Category Archives: 86th Legislature

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.

Exploring legislators’ 2019 voting records on education: Part I

Last week on TeachtheVote.org, ATPE published a series of voting records for all Texas state lawmakers, analyzing their actions taken on significant education-related legislation. This blog post is Part I of a two-part feature on the record votes. Here, we’re taking a closer look at how the ATPE lobby team analyzed and chose the record votes that are featured on the legislators’ profiles.

Which bills are featured in the 2019 legislative voting records on Teach the Vote, and why were they chosen?

Without question, the most significant bill debated and ultimately passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year was House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). This major school finance and public education reform bill, deemed the top priority of the session, resulted in $6.5 billion in increased funding for public education and $5 billion for property tax relief. ATPE’s lobbyists have written extensively about the omnibus bill here on our Teach the Vote blog, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also dedicated a set of online resources to helping Texans understand the many components of the bill. With its high profile, HB 3 figures prominently in the 2019 record votes compiled by ATPE. We’ve selected both the House’s and Senate’s votes on HB 3 on “third reading” as the first record vote featured in this year’s list for Teach the Vote.

There are also a few votes on floor amendments to HB 3 that made our list this year. On the House side, we’ve provided representatives’ votes on House Floor Amendment #15 to HB 3, which dealt with charter school transparency and efficiency. The amendment by Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), which passed and was incorporated into the House’s version of HB 3 but later stripped out by the Senate, requires charter schools to undergo an audit of their fiscal management. The Bailes amendment would have required such an audit to be conducted before a charter could expand or open new campuses, and it also called for charter schools to share the results of those audits publicly on their websites.

For senators, we similarly tracked their votes on three amendments to HB 3:

  • Senate Floor Amendment #8 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) attempted to remove from the Senate’s version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay program that ATPE and most of the education community opposed.
  • Senate Floor Amendment #30 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) also failed to pass but aimed to provide a guaranteed pay raise for all professional public school employees. While teacher pay was another high-profile issue debated throughout the 2019 legislative session, most discussions about pay raises at that point in the session had been limited to classroom teachers and librarians.
  • Also, Senate Floor Amendment #66 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) was an unsuccessful attempt to add language to the Senate’s version of HB 3 to ensure that state standardized tests were written at the appropriate grade level. Testing was also a subject of great importance to the education community during the legislative session, particularly after studies found that certain test questions on the STAAR test had been written at reading levels well above the grade level being tested. Although the Menendez floor amendment did not get approved by the Senate, another bill passed during the 2019 legislative session (HB 3906) requires a study of STAAR readability, and results of that study should be released beginning in December.

HB 3 ultimately included some additional funding for increasing educator compensation, but it was not the only bill pertaining to teacher pay that lawmakers debated in 2019. Early in the session, the Senate rallied behind Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) pledged would be one of the first bills passed by the full Senate in 2019. Although SB 3 was later rejected in favor of the alternative compensation-related language in HB 3, we’ve included the Senate’s third reading vote on SB 3 in our list of record votes due to its early significance.

ATPE also supported a stand-alone bill in 2019 that was designed to fund and strengthen mentoring programs for teachers. The House’s third reading vote on HB 102 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) made our list of record votes this year. HB 102 did not get heard in the Senate, but its language was later incorporated into HB 3.

Another piece of legislation related to educator quality produced one of the record votes published on Teach the Vote this year. The House voted to approve HB 1276 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) on third reading. HB 1276 was designed to prevent elementary grade students from being assigned for two consecutive school years to teachers who had less than one year of teaching experience or teachers who were not certified in the subject being taught as part of the foundation curriculum. Exceptions would have been provided under HB 1276 for new transfer students and for students whose parent or guardian consents to the non-compliant placement. Also, the bill would not have applied to school districts serving fewer than 5,000 students, those exempted under the District of Innovation (DOI) law, or those districts that received a hardship waiver from the commissioner of education. Unfortunately, this ATPE-supported bill did not get heard in the Senate.

School safety was another high priority issue debated during the 2019 legislative session. The key piece of legislation on keeping schools safe was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), aimed at driving funding to implement school safety improvements and provide mental health resources. We’ve featured on our website the third reading vote taken on this bill in both the House and Senate chambers. Also on our list is the House’s treatment of House Floor Amendment #8 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) to SB 11, aimed at improving mental health support by requiring the state to identify regional resources that schools could use to address their students’ mental health needs. Legislators were considering a number of different measures pertaining to mental health resources in the context of the debate about school safety. Particularly in the House, some lawmakers were openly skeptical of efforts to link students with outside mental health professionals, worried about privacy concerns, and generally opposed to perceived government overreach. The controversy surrounding those issues had seemingly killed another high-priority bill aimed at addressing mental health earlier on the same evening that SB 11 was being debated. House leaders used Rep. Allison’s floor amendment as a vehicle for resurrecting the lost bill. Thus, Allison’s original amendment to SB 11 passed, was reconsidered, got amended to include language from the other mental health bill that had already been voted down, and then Floor Amendment #8 passed again. We provided data on both votes approving Floor Amendment #8 since there were some representatives who opted to change their position on the Allison amendment after it was expanded.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also garnered attention during the 2019 session and was an ATPE legislative priority. Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which increased the contribution rates for the TRS pension fund. ATPE included the third reading votes on this bill taken by both the House and Senate among our record votes compilation. The legislature’s passage of SB 12 resulted in immediate actuarial solvency for the fund, which made it possible for TRS to issue a one-time 13th check to retirees in Sept. 2019. Read more about the TRS bill here.

Another ATPE legislative priority for 2019 was opposing vouchers and stopping the privatization of public schools in any form. Few voucher bills were considered this session, but the full Senate did take a vote on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455, which we included on our list of record votes. The bill would have expanded full-time virtual schools and created a “virtual voucher.” Despite passing the Senate, SB 1455 did not make it out of a committee on the House side.

The House also took a record vote on HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which is included on our list. That bill produced one of the most dramatic debates but did not garner enough votes to pass the House. HB 1133 would have weakened the existing 22:1 cap on elementary school class sizes by moving to a campus-wide, grade-level average. Many ATPE members reached out to their legislators in opposition to this bill, which would have allowed class sizes in the lower grades to dramatically expand.

Finally, there are a few record votes on our list this year that pertain to efforts to restrict legislative advocacy by school districts or dissuade educators from being politically active. One such bill was SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), which the Senate voted to approve on third reading but the House left pending in committee. ATPE staunchly opposed SB 1569, which would have restricted educators’ First Amendment rights to engage in political speech, limited their ability to teach students about elections, and unreasonably subjected educators to criminal penalties. Another troubling bill was SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), which tried to prohibit school districts and other local governmental entities from funding legislative advocacy efforts or paying membership dues to organizations that engage in legislative advocacy. SB 29 made our record votes list in two places. First, the Senate voted to approve the bill on third reading. Later, the House voted the bill down. Interestingly, the vote to defeat SB 29 on the House floor became even more significant after the legislative session ended, when certain Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill were seemingly targeted for retribution by their own party leadership in a taped discussion between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the head of the controversial dark money group, Empower Texans. The scandal resulted in Bonnen’s announcing that he would not seek re-election, opening the door for election of a new speaker when the 2021 legislative session convenes.

In any legislative session, there are limited votes taken on the record, offering relatively few options for us to showcase how individual legislators voted on education-related bills. However, we believe the votes listed above offer an informative glimpse into the treatment of public education by the 86th Texas Legislature, and we invite you to check out how your legislators voted by looking them up on our search page here on Teach the Vote. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for Part II of this blog feature where the ATPE lobbyists will explain more about the usefulness and limitations of record votes in general.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 15, 2019

It is getting chilly outside! Cozy up and enjoy this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: In the November 2019 election, roughly 12 percent of registered voters cast ballots. This is an improvement over the typical 8.5 percent of voters that show up to vote in odd-year Texas elections. Post-election, expect lots of buzz as 2020 candidates for office begin to file paperwork to run. Read more in this week’s election roundup from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Also, read an in-depth analysis of the recent election in this Texas Tribune article.

If you didn’t get the chance to vote on November 5th, your next opportunity will be the primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Feb. 3, 2020. Check to see if you are registered to vote here. Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for key voter updates. Plus, watch this space for an exciting new election-related resource coming your way soon!


The State Board of Education (SBOE) wrapped up its final week-long meeting of the year on Friday with little fanfare. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath attended Wednesday’s session to give updates on a number of agency initiatives. In particular, he noted that Texas student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress is higher than the nation in math, but lags in reading. Additionally, the commissioner discussed the STAAR readability study, new reading academy requirements for K-3 principals and teachers, and the Houston ISD takeover. The board also received hours of testimony on the proposed African American studies course, which was discussed favorably by new board chair Dr. Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). Read a summary of Wednesday’s meeting, courtesy of ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced last week that the state would take over management of Houston ISD and two rural school districts, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD. This Thursday, the TEA held its second meeting for HISD parents and community members. The meeting took place at Wheatley High School – the persistently failing campus that partially led to the takeover. Community members expressed distrust and apprehension of the state takeover, unconvinced that it would solve the issues facing the district. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


All state legislators’ profiles on the Teach the Vote website have been updated to include key education voting records from the 86th legislative session. The ATPE lobby team analyzed all the education-related votes taken during the 2019 legislative session and selected a collection of recorded votes that will help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities. By sharing this information, we hope to help voters gain insight into incumbents’ views on public education so that they can make informed decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle. Use our search page here on Teach the Vote to look up how your legislators voted on education issues this year.

The candidate filing period opens this weekend for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020. Once the candidate filing period ends, ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Stay tuned!


Are you an ATPE member with thoughts to share about education? The ATPE Governmental Relations team has released a short, three-question survey to gather member opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session.

Help us best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol by taking our new “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. You must be signed into the ATPE website as a member to participate in the survey, so call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released a new video in its “HB 3 in 30” series explaining the various (and plentiful) aspects of the 86th Legislature’s omnibus school finance bill House Bill (HB) 3. This week’s video explains the new high school graduation requirement stating that each student must complete the Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA), Texas Application for Financial Student Aid (TAFSA), or through an exemption. This requirement begins with students enrolled in 12th grade in the 2021-22 school year. TEA is also required to create an advisory committee related to this requirement. Find all of the HB 3 in 30 videos here, along with related presentations.


 

November 2019 election results: Runoffs ahead

The results from Tuesday’s elections are in, and all three special elections to fill unexpired terms in the Texas House of Representatives will head to runoffs. Voters also approved all but one of the 10 proposed constitutional amendments.

In Fort Bend County, lone Democrat Eliz Markowitz came in first for the special election in Texas House District (HD) 28 with 39 percent of the vote. Markowitz, who is endorsed by the pro-public education organization Texas Parent PAC, will head to a runoff against Republican Gary Gates, who carried 28 percent of the vote. You can read more about the race for HD 28 in this TeachTheVote.org post.

In Houston’s HD 148, Democrat Anna Eastman led a crowded field with 18 percent of the vote, according to numbers available early Wednesday morning. She will face Republican Luis La Rotta, who took 17 percent of the vote.

In HD 100 in Dallas, Democrat Lorraine Birabil will likely face fellow Democrat James Armstrong in a runoff. The two earned 33 percent and 21 percent of the vote, respectively.

You can read more reporting on the special election races in this Texas Tribune post.

Voters rejected statewide Proposition 1, which would have allowed selected municipal court judges to serve multiple municipalities at the same time, while passing the other nine constitutional propositions, including Propositions 4 and 7, which included some impact on public education. Seventy-three percent of voters approved Proposition 4, which added additional hurdles to passing a state income tax beyond existing constitutional prohibitions. Voters also approved Proposition 7, which will allow the State Board of Education (SBOE) and School Land Board (SLB) more flexibility in releasing distributions to the Available School Fund (ASF). You can read more about the information we provided on the proposed constitutional amendments in this TeachTheVote.org post. Per its member-created legislative program, ATPE took no position on any of the constitutional ballot propositions. Read more about the constitutional election results in this Texas Tribune post.

If you voted in the November 2019 elections, great job! Voting in these off-year elections is incredibly important as turnout is usually very low and important statewide decisions are made by a relatively small number of people. Sign up for reminders from our partners at the Texas Educators Vote coalition, and you’ll never worry about missing an important election. Then stay tuned for more election-related news here at Teach the Vote.

Senate interim charges include investigating educators’ political activity

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) released interim charges for state senators late Wednesday. The Senate interim charges for the 86th Texas Legislature include language mirroring that used to justify a pair of bills this past session that were aimed at discouraging educators from being politically active.

After every legislative session, the Senate and House each release their own set of interim charges. Individual charges are assigned to each legislative committee and represent those legislators’ “homework” before returning to Austin for the next session. The idea is that members of each committee will study those charges, conduct hearings during the interim, and return the following legislative session prepared to file bills on those topics. The charges also typically include directions to monitor the implementation of bills recently passed into law and recommend any adjustments that may need to be made during the next legislative session.

The 2019 Senate interim charges include studying educator recruitment, preparation, and retention; a review of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP); studying the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) corrective action plan for special education; a review of how investments are made by the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and the Permanent School Fund (PSF); monitoring school districts’ implementation of the increases to teacher compensation ordered under House Bill (HB) 3; and investigating advocacy by local communities and public schools misleadingly characterized as “taxpayer lobbying.”

Of particular note is a charge directing the Senate State Affairs Committee to “ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.” While ATPE fully agrees that public funds should not be used for electioneering, unfounded accusations targeting educators were used during the 2019 legislative session to justify a pair of bills aimed at chilling educators’ political speech. It is particularly worth noting that these accusations were leveled by officials who have taken positions opposed to public education in the past and were made following a 2018 election cycle in which the public education community was acknowledged to have played a major role in electing pro-public education candidates.

Senate Bill (SB) 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would have dramatically expanded the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators. It would have subjected educators to criminal penalties for violating “political advertising” laws if they engage in the act of discussing anything of a political nature on school property, regardless of whether that conversation occurred in private, between friends, or off the clock. A similar bill, SB 904 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would have imposed cumbersome restrictions on e-mail signups and public WiFi systems. You can read more about those bills here and here. Notably, Sen. Hughes has recently been appointed by Lt. Gov. Patrick as the new chairman of the State Affairs Committee that will conduct this investigation during the interim and would likely hear any such bills filed next session.

The following list includes excerpts from the 2019 Senate interim charges that may be of interest to educators. The charges are broken up by committee, each of which is listed in bold. You can read the full list of all interim charges released on Wednesday here.

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

Crimes Against Students with Disabilities: Examine whether current laws are effectively protecting students with disabilities. Make recommendations to improve student safety, while also protecting educators’ abilities to maintain order and safety for everyone in the classroom.

Senate Education Committee

Teacher Workforce: Examine best practice models to recruit, prepare, and retain highly effective teachers. Review teacher professional development, continuing education, and training for teachers, and recommend improved training methods to improve student academic outcomes.

Alternative Education Students: Study current local, state, and national policies and programs for alternative education student populations. Make recommendations to strengthen existing programs and encourage the development of new innovative models.

Adult Education: Identify and evaluate current innovative programs that assist non-traditional students (first-time adult learners, re-enrolling students, working adults, and educationally disadvantaged students) in completing a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or workforce credential, including a review of adult education charter schools and their performance framework. Make recommendations to help successful expansion with partnered business and education entities.

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: Review disciplinary alternative education programs, including lengths of placement, quality of instruction, and the physical conditions of these facilities. Make recommendations to support and promote the academic success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of these students through innovative school models.

Digital Learning: Assess the Texas Virtual School Network and recommend model legislation that improves digital learning for students, families, and educators in a 21st Century classroom.

Special Education Services: Evaluate ongoing strategies to continuously improve special education services for students in public schools including, but not limited, to the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 11, relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium; House Bill 3, relating to public school finance and public education; and House Bill 3906, relating to the assessment of public school students, including the development and administration of assessment instruments, and technology permitted for use by students.

Senate Finance Committee

Investment of State Funds: Review the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System, the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. Make recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income to the state.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Finance passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 12, relating to the contributions to and benefits under the Teacher Retirement System; …House Bill 4388, relating to the management of the permanent school fund by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education and a study regarding distributions from the permanent school fund to the available school fund; House Bill 4611, relating to certain distributions to the available school fund; …District implementation of increases in teacher compensation provided by the 86th Legislature; and Efficiencies in state-funded health care programs that reduce or contain costs and improve quality of care. Assess the quality and performance of health plans that contract with the state, including contract compliance, financial performance and stability, quality metrics, and consumer surveys, among other indicators. Monitor the implementation of Health and Human Services Commission Rider 19 and Article IX, Section 10.06.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Elections: Study the integrity and security of voter registration rolls, voting machines, and voter qualification procedures to reduce election fraud in Texas. Specifically, study and make recommendations to: 1) ensure counties are accurately verifying voter eligibility after voter registration; 2) improve training requirements for mail-in ballot signature verification committees; 3) ensure every voter has access to a polling station, particularly in counties that have adopted countywide polling; 4) allow the voter registrar, county clerk, and Secretary of State to suspend an unqualified voter’s registration or remove an ineligible voter from a list of registered voters; and 5) ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.

Taxpayer Lobbying: Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.

Texas election roundup: Speaker not running for reelection

The Texas political establishment was rocked by the announcement this week that Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) would not seek reelection. This comes as part of the fallout from a recording scandal involving the speaker, then-chair of the House Republican Caucus Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), and Michael Quinn Sullivan, who leads the political group Empower Texans, which regularly takes anti-public education positions and has spent millions to influence elections in our state, often targeting incumbent legislators who support public schools. Sullivan secretly recorded a meeting with Bonnen and Burrows that took place in June, shortly after the legislative session ended.

Several high-ranking Republican members of the Texas House called on Bonnen to step down earlier this week after audio of the recording was made public. On the tape, both Bonnen and Burrows can be heard attacking cities and counties, as well as seemingly offering to give Empower Texans personnel access to the House floor in exchange for the organization targeting a number of incumbent Republican representatives during the 2020 election cycle. It is worth noting that the majority of the 10 Republicans who were targeted in the recorded discussion are legislators who have been vocal public education supporters. Read more about the recent scandal in this coverage from the Texas Tribune.

ATPE’s state officers met with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen during ATPE at the Capitol in Feb. 2019.

Prior to the events leading up to the speaker’s announcement this week, ATPE worked very closely with Speaker Bonnen and his staff over the course of the 86th legislative session, Bonnen’s first as speaker. In working with the speaker’s office, we were able to help shape House Bill 3, the session’s signature education legislation, and prevent bad bills, such as voucher plans and proposals to do away with educators’ rights to voluntary payroll deduction, from being filed or making significant progress in the House. The leadership vacuum created by Bonnen’s departure will introduce a very different and unpredictable dynamic to the Texas House when members return in January of 2021. This makes electing pro-public education candidates during the 2020 elections all the more important in order to ensure that House members of the 87th Texas Legislature elect a new speaker who supports and prioritizes public education.

In other election-related news, early voting is already underway statewide on proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. You can find more about those proposals on the ballot in this post by ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz. There are also three special elections for seats in the Texas House currently underway, including one in Fort Bend County that could serve as a bellwether for the 2020 general elections. Read more about that closely watched race here.

Voting in every election is critical in order to keep public education a central focus of legislative and policy decisions. Make sure and vote this week if you haven’t already. Early voting runs through November 1, and election day is November 5. You can find more voting resources by visiting our coalition partners’ website at TexasEducatorsVote.com. Now go vote!

New School Year, New Laws: Compensation Update

Welcome to our final blog post in ATPE’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog series for Teach the Vote. In last week’s post, we summarized new laws that will impact charter schools. This week, we will investigate how the changes to funding and compensation in House Bill (HB) 3 are being implemented in several school districts across the state.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the major school finance bill passed earlier this year, included some important provisions aimed at increasing compensation for many educators. More specifically, lawmakers required that school districts use 30% of their increase in funding under the bill to increase compensation for full-time district employees, excluding administrators. Of that dollar amount, 75% must be spent on compensation for full-time, certified teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors. The other 25% can be used to improve compensation for other full-time employees. HB 3 also specifies that there should be a prioritization for teachers, librarians, nurses, and counselors with more than five years of experience, but the bill largely leaves this open for interpretation at the local level.

The combination of differences in how much additional funding each district gets and the flexibility districts have to create unique compensation packages makes it very important for us to gain a “lay of the land” in our current post-HB 3 environment. In this post we have summarized what some districts are doing by gathering news articles and information from district websites. The charts below break down some of dollar figures and percentages by which the districts shown are increasing educator compensation as a result of HB 3.


Lubbock-Cooper ISD, Region 17:

Up to 5 yrs. of exp. (teachers) 5.68%, avg.
6-25 yrs. of exp. (teachers) 8.71%, avg.
All other employees 3%
Beginning teacher salary Increased to $40,000

With a 2018-19 average teaching salary of just over $45,000, we estimate that the LCISD’s average pay raise of 8.08% is about $3,640.


Klein ISD, Region 4:

Up to 5 yrs. of exp. (teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses) 5.25% ($4,950)
6+ yrs. of exp. (teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses) 5.5% ($5,050)
All other employees 4%
Beginning teacher salary Increased from $52,600 to $55,500
Healthcare $300 one-time payment for eligible, full-time employees who are returning

Klein ISD will also provide a retention incentive to teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses who were employed in the district on May 31 of the previous year and are returning. This incentive is in the form of a one-time payment of $1,500. All other previously employed full-time employees who are returning to the district will receive $1,000. The district has built in similar retention and healthcare payments at reduced rates for those who work less than full-time.


Clear Creek ISD, Region 4:

Up to 4 yrs. of exp. (teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses) 4%
5+ yrs. of exp. (teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses) 4.25%
All other employees 3.50%
Beginning teacher salary Increased from $53,600 to $55,750
Healthcare (TRS-Active) Increase district contribution by $10/month
Bus drivers Increase wage from $16.83/hr to $19/hr

Clear Creek is also implementing an “honors teacher experience” program, in which teachers who reach milestones such as 5, 10, 15, etc. years of experience can receive additional compensation of up to $2,800. This could result in a total pay raise of 9.49% for some teachers. The district is also adding staff, especially in special education and is implementing safety and security upgrades.


San Marcos CISD, Region 13:

Up to 5 yrs. of exp. (teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses) 3% ($1,562)
6+ yrs. of exp. (teachers, counselors, librarians and nurses) 4% ($2,113)
All other employees 6%
Administrators 3% ($2,113)
Beginning teacher salary Increased to $49,662

Fort Worth ISD, Region 11: 

Up to 5 yrs. of exp. (teachers) 5.8%, avg.
6-15 yrs. of exp. (teachers) 6.9%, avg.
15+ yrs. of exp. (teachers) 6.1%, avg
Counselors, nurses, librarians 5%
All other full-time 3%
Administrators Greater of 3% or 3% of midpoint
Beginning teacher salary Increased from $53,000 to $54,000

What does it all mean?

There are over 1,000 school districts in Texas, each with varied funding under HB 3. In some cases, the bill may have even provided districts with the same or less funding if not for a hold harmless provision in the bill (which expires after the 2023-24 school year). Considering this and the fact that each district also has different needs and economic factors affecting compensation, the implementation of raises is going to be varied all over Texas. Among the districts we read about, teacher salaries were raised from 3% to 9.5%. To keep up with inflation, basic yearly pay raises in other professions typically hover around 3%. We know from district salary schedules, such as this one from Leander ISD, that typical step increases are closer to 1%. With this in mind, the impact of HB 3 in some districts may have been that teachers simply got the standard raise necessary to keep up with the cost of living.

What’s next? Stay engaged!

It is important to note that there have been reports of districts that have under-calculated what they would receive in HB 3 funding, which impacts the amount they are required to spend on compensation. Additionally, some districts have relied almost exclusively on one-time stipends, which are less stable and do not necessarily count toward compensation for purposes of TRS or the amount an educator will receive for their retirement pension. ATPE is working with state officials to solve these issues so that districts comply with HB 3’s efforts to increase educator compensation.

Across the sources we gathered, it seems that district leaders are happy to have the raise but still think that there are further improvements to be made. Clear Creek ISD Deputy Superintendent Paul McLarty wants to see more from the state, like getting closer to a 50-50 split between local and state funding. Klein ISD Superintendent Dr. Jenny McGown remarks that the state is still ranked 41st in the nation in spending. Lubbock-Cooper ISD Superintendent Keith Bryant says that he would like to eventually be able to provide teachers with a competitive wage.

ATPE agrees with these sentiments and urges educators to return to the polls during the 2020 primary and general elections when voters will have a chance to decide who will represent them in the next legislative session. The raises for educators and public education funding increases that resulted from the 2019 legislative session are a direct result of educators’ votes in the 2018 elections. Stay connected and engaged by following Teach the Vote, ATPE, and ATPE lobbyists on Twitter using the handles @OfficialATPE, @TeachTheVote, @ATPE_JenniferM, @ATPE_AndreaC, @MarkWigginsTX, and @ATPE_MontyE.


Thank you for joining us on Teach the Vote to learn about how new laws enacted in the 86th Texas legislative session will impact you. ATPE created this series because we believe it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.

New School Year, New Laws: Charter Schools

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to pension and retirement benefits for Texas public school educators. This week, we will discuss legislative changes made during the 86th legislative session that will impact charter schools in Texas. The 2019 legislative session saw a number of bills filed and debated regarding charter schools, both from charter proponents looking to expand the footprint of charters in Texas and from those hoping to impose additional restraints and regulations on charter schools. Below is a look at the charter-related bills that passed this year.

House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston): Goodwill Excel Center

HB 1051 makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices. The Goodwill Excel Center is a charter school that has resulted in improved outcomes for older students who are in unique circumstances and need a more flexible school setting. This law became effective immediately upon its passage earlier this year.

HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi): Children of charter employees

HB 2190 allows children of charter school employees to attend the charter school in which their parents work, regardless of where they live. This bill also took effect immediately.

HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): Charter operation of re-purposed campuses

HB 4205 is a two-part bill that includes provisions regarding repurposed schools as well as school turnaround. The portion of the bill dealing with repurposed campuses allows for large charter operators to repurpose a public school district campus that has been closed. The new school operator is required to admit the same students who were at the campus before it was closed. The author of this bill referenced a Midland campus as the impetus for the idea. This bill became effective immediately.

HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), co-authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio): Charter school bonds

HB 4258 provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the previous authority held by municipalities. Charter supporters contended that municipalities could prevent charter schools from expanding by withholding the tax-exempt status of the charter school bond. This bill became effective immediately.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels): School safety in charters

SB 372 allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers to charter schools. The bill created parity by giving charter school governing bodies access to the same safety resources already available to boards of trustees for traditional public schools. This law became effective immediately.

SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper): Charter employees and common application

SB 2293 subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining prohibitions and anti-striking laws that apply to all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application to be used for charter school admission throughout the state and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the “charter waiting list.” Charter proponents have often cited claims of a massive list of students who are waiting for slots in a charter school as justification for expanding charters in Texas; however, no such statewide list has been shared. ATPE will be monitoring the rule-making process for the development and implementation of the common application and charter reporting.

 


Visit Teach the Vote next week for our next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series update post on funding and compensation changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.