Category Archives: Congress

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 11, 2020

Here is a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) adapted its guidance on equitable services this week to reflect a recent U.S. District Court ruling vacating the U.S. Department of Education’s interim final rule that directs public school districts to spend an unprecedented amount of taxpayer dollars on private school students. The court ruling issued last Friday makes the department’s rule unenforceable nationwide, but Secretary Betsy DeVos still has time to appeal the decision.

TEA also updated several other sections of its COVID-19 Support and Guidance page, including new intern and emergency certification waiver information that continues the suspensions on face-to-face requirements for candidates completing their internships, clinical experiences, field-based experiences, and practicums. Also, be sure to check out the new Project Restore training on resilience that was posted this week.

ATPE State Treasurer Jayne Serna and ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier participated in an educators’ town hall on COVID-19 and teaching this week. The Wednesday night event was hosted by U.S. Congressional District 10 candidate and former teacher Mike Seigel. Serna was the opening speaker for the event, sharing the difficulties educators are facing this school year and highlighting the importance of voting to elect pro-public education candidates. Chevalier provided an overview of COVID-19-related federal funding issues facing educators and students, federal waivers, and the need for congressional oversight of the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Also this week, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke with The Texas TribuneThe Dallas Morning News, and KBMT’s 12 News Now about the current state of teaching, learning gaps, and how spending cuts prompted by COVID-19 could impact students.

As a reminder, ATPE offers educators a gamut of resources:

  • Find answers from our legal team to frequently asked questions on our COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page.
  • Earn CPE by watching informative webcasts on topics such as educator rights, leave options, disability accommodations, and school safety through ATPE’s professional learning portal.
  • Explore an interactive pandemic timeline.
  • Take our survey on parent-teacher collaboration.
  • ATPE members only: Use Advocacy Central to communicate with elected officials about your concerns.

ELECTION UPDATE: Don’t let the November 3 general election creep up on you. Election Day is less than eight weeks away and early voting starts in one month. This means other deadlines for registering to vote or requesting a ballot-by-mail are even sooner! Remember that if you have moved recently or changed your name, you need to update your voter registration. Here are important dates to add to your calendar:

  • September 19: If your vote-by-mail application is received by this day, you are guaranteed to receive your ballot at least 30 days before Election Day.
  • September 22: National Voter Registration Day
  • October 5: Deadline to register to vote
  • October 13: First day of early voting
  • October 19: Educator Voting Day
  • October 23: Last day that a vote-by-mail application can be received (not postmarked)
  • October 30: Last day of early voting
  • November 3: Election Day! Mail-in ballots also must be received by this date.

If you happen to live in Texas Senate District 30 and are a registered voter, you’ll be eligible to vote early starting Monday, Sept. 14, for the special election to replace Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper). Read more about the race in this previous blog post, and check out profiles of the SD 30 candidates here on Teach the Vote.


FEDERAL UPDATE: In addition to the above-mentioned court ruling against Secretary Betsy DeVos’s effort to send more public money to private schools, there was activity on Capitol Hill this week. U.S. Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to advance a new coronavirus aid package that included a $10 billion private school voucher provision. ATPE released a press statement opposing the voucher language in the Senate bill, which failed during a preliminary vote held in the Senate yesterday. Read more about the legislation and ATPE’s press statement in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to take up hefty agenda items including the revision of science, physical education, and health curriculum standards (TEKS). The revisions garnered hours of testimony from the public, as did the discussion of eight new charter applications before the board.

ATPE and other organizations urged the board to reject the new charters due to the increased costs the state would incur by granting the applications. SBOE Member Ruben Cortez asked Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, “Is now the time to be playing Shark Tank?” Read this week’s blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins to learn more about Morath’s defense of the charter applicants, the board’s Thursday split decisions to preliminarily approve just six of the proposed charters, and the ultimate veto of three charter operators during Friday’s full board meeting.


Per usual, the annual Texas Tribune Festival has an impressive education strand of events. This week, Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel of Texas public school teachers, superintendents, and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The teachers expressed how the pandemic impacted their interactions with students, the superintendents talked about budget and enrollment concerns, and Morath stuck to his usual admiration of data and the need to continue standardized testing. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus incorporated ATPE recommendations regarding COVID-19 and schools into a letter it sent to TEA Commissioner Mike Morath earlier this week. The letter was influenced by a task force of education stakeholders including ATPE. Among other requests, the senators’ letter urges Morath to seek a waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements for 2020-21. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Did you know that high schools are legally required to offer students who will be age 18 by election day the opportunity to register to vote? In Texas, students may register to vote at 17 years 10 months. Students can print, fill out, and mail in an application obtained from VoteTexas.gov or fill out a voter registration application online and have it mailed to them.

The National Association of Secondary School Principals has partnered with dosomething.org to create the “Democracy Powered by (You)th” voter registration competition. By doing things like racking up voter registrations, students can win scholarships, school grants, and trophies. Pace High School in Brownsville, TX is currently in third place!



Today we remember the tragic events of September 11, 2001. On that day, some of our members were in the classroom as teachers, while others were still just students themselves. On this Patriot Day, we honor the lives lost that day and the heroic efforts by first responders, service members, and citizens who risked their lives that day and in the aftermath of the tragedy. We will never forget.

ATPE urges Congress to keep private school vouchers out of COVID-19 relief legislation

On Sept. 8, Republican leaders in the U.S. Senate shared their latest proposal for COVID-19 relief legislation, termed the “Delivering Immediate Relief to America’s Families, Schools and Small Businesses Act.” The Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led House have been deadlocked since May on negotiations for additional relief from the pandemic. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) shared details of the new GOP proposal Tuesday and announced his intent for the Senate to pass the bill by the end of this week. However, amid criticism that the bill does not go far enough to help those affected by the pandemic, the legislation was considered highly unlikely to move forward, and a preliminary vote taken today in the Senate fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to proceed.

The latest Senate bill would shield businesses against lawsuits related to COVID-19 and spend $500 billion on initiatives that would include debt forgiveness for the postal service, additional paycheck protection loans for small businesses, partial continuation of enhanced unemployment benefits, and funding for coronavirus vaccine development and testing. Schools would be eligible for additional funds under the bill, too, but the Senate proposal reserves two-thirds of the K-12 money for schools operating in person. Unlike the most recent U.S. House proposal, states would see no additional direct funding that could be used to offset anticipated budget cuts in public education and other areas.

To the dismay of the education community, the Senate GOP bill also calls for funneling $5 billion in tax dollars toward private school voucher programs favored by the Trump administration and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The proposal would offer federal tax credits to bolster state voucher programs and fund private school tuition “scholarships.” Additionally, the bill would expand access to 529 savings accounts, typically reserved for college costs, to pay for private and home schooling. The voucher language in the McConnell bill mirrors similar legislation filed by U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), and Tim Scott (R-South Carolina) to subsidize private school tuition and homeschooling costs with tax credits and other federally funded incentives.

Responding to Tuesday’s announcement, ATPE issued a statement criticizing the inclusion of the controversial private school voucher funding in a bill that purports to provide COVID-19 relief. ““Congress should be focusing on helping our nation’s public schools that are dealing with unprecedented challenges,” said ATPE State President Jimmy Lee. “We cannot afford to divert our limited resources from public schools to private entities  during a global crisis,” Lee added. View ATPE’s full press statement here.

Teachers and suffrage: Remembering the 19th Amendment a century later

After decades of organizing, advocacy, and lobbying at both the state and federal level, the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on May 21, 1919, and the U.S. Senate on June 4, 1919. It took over a year to secure the approval of the 36 state legislatures necessary to ratify the amendment and formally add it to the U.S. Constitution, securing women’s right to vote. Texas was the first southern state to ratify the 19th Amendment on June 28, 1919. On August 18, 1920, after an intense showdown, the Tennessee House of Representatives provided the final (and narrow) approval necessary for the amendment’s ratification.

One hundred years later, the legacy of the 19th Amendment is marred by current voting rights struggles that still hinder ballot access for many communities across America. Let’s take a look back at the incredible influence of teachers on the history of the 19th Amendment and reflect on where we stand today.

In many ways, the entree of women into the teaching profession lit the fire for women’s equality. Dana Goldstein writes in her New York Times bestselling book The Teacher Wars that the taxpayer friendly truth that women could be paid less than men helped to secure a legislative appropriation for the first common schools and teacher training schools in Massachusetts. As public schooling grew across the United States, more and more women gained education, small salaries, independence, and community through the profession of teaching. Through their work, female teachers realized their lack of equality in the workplace, and some began to push for equal higher education, equal pay, access to positions typically held by men, and the right to vote.

Susan B. Anthony. Source: Library of Congress

Susan B. Anthony taught school for 10 years before returning home after becoming frustrated with a stagnant salary and no chance of promotion to headmaster. In 1853, Anthony made a speech at the New York State Teachers’ Association condemning the gender-based wage gap that caused the female-dominated profession of teaching to be less lucrative. As Anthony grew in influence and activism, she catapulted into the women’s rights movement alongside Elizabeth Cady Stanton, but both of their efforts slowed as the Civil War bloodied the nation.

While women’s suffrage and abolitionist movements had been linked since the beginning, the eventual extension of voting rights to Black men over white women through the 15th amendment in 1870 created racial and gender-based divisions between white and Black suffragists. Stanton and Anthony split off from other suffragists to fight for a federal amendment to secure women’s voting rights. This strategy was at the expense of Black voices and causes in order to appease anti-Black leaders who would need to approve the amendment. By 1890, suffragists reconciled their differences enough to create the National American Women Suffrage Association. They employed both federal and state-level strategies as suffragists worked the entire country, priming it for the eventual ratification of the 19th Amendment.

Reconstruction-era Black women entered into teaching with extremely high stakes for educating newly freed Black children and adults. Through Reconstruction and beyond, Black female educators were often also poets, journalists, writers, and lecturers, and many traveled the country to promote education, economic freedom, and political empowerment for Black women and men. These educators included Mary Ann Shadd Cary, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Angelina Weld Grimke, Mary Church Terrell, Mary Talbert, Frances Barrier Williams, Anna Julia Cooper, Mary McLeod Bethune, and Septima Clark.

Ida B. Wells. Source: Library of Congress

After losing her parents to yellow fever, Ida B. Wells became a teacher to take care of her siblings. During her time as a teacher, she eventually owned two newspapers and worked as a journalist and publisher. Wells was an advocate on issues such as school segregation, lynching, and voting rights and formed several organizations, including the Alpha Suffrage Club in Chicago (1913). The Alpha Suffrage Club secured voting rights for Black women in Illinois in 1913, ahead of the 19th Amendment.

The cause wasn’t just for white and Black women; educators of all backgrounds joined in the battle for suffrage. Frederick Douglass is a well-known abolitionist and community educator who strongly believed in the power of reading, literacy, and education as tools of freedom. He was an active supporter of women’s suffrage until his death in 1895. Mabel Lee, a Chinese immigrant in America and fighter for women’s suffrage, founded a Chinese Christian Center in New York that offered vocational, English, and kindergarten classes. Zitakala-Ša (Red Bird), a member of the Yankton Daxota Sioux, was a music teacher and advocate for Indigenous people’s rights, including citizenship and the right to vote. Jovita Idár, a Mexican-American Texan, was a teacher before working for, and eventually running, her father’s newspaper. Idár was an activist who wrote about racism, women’s suffrage, and encouraging women to vote.

After the 19th Amendment, also known as the “Anthony Amendment,” was ratified in 1920, individual states could still keep people of color from accessing the voting franchise through intimidation, “grandfather clauses,” poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence. The last state laws prohibiting Native Americans from voting weren’t overturned until 1962. Chinese women were excluded from voting until the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed in 1943. It wasn’t until 1965 and later in 1975 (when literacy tests were banned) that federal voting rights legislation was passed to override the inequalities perpetuated by the states.

However, in 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County v. Holder gutted the voting rights so many have fought to secure for a fair seat in our democracy, creating lasting impacts across the country. The Shelby ruling eliminated the requirement that local officials obtain federal approval before changing their voting rules and practices, a tenant of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. A study by Dr. Desmond Ang of Harvard University showed that after the ruling went into effect, minority voter turnout took a sharp downturn. Texas was one of the states that immediately took advantage of the ruling, enacting a voter ID law praised by then-Attorney General Greg Abbott. Some states enacted similar voter ID laws while others purged their voter rolls.

Much work is yet to be done at the intersection of education and voting. With historic turnout and impact in recent elections, teachers have shown elected officials that we are as tenacious as ever in our beliefs on the importance of education, equality, and respect for the teaching profession. No matter how you vote this November, let’s honor the work of women before us by voting.

The National Park Service has classroom lessons available on women’s history in their Teaching with Historic Places series, including specific lessons about Mary McLeod Bethune and Mary Ann Shadd Cary. The National Women’s History Museum’s “Crusade for the Vote” project also has lesson plans on a variety of topics as well as an interactive timeline. Find even more resources and information at the Library of Congress.

ATPE meets virtually with Texas Congressional delegation

Submitted by ATPE Contract Lobbyist David Pore of Hance Scarborough, LLP

Tonja Gray

Jimmy Lee

Newly inaugurated ATPE State President Jimmy Lee and immediate Past President Tonja Gray spent time in July joining me and the ATPE Governmental Relations team for a series of online roundtable policy discussions with key members of the Texas Congressional Delegation and their staffs.  Although perhaps not as effective (nor as much fun) as the annual state officer trip to Washington, DC, we made progress in our federal advocacy efforts and built on existing relationships with the delegation. Our goal was to provide input to the members who sit on the key committees of jurisdiction on the policy issues important to Texas educators, parents, and students. We focused our discussions on safely returning to school, federal COVID-19 relief funding for education, and the GPO/WEP Social Security offsets that continue to reduce the benefits of retired educators and other public servants.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX 20) sits on the House Education and Labor Committee that has oversight over the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and how they spend the money appropriated for K-12 and higher education by the Congress. The congressman and his Education Legislative Assistant Kaitlyn Montan joined us for a great discussion of the challenges facing Texas educators, administrators, parents, and students as we work to return to the classroom safely. ATPE leaders stressed the importance of local, district-level decision making and the need for flexibility for school districts to be able to return virtually, in-person, or with a hybrid model where appropriate. The congressman agreed that federal money should not be used to incentivize one return model over another and that ED should not divert limited federal taxpayer money appropriated for COVID-19 relief for public schools to private schools or for the virtual voucher pet projects of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Rep. Castro committed to using his role on the committee to conduct robust oversight and make sure the department follows the law as Congress intended.

Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX 3) also sits on the House Education and Labor Committee and represents a North Texas district with over 4,000 ATPE members. The congressman’s Legislative Director Jett Thompson met with us, and while less enthusiastic about the need for strong oversight of ED, he did agree that Secretary DeVos should stick to congressional intent when implementing the COVID-19 relief bills, including in how taxpayer money is distributed to private schools.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX 35) sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and has been a long time cosponsor and champion for legislation completely repealing the WEP and the GPO. The repeal bills have never made it out of committee due to their enormous costs to the Social Security trust fund and the inequities that would be created for private sector beneficiaries. Rep. Doggett’s Legislative Assistant Sarah Jones met with us and informed us that the congressman does not support the more limited bill repealing the WEP that has been authored by Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) or the version introduced by committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA). Surprisingly, Jones stated that Rep. Doggett did not support the Neal bill because it “is not paid for,” despite his long-time support for the full repeal bill that costs the Social Security trust fund much more than either the Brady or Neal WEP repeal bills. Although she did express support from the congressman on our position regarding how ED is spending COVID-19 relief funds, we let Jones know that Congressman Doggett’s opposition to the WEP repeal bills was inconsistent with his previous positions on the issue and extremely disappointing to Texas public educators, both active and retired.

ATPE state officers and lobbyists met with Rep. Jodey Arrington via Zoom, July 28, 2020, to discuss COVID-19 considerations and Social Security reform.

Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX 19) also sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and has emerged as a champion for legislation to repeal the WEP and replace it with a proportional formula. We discussed with him the partisan breakdown of previously bipartisan legislation authored by committee Chairman Neal and Ranking Member Brady that has now devolved into two separate bills bogged down and unlikely to move before the election in November. Tonja Gray relayed on-the-ground concerns about the return to school from Abilene ISD, which lies in Arrington’s congressional district, while Jimmy Lee spoke from his unique perspective as a retired career educator, statewide leader, and the husband of a superintendent. While we agreed to disagree with the congressman on his position that it is appropriate to use federal relief money to incentivize in-person teaching this fall, regardless of the health and safety concerns of the district, we expressed our sincere appreciation for his open line of communication with ATPE and his strong support in the Ways and Means Committee for addressing the WEP. Arrington also praised ATPE for its professional approach to working with officeholders, expressing his belief that the national union groups “are not winning anyone over” in Washington.

Unfortunately, our senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was unavailable to meet with ATPE’s statewide leadership and the governmental relations team. Although his Legislative Assistant Clair Sanderson met with us, she was unable to commit the senator to a position on how ED is implementing the CARES Act and spending federal taxpayer money appropriated for COVID-19 relief for education. We also discussed the Senate companion to the Brady WEP bill that Senator Ted Cruz has introduced, which to date, Senator Cornyn has not cosponsored.

It is important for our elected officials at every level to hear directly from professional educators about the issues you face, such as returning to school safely, how our tax dollars are spent on education, and how federal Social Security laws affect your retirement. I am grateful to Tonja and Jimmy for taking the time to participate in these roundtable discussions. They both are outstanding ambassadors for ATPE and for public education as a whole. Thank you, Tonja and Jimmy!

Another round of federal stimulus inching closer to reality

Another round of federal relief money is one step closer to becoming a reality, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Monday presented their proposal two months after Democrats passed theirs out of the U.S. House of Representatives. With substantial differences between these latest two COVID-19 relief proposals, however, there is much work to be done to negotiate a plan that can pass out of both chambers.

The $1 trillion Republican proposal, dubbed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, includes $105 billion for education, $70 billion of which would go to K-12 schools specifically. However, two-thirds of that funding, roughly $47 billion, would only flow to schools that reopen for in-person instruction and would not be available to schools that only offer virtual instruction in response to high levels of local COVID-19 infections. Schools that delay in-person instruction for safety reasons could receive some of the remaining one-third of the funding that would be split among all schools, regardless of whether they open in-person or through distance methods. Similar to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, the new proposal also includes $5 billion for state governors to spend on K-12 and higher education.

Even though states would receive funds under the Republican HEALS Act proposal based proportionately on their previous school year’s Title I funding, states would have to reserve a proportional portion of the federal funding for private schools. Private schools receiving federal funds would not be subject to the same requirements under the GOP proposal as public schools. The new proposal does not include a requirement to provide “equitable services” to private schools under the new funding as was included in the CARES Act.

The Republican proposal also includes immunity from liability intended to shield school districts and businesses that reopen amid the pandemic from lawsuits by employees or customers who are exposed to the virus or become infected as a result.

Another major headline of the Senate plan includes lower monthly unemployment payments. Payments would decrease from the current $600 per week down to $200, which could be combined with state unemployment benefits for up to 70% of a person’s wages before losing their job due to the pandemic. Those unemployment payments, created by the CARES Act in March, are scheduled to expire this weekend unless extended by Congress. The GOP plan would extend the moratorium on evictions, a provision from the first CARES Act that has already lapsed, and would provide another round of stimulus checks using the same criteria as under the CARES Act. Each individual earning up to $75,000 per year would receive $1,200, and decreasing amounts would be paid to those earning up to $99,000.

The Republican plan is part of a larger package of legislation that includes a stand-alone voucher bill filed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would create a permanent program providing up to $5 billion in tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations (SGO) that transfer public school dollars to private institutions. This is a perennial proposal advocated by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in her quest to privatize education. The new voucher bill would also direct emergency education funding meant for public schools to SGOs for private use. Expansion of these voucher programs remains a top priority of the Trump administration and Secretary DeVos, as they continue using the pandemic to promote these proposals despite repeated failures to pass them through the Congress.

The House, under Democratic leadership, passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act back in May. The House bill would provide $90 billion directly to education, including $58 billion for all K-12 schools. Unlike the Senate plan, the House bill provides a separate $950 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments aimed at preventing budget shortfalls that could lead to layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

The HEROES Act would also provide another round of stimulus checks to individuals, and would additionally raise the payout for each dependent to $1,200 up from $500 under the CARES Act. The bill would extend the full $600 weekly unemployment payments into next year, extend the suspension of student loan payments, provide up to $10,000 in student debt relief, and prohibit Secretary DeVos from imposing restrictions on populations of students who receive emergency financial relief under the CARES Act.

Each of these proposals represents the opening bid in negotiations between the two chambers and the Trump administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed a desire to vote on the Senate bill before members leave for recess August 7. The Senate bill was originally expected to be unveiled last week, but was reportedly delayed amid ongoing negotiations with the White House, which supports the Senate’s proposal. House Democrats passed their bill in May, but Senate Republicans ignored it and declined to take action on another relief package until recently.

Federal relief for schools would come at a critical time as the 2020-21 school year begins. Regardless of whether instruction is being delivered virtually or in person, school buildings across Texas will once again fill with teachers and staff, necessitating costly safety protocols. Virtual instruction poses added technology costs to districts, which are already looking at potential budget shortfalls due to declining tax revenues caused by the pandemic-induced recession.

Texas is estimated to face a $4.6 billion budget shortfall by the end of 2020, and the 2021 legislative session is already expected to feature drastic cuts in state spending. Federal relief dollars would go a long way in reducing the pressure to cut education spending here in Texas. House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the president all will have to approve any additional relief package from Congress.

Congressional panel discusses school reopening, safety considerations

The U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education met Thursday morning, July 23, in Washington, DC, to discuss the safe reopening of public schools across the nation.

“All of us want our schools to reopen for full-time, in person instruction as soon as possible. That fact is not up for debate,” Subcommittee Chair Gregorio Sablan (I-Northern Mariana Islands) announced at the beginning of the hearing, explaining that the question is how to accomplish reopening safely for students and staff. “We are all coming to a new understanding of just how essential schools are to life in America.”

Sablan pointed out that nearly one in four teachers have health conditions that put them at serious risk if they contract COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has made it clear that fully reopening schools carries the highest risk of creating new spikes in COVID-19 infections. As we reported here on Teach the Vote last week, the White House blocked CDC officials from testifying at Thursday’s hearing.

According to the American Association of School Administrators, the average school district will need an additional $1.8 million to reopen. Sablan said the House has already approved this funding, and noted that the White House and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos have threatened to strip funding from public schools that delay in-person instruction to protect the health of students and school employees. While the administration likely does not have the authority to withhold that funding, ranking subcommittee member Rep. Rick Allen (R-GA 12) used his opening statement to announce the filing of new legislation that would allow the president and secretary to carry out that threat.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was the first witness to testify. Hinojosa said that at the beginning of the pandemic, 30% of district parents surveyed preferred remote instruction, compared to 70% who preferred their children to learn on campus. That the number has since shifted to about 50/50, according to Hinojosa, and he believes now more than 50% of parents would prefer remote instruction for their child. According to the superintendent, DISD found that 91% of its teachers at the beginning of the pandemic reported they felt ready to return to classrooms, while he believes that number is 50/50 or less now.

Also, Hinojosa told the committee that Texas has used the federal funding from the CARES Act to supplant state funding for public education, rather than supplement funding. While acknowledging the state’s reason for doing so, Hinojosa cautioned that Texas will need additional funding in the coming years to provide for public education.

Up next, National Parent Teacher Association President Leslie Boggs said claims that children do not spread or get sick from COVID-19 are “simply untrue.” Boggs said the organization conducted a national survey of parents that found 72% believed schools were not prepared to reopen in a safe manner. Boggs reaffirmed the organization’s opposition to diverting tax dollars intended for public schools through private school vouchers and urged Congress to appropriate additional funding to help schools deal with the pandemic.

The committee also heard from Dr. Sean O’Leary, who co-wrote the much-cited document from the American Academy of Pediatrics that seemed to downplay the danger to children posed by COVID-19 and has been used to justify swiftly reopening schools across the board. O’Leary clarified that the document was not necessarily meant to encourage schools to resume in-person instruction arbitrarily, adding that the AAP believes not all schools can immediately reopen for in-person instruction five days a way. Dr. O’Leary also recommended Congress allocate $200 billion to help schools reopen.

Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT 5), the 2016 National Teacher of the Year, pressed O’Leary on the need to regularly test students and staff. Hayes also asked Superintendent Hinojosa how he is dealing with school employees who are medically vulnerable. Hinojosa answered that Dallas ISD has asked staff to identify whether they are at high risk and pledged to work with them on an individual basis.

Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that virtual instruction is a poor substitute for in-person instruction and shared the goal of resuming in-person instruction as soon as possible. Democrats emphasized the need to do so safely for students and staff and to avoid prematurely returning to classrooms and triggering additional COVID-19 outbreaks. Republicans on the subcommittee downplayed the risk of COVID-19 to children and argued that all schools should offer parents the option to send their children to school immediately. Republicans on the committee also suggested many schools could resume normal activity without additional federal funding. The hearing took place one week after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy Devos claimed in an interview that children are effective “stoppers” of the virus.

Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA 3) asked Dr. O’Leary about how to deal with a student who begins to show COVID-19 symptoms. O’Leary did not answer directly, emphasizing that proper social distancing and other precautions should reduce community spread. Chairman Scott pointed out that once a student becomes symptomatic, they have likely been unknowingly spreading the disease on campus for some time. O’Leary deferred to state and local leaders, but suggested that one case should not shut an entire school down. That said, O’Leary dismissed comparisons between COVID-19 and influenza.

“To minimize the risk of COVID-19, I think, is a mistake,” said O’Leary. In his answer to a question about reopening schools in COVID-19 hot spots, O’Leary warned, “It’s not safe. Students are going to get sick. Teachers are going to get sick. Staff is going to get sick. So that’s number one. Number two, it’s not practical. If you open schools when the virus is circulating widely in the community, it is inevitable that it’s going to get into those schools and you will just have to shut them down immediately.”

The Democrat-led House passed the Heroes Act in May, which would offer more than $100 billion in emergency funding for schools. The bill has languished in the Republican-controlled Senate for the past two months. The White House and Senate Republicans agreed this week to a plan for $105 billion in relief funding for K-12 and higher education that would carry out the administration’s threats to withhold funding from schools that deem it unsafe to reopen immediately for in-person instruction. The Republican proposal includes $70 billion for K-12 schools, however half of that funding would only be given to schools that reopen for in-person instruction. Those schools and the other schools that are unable to open for in-person instruction would share the remaining $35 billion.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on federal legislative developments pertaining to COVID-19.

BREAKING: Congress passes third stimulus bill for coronavirus relief

A third Federal stimulus package addressing the COVID-19 pandemic has been passed by both houses of Congress. Known as the CARES Act, the wide-ranging package is the largest stimulus package, in terms of absolute dollars, in US history. President Donald Trump has indicated that he will quickly sign the bill into law.

Members of Congress hope the bill, which impacts nearly every American, will stabilize the U.S. economy in addition to providing support to medical providers and local governments as they attempt to address the coronavirus pandemic. It includes $13.5 billion in aid for K-12 schools, as well as direct relief payments to individuals who earn less than $75,000.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for follow-up posts on the specific provisions of the bill likely to impact public education and educators.

State and federal officials respond to virus with new closures, contemplate aid for schools

Regulatory developments stemming from the growing concerns about the new coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation have been occurring swiftly these last two weeks. Numerous school districts announced decisions to extend spring breaks and/or close their doors temporarily, leaving school leaders and educators scrambling to find ways to continue providing instruction during the closures. Many municipalities, including Austin, have ordered certain businesses to close and limited the size of permitted gatherings.

Statewide closure orders

In a press conference today in Arlington, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new executive order calling for statewide closure of schools, gyms, bars, and restaurants through April 3. The governor has faced some recent criticism at home and nationally for leaving closure orders up to the discretion of local officials prior to now. The statewide closure order, which takes effect at midnight tomorrow, also restricts gatherings of 10 people or more and limits visitors to nursing homes. The order affecting bars and restaurants will still permit food delivery and takeout. In what may be welcome news for many stressed-out educators and parents of students now stuck at home, Gov. Abbott is also allowing restaurants that already hold liquor licenses to deliver alcoholic beverages along with their food deliveries.

Guidance for Texas schools

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has shared new guidance with school officials about issues related to school closures, including the cancellation of STAAR testing this year. Texas, like many other states, has requested that the U.S. Department of Education waive student testing and accountability requirements that are part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but a decision has not yet been made. In the meantime, TEA issued correspondence this week providing information to districts on how the cancellation will impact academic operations.

In the absence of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores, districts will have discretion in promotion decisions for 5th and 8th grade students. Without the necessary end-of-course (EOC) assessments, graduating seniors will use the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) process to graduate. For non-graduating students who are in courses with an EOC, they will not have to take the EOC in a future year so long as they earn credit for the course this year. The STAAR Alternate 2 exam is also cancelled. Determinations regarding students receiving special education services will be completed by their admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committees. The Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) is also impacted by this cancellation and the agency is still undergoing conversations to determine how to proceed to serve these students. See TEA’s Coronavirus Support and Guidance webpage for more information.

Yesterday the governor announced the planned launch this weekend of a new “Texas Students MealFinder Map,” offered in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to help parents find available meals for their children during the school closures. Also yesterday, Gov. Abbott gave local officials the authority to postpone their May 2 elections. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins will have more on the election-related order in his election roundup blog post for Teach the Vote later today.

Tonight, Gov. Abbott will be joined by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other state officials in a virtual town hall that will be aired by television stations and live-streamed starting at 7 p.m. CDT.

Federal initiatives

While there are a multitude of state and local activities that impact Texas public education in response to the coronavirus pandemic, there is also significant legislation being considered and enacted at the federal level.

Last night, President Donald Trump signed into law the second coronavirus-related aid bill passed by Congress, which is dubbed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Among the bill’s several provisions, most of which do not directly impact public education or educators, is a provision giving the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to waive federal provisions regarding the National School Lunch Program. This flexibility should allow schools that have closed due to COVID-19 to continue providing food service to qualifying students while they are not on campus. The first coronavirus bill signed by the president was a supplemental appropriations package that sent $8.3 billion to federal agencies to promote their work in combating the developing crisis in America.

In general, members of Congress and the White House are still looking to appropriate funds to ease the burdens of unexpected costs for needs such as school cleaning, counseling, online/distance learning support, and campus closures. Additionally, funds are being considered to facilitate remote work by employees of the U.S. Department of Education and to ease student loan obligations temporarily. There are also widely publicized discussions ongoing about the potential for sending payments directly to individuals to help them deal with the crisis.

Currently, proposals vary widely on the amount of spending that should go toward schools, with numbers from as little as $100 million to as much as $3 billion being touted in various press releases. In addition to the uncertainty on the amount of funding, it is also too soon to know specifically how funds would flow. What is certain is a general agreement that public education providers and institutions of higher education need assistance and should be a part of the broader conversation on federal relief.

Check back for more information on federal aid as specific proposals gain traction and move toward passage. Also, be sure to visit ATPE’s coronavirus FAQ and resources page for comprehensive information to assist educators in dealing with the pandemic.

Rural schools get a temporary reprieve on loss of federal funds

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has backed down, at least temporarily, on her department’s plan to cut federal resources currently flowing to more than 800 low-income rural schools. The move comes after a bipartisan group of U.S. senators sent a letter in opposition to the plan this week. The announcement also follows the secretary’s appearance at a tense congressional hearing on Feb. 27 to defend the Trump Administration’s education budget proposal.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testified before a U.S. House Committee on Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Feb. 27, 2020.

The proposed cut in federal funding was due to the department’s decision to change its internal rules on the type of poverty data it would accept to determine eligibility for the Rural Low-Income Schools Program (RLIS). The program is one of two sub-grants under the Rural Education Achievement Program (REAP), which senators who who wrote the letter to DeVos describe as “the only dedicated federal funding stream to help rural schools overcome the increased expenses caused by geographic isolation.”

Under REAP, which was enacted in 2002, school districts seeking RLIS grant funding would prove their eligibility based on census poverty data. However, upon recognizing in 2003 that adequate census data often was not available to the districts the act was meant to help, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) changed its course. By rule, ED began to allow school districts to substitute census data with the same internal data on the percentage of their students eligible for free and reduced lunch, which is used to determine Title I eligibility. The department has allowed the use of this substitute data ever since.

After receiving significant legislative push-back to the proposed change, ED has shied away from making the change for now. As reported by Bloomberg Government, a spokesperson for the department explained the rationale for the change as follows:

“We have heard from States the adjustment time is simply too short, and the Secretary has always sought to provide needed flexibility to States’ [sic] during transitions. This protects States and their students from financial harm for which they had not planned.” The spokesperson added, “[D]ue to the States’ reliance on the Department’s calculations for the past seventeen years, the secretary has concluded the Department can use its authority to allow alternative poverty data to be used for an additional year.”

Clearly, ED is still positioning itself to be able to make this change in the future, which would negatively affect hundreds of rural schools short of some additional action by Congress or the administration. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for future updates from ATPE’s federal lobby team.

President releases education budget proposal for 2021

On February 10, 2020, President Donald Trump released his budget proposal, which is a statement of  his administration’s spending priorities across all sectors of government. Because the president’s budget is merely a proposal, any of these funding amounts would still need to be approved by Congress in order to be enacted. Historically, Congress has largely ignored President Trump’s funding proposals for education.

The education portion of the president’s 2021 budget recommendation is focused on “education freedom.” While cutting funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $5.6 billion, the proposal requests funds to provide up to $5 billion annually in “Education Freedom Scholarships.”  Using these funds, states would be free to design their own scholarship programs, which could be used to send public dollars to private schools. This requested increase in voucher funding reflects the president’s statements during his State of the Union address last week, which my fellow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on here and here for Teach the Vote.

Trump’s proposal also consolidates 29 federal education programs into one block grant totaled at $19.4 billion, which is $4.7 billion less than Congress approved for these programs in 2020. A list of the programs can be found here (see p. 9), which includes 21st Century Learning Centers, charter schools, school safety national activities, and the $16 billion Title I Grants. This change purportedly would cut the role of the Department of Education significantly by reducing staffing and administrative costs. Though this is labeled a “block grant,” funds would still be allocated using the Title I formulas. The proposal indicates that states and school districts could use the funds on any of the consolidated programs and would still have to follow key accountability and reporting requirements.

Consistent with the president’s affinity for career and technical education (CTE), the proposal also includes $2 billion for CTE state grants and $90 million for CTE national programs. Part of this $763 million increase would be funded by a proposal to double the fee for H1-B visas.

The president’s 2021 budget recommendation includes an increase of $100 million in funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grant funding, for a total of $12.8 billion. This increase is relatively small considering the overall funding needs for students with disabilities. (Texas appropriated over $2 billion for this purpose during the 86th legislative session.)

As was the case in previous presidential budget requests from the Trump administration, the proposal eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, citing that it “unfairly favors some career choices over others.”

Review past reporting on President Trump’s budget requests for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 fiscal years here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog.