their interim charges. Click here to read about the Senate’s interim charges that were released last month.

Exploring legislators’ 2019 voting records on education: Part II

As part of our officeholder profiles featured here on TeachtheVote.org, ATPE recently published a series of record votes taken by state legislators during the 2019 legislative session. In Part I of this two-part feature on our blog, we shared information about the education-related bills on which those votes were taken, explaining their significance during a legislative session that was heavily centered around school finance and public education. In Part II, we’re offering a closer look at how the record vote information was compiled by the ATPE lobby team and what insights may be gained from viewing the voting histories. Read more about our process, and then discover how your legislators voted on public education bills this year. Use our search page on Teach the Vote to view the profile of any legislator.

How are record votes useful, and what are their limitations?

There are several organizations that track record votes during a legislative session. Some groups issue scorecards or assign grades to legislators based on how well their votes aligned with that particular organization’s legislative agenda. Some entities use those scorecards to make decisions about campaign contributions or endorsements during an election cycle that follows the legislative session. ATPE does not calculate scores or assign grades to legislators. We focus our efforts more on collecting data that we believe can be useful to constituents in analyzing their lawmakers’ actions. Just as legislators’ responses to our ATPE Candidate Survey may help explain their views on public education issues to voters, the voting records also provide insight into how a lawmaker has approached public education bills in the past or may vote on similar issues in the future. All of that information can help voters who care about public education make informed decisions at the polls, but the data may also provide a starting point for year-round conversations between educators and their lawmakers, which are key to building collaborations and working together to meet the needs of public schools, students, and educators.

Senate Legislative Process (click to open a larger version)

ATPE’s lobbyists caution that recorded votes offer only one data point among many for examination of a lawmaker’s tenure and treatment of public education. There are a number of reasons why a lawmaker’s vote on a single bill may not tell the whole story. For one thing, recorded votes are relatively few. So much negotiation on bills takes place behind the scenes, with bill authors carefully gauging support for their proposals and typically ensuring that they have enough votes to pass a bill before it ever reaches the floor of the House or Senate. In many cases, by the time a bill hits the floor there is ample agreement for the measure to pass unanimously or by a simple voice vote. We do still include some unanimous votes on our Teach the Vote legislator profiles when the bills are major ones deemed to be of great interest to our readers. With so much work being done behind the scenes, it’s good to remember that legislators have additional opportunities to support and show leadership on public education issues by shepherding those bills through the process in ways that are rarely seen by the public and not recorded in any official manner.

House Legislative Process (click to open a larger version)

Another thing to bear in mind about record votes is that there are multiple floor votes taken on each bill that ultimately makes it to the governor’s desk. The state’s legislative process calls for bills to be read three times in each chamber, with the House and Senate both voting on the measures at the second and third reading stages. When the two chambers approve competing versions of the same bill, a conference committee is appointed to work out the differences and recommend a final negotiated version, which then must be voted on again by the House and Senate. Sometimes a conference committee is authorized to “go outside the bounds” of the bills passed by each chamber and may add new language, which then makes the final vote on approving the conference committee report (the final version of the bill) more significant. More commonly, however, there is near unanimous agreement on adopting the conference committee report for a bill, since it represents a compromise worked out between the two chambers.

Not every bill ends up in a conference committee, of course. When the House and Senate both approve a bill on third reading, and when the language passed by both chambers is identical, that sends the bill to the governor. Most votes featured in the voting records that you see on Teach the Vote are pulled from second and/or third reading results. The bulk of a bill’s floor debate happens on second reading, often making that vote the most significant one. Once past the second reading stage, bills are rarely amended or even debated substantively on third reading. There is frequently little to no difference between the votes cast on second reading and the votes cast on third reading. When the second and third reading votes on a bill are virtually identical, ATPE’s lobbyists often showcase the third reading vote on the legislator’s voting record since it is a more final vote by the House or Senate and the one that either sends the bill forward to the other chamber or on to the Governor’s desk. When there are noteworthy differences between what happens on the second and third readings, for instance when a bill gets amended between the two votes, ATPE notes this in our explanations of the vote.

For all of the votes we highlight on the Teach the Vote legislator profiles, we take our data from the House and Senate journals, which are considered the official records. ATPE provides links to the specific pages in the journals where the votes are documented, enabling our readers to see the backup documentation for our material along with additional information, such as transcripts of some floor debates when requested by legislators. Using the journals as our official resource for record votes enables us to share those additional insights about legislative intent.

Also in the journal are notations requested by legislators to be added to the record after the vote. For example, it is not uncommon for a legislator to be marked as absent during any given vote. This may be an excused absence, such as when a legislator misses an entire day of legislative activity on account of an urgent need back home, or merely a temporary absence from the chamber. Anyone who has visited the Capitol during a session knows that there is always a lot of activity taking place, and there are times during a long day or night when a lawmaker needs (or chooses) to step away from their desk, possibly missing a record vote. In those instances, the legislators may request a note in the journal to indicate how they would have voted on the bill had they been present. Another phenomenon that occurs regularly in the House, where votes are entered via buttons on the representative’s desk and recorded electronically, is the “machine malfunction.” The representative may request a notation in the journal to say that he or she intended to vote “yes” but was recorded as voting “no” or vice versa. These notes do not change the official voting record or outcome, but can lend insight as to the legislator’s intent. Whether the voting machine actually malfunctioned or the legislator’s mind was merely changed after seeing the final vote tally is a matter of interpretation. ATPE’s lobbyists believe these postscripts can be instructive to constituents or perhaps spark a dialogue with their representative, which is why we share this information along with the official record votes.

For all but the freshmen legislators, we have included historical voting records on Teach the Vote, which you’ll see below the most recent session’s votes. These go back as far as 2013, which was the first session in which ATPE published voting histories on Teach the Vote. Also, because there are a fair number of state senators who began their legislative careers as state representatives, we’ve made an effort to include their prior House voting records in addition to their record votes in the Senate. We believe these historical voting records, where available, can be helpful in examining an elected official’s position over time.

We hope you will take a look at how your legislators voted in the 2019 legislative session and use that information for dialogue during the legislative interim and for candidate research for the next election cycle. For additional information about ATPE’s voting records provided on Teach the Vote, contact the ATPE Governmental Relations department.