Category Archives: Congress

Congressman Kevin Brady files WEP replacement bill

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-TX) who chairs the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, along with Ranking Member Richard Neal (D-MA), has introduced H.R. 6933 to amend Title II of the Social Security Act. The bill would replace the windfall elimination provision (WEP) with a formula equalizing benefits for certain individuals with non-covered employment.

Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX)

ATPE has worked closely with Chairman Brady to bring forward a bill that addresses the inequities in the current law, which stem from the arbitrary formula known as the windfall elimination provision. The goal for both ATPE and Chairman Brady is to put in place a formula that can both pass Congress and get more money on average into the pockets of retirees by treating them more fairly than they are treated under current law.

Stay tuned to TTV for a deeper dive on the bill as well as updates as it moves through the legislative process.

Congress passes education budget

Congress passed a funding bill today that averts a looming government shutdown and, among other spending, includes FY 2019 funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The measure now heads to President Trump for his signature.

Under the spending measure, the overall federal education budget is increased based on current levels, with major programs like Title I and special education seeing program specific bumps. President Trump asked for more than $7 billion in overall budget cuts to ED in his budget request to Congress earlier this year. Congress’s education budget also largely ignores his request to funnel north of $1 billion to various school choice programs, but does include increased funding for charter school grants.

The bill increases funding levels for a grant aimed at creating safer schools. Despite efforts from Democrats, a prohibition on using certain funding under the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) to arm teachers in schools did not make it into the bill. Texas has been at the center of the debate following questions from Texas school districts asking whether Title IV ESSA funding could be used to arm teachers. At a hearing on ESSA held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee yesterday, the issue again garnered significant attention. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has maintained that the law offers districts considerable flexibility and does not specifically prohibit spending on arming teachers.

President Trump said earlier today that he will sign the measure, which keeps the government running through December 7 and also funds the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services Departments.

 

Congress sends CTE overhaul to President Trump

Congress passed legislation this week to rewrite the primary federal law concerning career and technical education (CTE). The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature.

On Monday, the Senate passed its version of a bill to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by a voice vote. The upper chamber amended a reauthorization bill already passed by the U.S. House, H.R. 2353, with substitute text containing the Senate’s preferred language to reauthorize the law. The U.S. Senate education committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), said the bill limits the role of the Department of Education (ED), giving states more freedom to make decisions about how to utilize federal CTE funding.

The House quickly responded on Wednesday by agreeing to the Senate’s changes and sending the bill to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The Trump Administration has been increasingly supportive of the legislation. White House advisor Ivanka Trump has actively supported passage of the legislation and President Trump released a statement on Wednesday saying that “by enacting it into law, we will continue to prepare students for today’s constantly shifting job market, and we will help employers find the workers they need to compete.”

Still, groups like the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE and the American Association of School Administrators have expressed opposition for varying reasons. The CTE group expressed concern once the Senate bill was passed that it leaves the potential for unambitious state performance targets and low academic standards for CTE students. The administrators have previously called the legislation too prescriptive.

As we have previously outlined, current funding levels will be continued, and the bill gives states more authority in crafting their goals, as long as they are aligned with requirements under the bill. States will be required to meet those goals within two years or face a potential loss of funding. The bill does provide for some additional funding that will be disseminated to states based on population. President Trump is expected to sign the bill soon.

ATPE succeeds in stopping military voucher amendment

The military voucher proposal that ATPE’s federal and state lobby teams have been working hard to fight in Washington was ruled not in order this week by the U.S. House Committee on Rules. The committee was responsible for determining whether the military voucher would be considered as an amendment on the floor of the U.S. House when the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019 (NDAA) is set for a vote. While we were successful in stopping this attempt to advance vouchers for military families, we remain focused on future efforts aimed at creating federal vouchers in any form.

ATPE sent a letter to Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) two weeks ago that urged him to reject the misguided legislation as an amendment to the NDAA. The amendment was based on a bill titled HR 5199, the Education Savings Accounts for Military Families Act of 2018. We stressed in our letter to Chairman Sessions that “the $2,500 voucher program created by HR 5199 would drain limited dollars from both the public school system in Texas as well the Federal Impact Aid Program, hurting the very military-connected students it purports to help.” Our federal lobby team also spent the last two weeks successfully working with the Texas delegation in Congress to stress our opposition to the bill and build support for rejecting the bill as an amendment.

As we reported last week, the author of HR 5199 was facing stiff opposition from members of Congress, even those in his own party, who didn’t support the bill or the amendment. Despite the pressure generated by ATPE and other groups who strongly oppose the amendment, like the Military Coalition, Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN) pressed forward with offering his amendment for consideration by the Rules Committee. Several members of the Texas delegation, including Chairman Sessions, are co-sponsors of the HR 5199, but even with that support the bill as an amendment ultimately failed this time.

The support for this bill from powerful members in Congress is why ATPE continues to stress the importance of educators staying actively engaged in both the state and federal advocacy process. Your voice is meaningful to your members of Congress and state legislators, and it is critical that they hear from you about these important issues. As a reminder, we offer an advocacy tool that allows educators to easily contact their representatives about key issues. The tool, Advocacy Central, offers email templates, phone scripts, tweets, and Facebook posts, that allow you to engage on multiple platforms with your state and federal representatives. On issues just like this one, your representative needs to hear from you! Stay engaged and tuned in to Teach the Vote to know when your voice needs to be heard!

 

Congressional leaders reach deal on spending that includes boost to education dollars

Budget negotiators in Congress have reached an agreement on a deal to keep the lights on in Washington. The deal represents $1.3 trillion in total spending and a boost of $3.9 billion to spending on education. Congress now has until the end of Friday to pass the bill, preventing another government shutdown.

If Congress is able to pass the legislation in its current form (Republican and Democratic leaders are backing the final negotiation) and President Trump signs the legislation (he seemed to support the legislation Wednesday night after waffling throughout the day), many programs at the U.S. Department of Education (ED) will see boosts to funding.

Boosts include funding for Title I and special education (IDEA), the two largest sources of funding at ED, as well as a program aimed at recruiting, supporting, and training educators. Other boosts to funding include programs pertaining to STEM education, technology enhancements, counseling and mental health, social and emotional learning, after school curricula, and rural schools. There is also new funding for school safety in the form of training and safety technologies like metal detectors.

Many of the funded programs are ones President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos cut under their budget request. For example, the president’s budget proposal suggested defunding the $2 billion program aimed at recruiting, supporting, and training educators primarily in high-needs schools. Aside from an increase to charter school funding, Congress also ignored the administration’s requests regarding public and private school choice. There is no funding for a $500 million investment in expanding existing state voucher programs or establishing new voucher programs, and the $1 billion in Title I funding Trump wanted to see invested in a system termed Title I portability (a refresher on that can be found here) is not included. Secretary DeVos faced a congressional committee just this week in an effort to advocate for a number of major reforms at ED, but those were largely overlooked by congressional leaders under the spending plan.

While the deal looks poised for passage, there are still several procedural measures that could prevent its passage ahead of the Friday midnight deadline. Check back for more on how the latest deal on federal funding plays out.

ATPE asks Congress to support teacher training, retention programs

The Higher Education Act (HEA), the federal law outlining higher education policies, was last renewed 10 years ago. As the U.S. Congress works to rewrite the law, ATPE is working with key members to weigh in on Title II of the HEA, where several federal programs pertaining to educator recruitment, training, and retention are housed.

Last week, ATPE submitted comments to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) as education leaders in that chamber develop their bill to reauthorize the HEA. On the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce has already advanced its version of the bill: HR4508, the Promoting Real Opportunity, Success, and Prosperity through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act. That bill still awaits a vote by the full U.S. House, but without change, it would omit Title II of the HEA altogether. ATPE expressed concern over that move this week in a letter to Texas members of the U.S. House and asked them to support the inclusion of Title II as the bill advances.

Carl Garner

“Initiatives like the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, TEACH grants, and loan forgiveness programs specific to educators are important HEA Title II programs that help attract strongly qualified candidates into the profession, prepare our educators in programs that are held to high standards of training, and retain our well-qualified and experienced teachers in the classrooms with students who need them most,” ATPE State President Carl Garner wrote to the Texas delegation.

As we state in our letter, educator training and preparation is a primary advocacy focus for ATPE, because we recognize that we cannot place ill-prepared educators in the 21st century classroom and expect them to achieve excellence. We base this on our strong, evidence-backed belief that quality training and support prior to full certification for all educators supports improved student learning and better rates of educator retention.

“Research consistently shows that access to a high-quality teacher is the most important in-school factor leading to a student’s success,” Garner wrote to the Texas congressional delegation. “Programs like these are a vital piece of the overall landscape that supports student success in the classroom, and the federal government should maintain its valuable role, especially when challenges continue with regard to recruiting and retaining classroom educators.”

ATPE asked members of Texas’s U.S. House delegation to support future and current Texas teachers and students and their peers throughout the country by backing amendments to reinstate HEA Title II under the PROSPER Act. The bill is not currently set to be heard by the full U.S. House. On the other side of the Capitol, the U.S. Senate is expected to release its version of the bill soon. ATPE state officers will make their annual visit to Washington, D.C. in June, where this bill is likely to be among the topics of discussion on our agenda.

U.S. Senate education committee seeks input

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), the committee that oversees federal policy pertaining to prekindergarten through post-secondary education, is seeking input from stakeholders as it works to rewrite the Higher Education Act (HEA). Included within the HEA are programs aimed at recruiting, preparing, and retaining high quality teachers in classrooms throughout the country, but the U.S. House of Representatives has made initial moves to eliminate those programs.

The HEA contains several key programs pertinent to educators: the Teacher Quality Enhancement program, which supports strengthening educator preparation programs that work to fill high-needs schools and fields; TEACH grants, which invest in students training to be teachers; and various loan forgiveness programs specific to educators.

While the U.S. Senate HELP Committee works to develop its version of a bill to rewrite the law, on the other side of the Capitol the U.S. House of Representatives is waiting to debate its own. The House proposal, which has already advanced out of that chamber’s education committee, would eliminate Title II of the HEA, where these programs focused on educator preparation and retention are housed.

Stakeholders like ATPE are concerned that the elimination of such programs would set back efforts to attract and retain strong educators in the profession. Check back next week for more on ATPE’s submitted comments to the committee and other key legislators. For those interested in submitting their own comments and suggestions, do so by emailing the U.S. Senate HELP Committee at HigherEducation2018@help.senate.gov. The deadline to submit comments is Friday, February 23.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 22, 2017

Happy holidays! Here’s your week in review from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Earlier today, President Donald Trump signed into law a major tax overhaul bill approved by Congress this week. The president also signed off on a short-term funding bill to keep the federal governmental operational for a few more weeks until longer-term legislation can be passed. The final $1.5 trillion tax bill omits some provisions that were worrisome for educators employed in public schools, which ATPE urged our congressional delegation to remove from earlier versions of the legislation. For more on the tax law that was approved, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has announced his appointments to two key state commissions. First, the speaker revealed his picks to serve on the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance, authorized by the legislature earlier this year. The House appointments include Reps. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and Ken King (R-Canadian). Fittingly, all three of the representatives chosen by the speaker also hold leadership roles on the House Public Education Committee: Huberty as committee chair, Bernal as committee vice-chair, and King as chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality. Also appointed to serve on the commission is Nicole Conley Johnson, who is currently employed as Chief Financial Officer for Austin ISD. Additional members of the school finance commission were previously announced by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Yesterday, Straus also announced that Reps. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), Stan Lambert (R-Abilene), and Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) would serve on the Sunset Advisory Commission, along with public member and retired accountant Ron Steinhart of Dallas. The commission is charged with overseeing and making recommendations to the legislature on periodic reviews of various state agencies.


Twenty Texas school districts will have an opportunity to take part in a pilot program using locally designed accountability measures. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath named the districts selected earlier this week from a pool of 50 applicants. The pilot program falls under Rep. Dan Huberty’s House Bill 22 passed earlier this year. For more on the local accountability pilot study, view information on the Texas Education Agency’s website here.



 

Congress releases final tax bill

The U.S. House and Senate have finalized a conference tax bill that is expected to be voted on by each body over the course of next week. After the individual chambers passed their own bills pertaining to reforming provisions of the current tax code, a conference committee was appointed to work out the differences in the bills. The final bill must now receive the support of both chambers and the signature of the president before it becomes law.

ATPE wrote members of the Texas delegation last week to urge members of the conference committee and leaders in both chambers to stand with teachers on two issues: maintaining a credit for educators who spend personal money on classroom supplies and omitting a potential new tax on investments of public employee pensions like the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas. ATPE is pleased to report that the final bill reflects our requests on both issues.

The educator expense deduction was maintained at up to $250 a year, giving educators who use money from their own paychecks a nominal but meaningful credit for at least a portion of what is spent to give all students and classrooms access to needed supplies. The House bill originally scrapped the deduction altogether, while the Senate bill doubled the max deduction to as much as $500.

The Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), as it related to public pensions, was ultimately scrapped under the final bill. The House bill would have applied the tax to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund, which could have weakened its financial soundness by subjecting it to new additional tax liability. The Senate’s bill did not apply the new tax to public pension investments.

Another issue that garnered significant attention was a provision termed to be one aimed at “school choice” and was included in varying forms under both bills. The Senate’s provision on the topic was added in the final hours of debate by Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). The final bill includes a negotiated version of the provision, which expands spending eligibility for 529 college savings accounts. If the bill becomes law, parents will be able to use the money they’ve saved in a 529 account to pay for up to $10,000 a year in K-12 education expenses, including at private schools.

ATPE appreciates the conference committee’s final decision on both the educator expense deduction and the UBIT. We also appreciate the help of legislators and leaders who advocated on behalf educators. High-profile provisions of the final plan include a reduction of the corporate tax rate from 35 to 21 percent, a smaller top tax rate for individuals (at 37 percent instead of just under 40), omission of the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance, and a cap on the deduction of state and local taxes (SALT) at $10,000.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 15, 2017

As you’re preparing for a holiday break, here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:


As ATPE and other associations are working to encourage the education community to get out the vote in the 2018 elections, our GOTV efforts are rankling some officeholders and the special interests that have supported them financially. Seemingly frightened by the prospect of high voter turnout among educators, at least one lawmaker is complaining about school districts fostering a culture of voting among their staffs and students. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported yesterday on our blog, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) is asking Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to issue a legal opinion to try to stifle the nonpartisan voter education efforts being spearheaded by the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member.

ATPE and other groups involved in the movement were quick to defend the nonpartisan work of the coalition, which is comprised of several groups that do not endorse candidates at all. The League of Women Voters, for example, tweeted, “The League’s mission is Empowering Voters. Defending Democracy! We are proud to partner with Texas Educators Votes and support their mission to create a culture of voting in Texas.”

Some educators naturally questioned why a sitting state senator would want to dissuade educators from voting and teaching students about the importance of voting. “Why would a leader not want school boards to adopt a resolution that encourages students, faculty, and staff to #vote?” asked former ATPE State President Cory Colby (@EffectualEdu) on Twitter. Another educator (@drdrbrockman) tweeted, “Looks like @TeamBettencourt doesn’t want educators to turn out to vote. Nothing in the Texas Educators Vote resolution pushes particular candidates or electoral outcomes.” ATPE member Rita Long commented on our blog, “I will vote in every election and encourage every citizen to vote. It is my right and privilege to have a voice in our elections. Educators must use their votes to have a voice in what is happening in public education. Our students are our future. Education issues should be a top priority with every American.”

Responding to the growing criticism on social media, Sen. Bettencourt doubled down on his unfounded claim that the coalition was using public school resources to promote particular candidates or ballot measures. The senator has not yet identified any examples of particular candidates allegedly being promoted by way of the coalition’s GOTV efforts.

By law the Attorney General’s office has six months to respond to Bettencourt’s request for an opinion, but AG Paxton is likely to issue a ruling ahead of the 2018 primaries. Several education groups involved in the coalition efforts will be submitting briefs to the AG’s office in the coming weeks. Stay to tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Related content: As part of our ongoing effort to encourage educators to participate in the 2018 primary and general elections as informed voters, be sure to check out our candidate profiles right here on our nonpartisan Teach the Vote website. This election cycle, we’re featuring profiles of every candidate running for a Texas legislative seat, State Board of Education, governor, and lieutenant governor. Profiles includes incumbents’ voting records on education-related bills, responses to our candidate survey, contact information for the campaigns, and additional information compiled by ATPE’s lobby team. New information is being added daily as we learn more about the candidates. If candidates in your area have not yet answered our candidate survey, please encourage them to do so. Inquiries about Teach the Vote and our candidate survey may be sent to government@atpe.org.

 

 


The U.S. Congress conference committee established to hash out disagreements between the U.S. House and U.S. Senate Republican tax plans has come to an agreement on a final plan. The committee met Wednesday to review the plan in a public hearing. Much of the high-profile provisions of the final plan have been discussed in public and reported by the media. For example, the corporate tax rate would be reduced from 35 to 21 percent, the top tax rate for individuals would go from almost 40 to 37 percent, the Obamacare-era tax fine for those who don’t buy health insurance would be removed, and the state and local taxes (SALT) deduction would be kept but capped at $10,000. Still, many smaller details of the negotiated plan remain unknown. Those include two issues raised in an ATPE letter to members of the Texas delegation: (1) a deduction for educators who use personal money to buy classroom supplies, and (2) a potential new tax for public pension investments, such as those in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) trust fund.

The details of the bill are expected to be released later today. Follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter and watch for more updates as information becomes available. The tax bill must still receive a final vote of support in both chambers and receive the signature of the president before it becomes law, which Republican leadership hopes to have completed by Christmas.

 


Students in some school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey will see relief from certain standardized testing requirements. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Thursday that Commissioner Mike Morath would waive some STAAR requirements for certain students affected by the massive storm. The commissioner has remained reluctant to provide relief in the form of STAAR testing schedules or accountability requirements, but he changed his tune slightly after Gov. Greg Abbott joined the chorus of those in favor of loosening accountability and testing requirements for Harvey-affected students and schools. Morath sent a letter to impacted school districts on Thursday explaining that fifth and eighth grade students who fail to pass the required state standardized tests twice can advance to the next grade level if district educators agree they are ready. Learn more about Morath’s decision to waive some testing requirements in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and State Board of Education (SBOE) will host a free conference on teacher preparation and retention in January. The one-day event will feature roundtable and panel discussions on how Texas can better prepare its future teachers, support those in the classroom, and retain teachers tempted to the leave the field. It will also feature keynote speeches from Doug Lemov, who authored Teach Like a Champion, and Peter Dewitt, the author of Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences that Matter Most.

The conference, titled Learning Roundtable: Recruiting, Preparing and Retaining Top Teachers, will be held at the Austin Convention Center from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm on Thursday, January 25, and will offer up to 5.5 hours of continuing professional education (CPE) to participating educators. To view the full-day agenda, learn more about the event, or register to attend, visit the Texas Education Agency’s conference web page.

Related content: SBEC met last week for its final meeting of the year to discuss a broad agenda that included rulemaking resulting from bills passed during the 85th legislative session. The board also rejected revisiting a controversial and unnecessary pathway for superintendent candidates to seek certification without prior experience in a classroom, school, or managerial role. Read a recap of the meeting from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann who attended the meeting and testified on behalf of ATPE.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board met yesterday and today, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was in attendance. As reported in Exter’s blog post, the meeting included a discussion of the annual reports on the actuarial valuation of the TRS pension and healthcare funds.