Category Archives: Election

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 16, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its “A-F” accountability ratings for 2019 on Thursday. This year, ratings were released for both districts and campuses. Overall, the percentage of schools rated “A” or “B” has increased since last year. However, several school districts including Houston ISD (the state’s largest) have campuses that will either have to shut down or be run by the state as a result of failing performance that has continued under the new accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier wrote about the ratings, the history of the A-F system in Texas, and what insight the new school grades may offer in this blog post. For additional coverage, check out this article from the Texas Tribune.


ELECTION UPDATE: Gov. Greg Abbott has set the date for special elections that will fill the seats vacated by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas). Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez and State Board of Education member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) announced that they are seeking seats in the U.S. Senate and Texas Senate, respectively. To find out more about the upcoming special elections and campaign news, check out this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released another video in its “HB 3 in 30” series. This week’s video provides a detailed overview of the “Do Not Hire Registry” and the new reporting requirements for districts and private schools regarding educator misconduct, which now covers non-certified school employees, too. All previous HB 3 in 30 videos and a schedule of upcoming topics can be found here.


Beginning next week, the ATPE lobby team will publish the first in a series of blog posts about what changes you can expect this school year due to recently passed legislation. The series is entitled “New School Year, New Laws,” and it’s designed to help educators know what to expect from the changes made by lawmakers earlier this year. Check back at the beginning of next week here on Teach the Vote for our first post about student discipline-related bills and how they will impact you and your classroom.

Texas election news roundup

It’s another week and another round of election news in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) has been busy setting special elections to finish the unexpired terms of legislators who have decided to step down before the next election. Voters will decide who succeeds state Reps. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) on November 5, 2019, which is also the date of the state constitutional election. The winners of those two races will have to turn around and defend their seats in the 2020 elections next year.

In the meantime, another Democrat has filed to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the 2020 election. Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is a Latina organizer who started the Workers Defense Project and Jolt Texas, the latter of which aims to mobilize young Hispanic voters. Ramirez will join a Democratic field that already includes state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), former congressional candidate MJ Hegar, and former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell.

Finally, Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) announced plans late last week to challenge state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), who has often sided with his Republican colleagues in the 31-member Texas Senate on issues such as school privatization. This sets up a potentially heated Democratic primary for the South Texas Senate district.

This November’s election will decide a number of important potential amendments to the Texas Constitution, including one relating to school finance. It is critical that educators stay engaged beginning this November and following through the party primaries in March 2020 — all the way to the November 2020 general election. Now is a good time to check if you’re registered to vote, which you can do by using resources put together by the Texas Educators Vote coalition of which ATPE is a member. Check out the coalition’s new website at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 2, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


With the passage of major bills like House Bill 3 on school finance and reform and House Bill 3906 on student testing during the recently concluded 86th legislative session, educators and other members of the public will have opportunities to serve on advisory committees as the bills are implemented. In correspondence to school administrators this week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a call for nominations to serve on the following five advisory committees, along with deadlines for nominations as shown below:

  • Reading Standards K-3 Advisory Committee – August 7, 2019
  • Special Education Allotment Advisory Committee – September 1, 2019
  • Compensatory Education Allotment Advisory Committee – August 12, 2019
  • Financial Aid Advisory Committee – June 1, 2020
  • Assessment Educator Advisory Committee – August 16,2019

Find more information on the committees, their requirements, and time commitments here.


Earlier this year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced its launch of a resource website along with other explanatory materials aimed at helping the public understand House Bill 3, the school finance reform bill that passed during the 2019 regular legislative session this year. The latest releases in TEA’s video series entitled “HB 3 in 30” cover recapture and the move to current year property values and use of the fast growth allotment for purposes of school funding. Check out the latest TEA videos here.


ELECTION UPDATE:

This week saw another round of important developments concerning the 2020 elections, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports this week. State Rep. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) announced he is retiring from the Texas Legislature, where he chaired the House Appropriations Committee for the past two sessions. As the chief budget writer in the House, the appropriations chair is second only to the speaker in terms of political power, which makes Rep. Zerwas’s announcement significant. Zerwas won reelection against Democrat Meghan Scoggins by an eight percent margin in 2018, which puts his House District 28 among those considered “in play” in the 2020 general election.

U.S. Rep. Will Hurd (R-San Antonio) also announced this week he will not seek reelection to Congress. This announcement sent shockwaves through the national Republican Party, which has benefitted from Rep. Hurd’s ability to win in what is considered a Democratic-leaning congressional district. Hurd is also the only African-American Republican in the U.S. House. His retirement increases the prospects for Democrats hoping to take Congressional District 23 in 2020.

Even though the 2020 election seems far away, it’s important to remember that primary races are coming in March. The primary elections are still the races in which most of the political posts in Texas are decided. Texas Educators Vote, a coalition of public education supporters that includes ATPE, has launched a new website with information about how and where to vote. Check it out at TexasEducatorsVote.com and sign up to receive text and e-mail updates about election dates and information.


In case you missed our blog reporting last weekend, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met on July 26, 2019. Much of the meeting was devoted to consideration of rules to implement bills passed during the 86th legislative session that concluded earlier this year. Among the items on SBEC’s lengthy agenda were the plans for piloting of EdTPA portfolio assessments for educator certification, final adoption of changes to teacher assignment rules, and proposed modifications to requirements for admission to an educator preparation program.

For more on actions taken by the board in last week’s meeting, check out this comprehensive blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

November 2019 ballot propositions and other election news

This week saw a steady trickle of election-related news. Some of it had to do with the upcoming constitutional election this November, and some of it had to do with races on the primary election ballot next March 2020.

First up, the Texas Secretary of State announced the ballot order for 10 proposed constitutional amendments that will go before Texas voters this November 5, 2019. Proposition 7 is the measure with the greatest direct impact on public education. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 passed by the 86th Texas Legislature describes the measure as “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

Proposition 7 would increase the maximum annual distribution of revenue derived from public land by the General Land Office (GLO) or other agency to the available school fund (ASF) for public schools. If approved by voters, that maximum amount would increase from $300 million to $600 million per year. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board was unable to predict whether this would provide enough additional permanent school fund (PSF) revenue to significantly offset state spending from general revenue.

Next up, a couple of familiar names in Texas politics surfaced in relation to federal races on the November 2020 ballot. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) announced Monday he plans to enter the Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). West joins a crowded Democratic primary field that includes M.J. Hegar, who narrowly lost a general election race against Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in Congressional District (CD) 31. Also on Monday, former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) announced plans to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy in CD 21. Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson announced late Thursday he will not run for reelection in CD 22, which is expected to be a hotly contested race next November. Expect campaign announcements to continue throughout the summer and fall.

As our friends at Texas Educators Vote (TEV) point out, now is a good time to review your voter registration status. Have you moved since the last election? Click here to find out if you’re registered to vote. If you need to update your registration, click here. The deadline to register to vote in this November’s constitutional election is October 7.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 26, 2019

We’re down to the last 30 days of the legislative session, and the action is heating up. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from ATPE Governmental Relations:


After a couple weeks of anticipation and delays, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing Thursday on the major school finance legislation being considered this session.

Sen. Larry Taylor explains his school finance proposal to the Senate Education Committee on April 25, 2019.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) jointly heard both his version of Senate Bill (SB) 4 and House Bill (HB) 3 by House Public Education Committee Chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), taking testimony on the two bills together. Sen. Taylor shared newly proposed Senate substitute language for the bill, which differs from the ATPE-supported version of the bill that the full House passed almost unanimously. We expect the committee to add the new Senate language into HB 3 as a committee substitute and move it on to the full Senate. For now, HB 3 was left pending and may be put for a committee vote later next week, according to Chairman Taylor.

ATPE Member Stephanie Stoebe testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 25, 2019

The Senate’s version of the school finance bill calls for a pay raise for classroom teachers and librarians, similar to SB 3, and includes several positive programs that would increase funding for students with the greatest needs. Unfortunately, the Senate bill also includes a controversial merit pay plan and would require school districts to share teacher evaluations with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for purposes of a statewide ranking of teachers by the commissioner of education. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell testified neutrally on the bill raising asking the merit pay proposal to be removed and suggesting that the money could be used instead for programs in high-needs campuses or for locally developed differentiated pay programs that offer more flexibility for school districts. ATPE member and former Texas Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe also testified during the hearing.

Read more about Thursday’s HB 3/SB 4 hearing and the other bills heard during this hearing can be found and here and here, including ATPE’s written testimony on the bill.

ATPE is urging educators to keep contacting their senators about HB 3, urging them to keep problematic merit pay language out of the bill and approve additional funding for public schools. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send a message to their senators.

The Senate Education Committee also met on Tuesday of this week, hearing 16 bills and voting to advance several more to the full Senate. One of the bills heard was SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), which ATPE supports. In the wake of the federal government’s finding that the state of Texas had denied special education services to students, SB 139 deals with letting parents know about the right to have their children evaluated for special education. The bill also calls for using federal funds to reimburse school districts for any increases in the number of evaluations.

Read more about the bills heard during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


House Public Education Committee hearing, April 23, 2019

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a plethora of bills as end-of-session deadlines are nearing. May 6, 2019, is the last day that House committees can report out House bills to keep them alive in the legislative process.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was on hand at Tuesday’s hearing to register support for many of those bills, including House Bill (HB) 1763 by Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) that would make the children of educators eligible for that district’s free pre-kindergarten program. A similar provision has been included in the Senate’s school finance bill discussed above. ATPE also supported HB 4030 by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) that would provide funding for school districts to have a least one ability inclusive playground in their district.

ATPE provided written testimony against HB 3623 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), which would require that teachers on continuing contracts meet a “growth standard” in order to keep their jobs. The committee also heard several other bills that have not yet been voted out. For more information on Tuesday’s hearing, check out this blog post.

On Wednesday, the committee met briefly for the purpose of taking votes on another two dozen bills. The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 30, to begin hearing Senate bills.


ELECTION UPDATE: The deadline for early voting in the May 4th election is Tuesday, April 30.

This uniform election day is reserved for municipalities and local political subdivisions like school districts to place measures such as bonds on the ballot or to fill vacancies in local offices. Contact your county clerk to find more information on what measures, if any, will be on your ballot locally.

ATPE encourages educators to vote in every election! Find more election information at VoteTexas.gov.


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin to consider several important items. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier is attending the meeting and provided the following update.

Today’s SBEC agenda includes a vote to begin the pilot phase of a replacement pedagogy test called EdTPA. Educator preparation programs including those at the University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University, Texas Women’s University, Sam Houston State University and alternative and post-baccalaureate programs overwhelmingly opposed EdTPA, citing concerns with the increased cost to candidates ($281) and data and validity concerns with the two-year pilot. Those who support EdTPA testified that teachers must be better prepared and that using a more authentic assessment to spur change in EPPs is a viable route for accomplishing this.

The board also voted to finalize details for the new “Principal as Instructional Leader” certificate and discussed changes to special education certification, which would break the certification into three to four more focused certifications based on student age and disability level.

Watch for a more detailed report on today’s SBEC meeting later on our Teach the Vote blog.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board voted this week to approve next year’s premiums for TRS-ActiveCare. Rates will be increasing by 3.9 percent on average. Read more details on the rate change in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended the board’s meetings this week.


This week the full House voted almost unanimously to approve a bill to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund. SB 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), received final House approval on Thursday. The House substituted its own language – taken from Rep. Bonnen’s HB 9 – into SB 12 before approving it. The House floor vote was 145 to 1, with Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) casting the only vote against the bill. The bill will now head back to the Senate where it most likely will be referred to a conference committee.

The House proposal raises the rate of the state’s contribution into TRS without raising rates for individual educators or school districts. It also offers retirees with a larger 13th check, capped at $2,400, compared to the Senate’s original version of SB 12 called for capping the payment at $500.


Senate bills threaten to chill educator speech

Senate State Affairs Committee meeting, April 1, 2019

The Senate State Affairs Committee met Monday, April 1, and considered two bills that present serious concerns about free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — particularly when it comes to educators.

Both bills relate to the use of public funds for political advertising, which is already prohibited by state law. ATPE agrees with the current statutes and ethics rules that prohibit public resources from being used for political purposes. Electioneering on school time and with school resources should be illegal. However, the two bills heard by the committee Monday morning would criminalize behavior that is not only nonpolitical, but in some cases even required under state law. Together, they threaten to undermine all of the positive work the Texas Senate has done for public educators so far this session.

Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) filed Senate Bill (SB) 1569, which would dramatically expand the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators.

Electioneering is currently defined as advocating for or against a candidate, political party, or ballot measure. For example: A communication created on school district time or using school district money in support of Proposition X or Candidate Y clearly constitutes electioneering and an unlawful use of public resources. As filed, SB 1569 would include activity that advocates for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” Neither term is defined in law or in Sen. Fallon’s bill, and ATPE contends that each phrase is subject to widely varying interpretation. For example, extolling the virtues of American democracy and our free enterprise system could be considered advocating for a “political philosophy” under this bill – despite the fact that both are required elements of Texas public schools’ curriculum. Likewise, a sign on a school bulletin board promoting a food drive for Hurricane Harvey victims could easily be construed as advocating for “a matter of public interest” if SB 1569 were to be enacted.

Perhaps even more troubling, SB 1569 would expand the definition of “political advertising” to include any political communication “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication (emphasis added).” This could treat private conversations between co-workers as political advertising and subject to criminal penalties. As a whole, SB 1569 would impose a separate set of restrictions on the speech of public school employees that is far more expansive than restrictions imposed upon any other category of public employees.

Read ATPE’s written testimony against SB 1569 here.

SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) aims to prevent third party organizations from sending political advertising to public e-mail addresses, subjecting the sender to a $100 fine per e-mail. This seemingly straightforward idea is complicated by a number of technical factors. First, most political websites allow a visitor to enter their e-mail address and receive automatic campaign updates. This simple process could potentially be abused, either intentionally or unintentionally through “bots” and e-mail spoofing, to rack up massive fines.

SB 904 also extends prohibitions against political advertising to include the use of public communications systems, including WiFi networks. This could have the absurd effect of criminalizing the act of accessing a campaign website from a personal mobile device while off the clock and sitting in a school parking lot. It could also jeopardize a majority of computer use in the Texas State Capitol, where visitors are offered free public WiFi and politics is a major topic of discussion.

Read ATPE’s written testimony against SB 904 here.

Public resources clearly should not be used for electioneering, but such activity is already expressly prohibited in state law. ATPE believes expanding current law in an attempt to broadly restrict the speech of educators as proposed by SB 904 and SB 1569 is unnecessary, discriminatory, and raises serious concerns about potential violations of the First Amendment. Taken together, these bills would likely have a severe chilling effect on educators’ speech.

We urge you to contact your state senator and ask them to OPPOSE SB 904 and SB 1569. ATPE members can use our simple tools at Advocacy Central to send a message to their legislators about these bills.

UPDATE (added 4/5/19): The Senate State Affairs Committee met again on Thursday, April 4, and voted to send these two bills to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. The vote was 6-1 on both SB 1569 and SB 904. Sen. Judith Zaffirini was the only member of the committee to vote against the harmful bills. We urge educators to contact their senators and ask them to keep these bad bills from becoming law.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 8, 2019

Here’s your chilly edition of this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


Andrea Chevalier

ATPE is excited to welcome Andrea Chevalier, the newest lobbyist to join our Governmental Relations team.

Andrea joins us most recently from the office of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), where she served as Legislative Director and oversaw a host of issues, including public education. She is also a former classroom teacher with experience working in both the traditional public school and charter school environments. Andrea attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied chemistry; earned her Masters of Education in Secondary Education at the University of North Texas; and is currently working on completing her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT.

Andrea will be lobbying and reporting on a variety of issues being debated by the legislature this session, working closely with the House Public Education Committee, and covering educator quality regulations considered by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Watch for her blog posts here on Teach the Vote and follow her on Twitter at @ATPE_AndreaC.

 


On Tuesday, Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed a joint session of the 86th Legislature, delivering his traditional “State of the State” address. He outlined his legislative priorities for the session, punctuated by the declaration of six issues as emergency items that would warrant expedited action by lawmakers. All six of the issues bear close ties to public education, including most notably school finance, school safety, and teacher pay. Abbott’s declaration of these school-related emergency issues is a testament to the impact of the 2018 election cycle in which the Texas public education community was much more noticeably vocal and active. Tuesday was also the day for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address. That speech, which had been postponed due to the recent federal government shutdown, contained far less education-related content. Read more about both the State of the State and State of the Union speeches in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee public education policy issues in Texas have begun holding regular meetings and hearing testimony. The Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the legislative session this week, receiving an overview presentation by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The committee also learned about the status of special education programs in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this detailed summary for Teach the Vote.

The House Public Education Committee, which began its work a little earlier this session, held two meetings this week, both heavily focused on the topic of school finance. The committee similarly heard from Commissioner Morath, along with members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about those hearings in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee is slated for two more meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the agenda will include testimony by stakeholders about school finance and the recommendations of the commission that studied the issue last year. ATPE has been invited to testify on Wednesday, and we’ll provide details next week here on our blog and on @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

 


On Monday of this week, the House Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittees that will work on various sections of the state budget. Committee members were also briefed by staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided an in-depth report here for our blog. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee has also been holding several meetings to review the draft budget. Next week, Senate Finance committee members turn their attention to Article III, which contains the education budget. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter will be there for those meetings starting Monday and will provide updates next week for Teach the Vote.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s House District 125 will head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new state representative. Early voting has taken place this week for the special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez, after he resigned to serve as Bexar County Commissioner. The five candidates vying for the HD 125 seat are Steve Huerta (D)Ray Lopez (D)Fred Rangel (R)Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Art Reyna (D).

There also remains a vacancy in Houston’s HD 145, where Democrats Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales have advanced to a runoff in that special election. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced, but is likely to be held in March. Read more about the two runoff candidates in this article from the Houston Chronicle.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 1, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators and SBOE members gathered for the board’s swearing-in ceremony, Jan. 28, 2019.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) held its first meetings of the new year this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meetings and provided updates for our blog.

Things kicked off on Monday when all members of the board, both newly elected and re-elected, were sworn in by Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Members of the board adopted operating rules for the body, discussed the board’s authority in relation to charter schools, and also approved committee assignments and officer elections,  including naming Marty Rowley (R) of Amarillo as Vice Chair and Georgina Perez (D) of El Paso as Secretary of the board. Additional committee assignments and chair appointments can be viewed in this blog post from Wiggins.

On Tuesday, the board was briefed by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on the “State of the State of Public Education” annual report. Morath also discussed the creation of curriculum guides by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), educator compensation, and other topics as noted in this blog post. Wednesday, the board participated in a learning roundtable at the Austin Convention Center where it discussed its Long-Range Plan for Public Education, a list of goals and recommendations to improve public schools by 2030.

Lastly, the SBOE ended its meetings by unveiling today the new logo for the Permanent School Fund, which was designed by Melissa Richardson of Dripping Springs High School as part of a contest. The board will meet again on April 2-5, 2019.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: El Paso residents turned out on Tuesday to elect a new state representative for Texas House District 79. El Paso Community College Chairman, Art Fierro, won the House seat with 53% of the votes in the special election. Fierro will be completing the term of former Rep. Joe Pickett who resigned recently due to health complications. Fierro’s term will expire in 2021. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Fierro and looks forward to working with him.

Meanwhile, some Houstonians will still have to wait in order to find out who will be replacing former Rep. Carol Alvarado, who vacated her House seat in District 145 order to run successfully for the Texas State Senate in another special election for Senate District 6. As for the new representative for House District 145, the race has been narrowed down to two Democratic candidates, Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced.

Lastly, one more seat in the Texas House remains vacant, that of San Antonio Democrat Justin Rodriguez who vacated his seat to run for (and get elected) Bexar County commissioner. Early voting for the House District 125 special election begins Monday with the election being held on Feb. 12. View profiles of the special election candidates on Teach the Vote, and read more about each race in this article by The Texas Tribune.

 


Earlier today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its accreditation statuses for Texas public schools for the 2018-19 school year. The statuses based on academic accountability ratings and the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (also known as School FIRST) recognize schools and districts that meet certain academic and financial benchmarks. According to TEA, 99% of Texas schools were designated as accredited for the 2018-19 year. More information can be found in this press release from the agency.

 


House Committee on Public Education

The House Public Education Committee convened its first meeting of the regular session this week. Led by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who is serving his third term as chair, the committee heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff about issues such as STAAR testing, educator certification, and TEA’s Special Education Strategic Plan. The committee will reconvene several times over the next two weeks to hear invited testimony from members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and other stakeholders regarding the commission’s recommendations for school finance reform. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended this week’s first hearing.

 


The House Appropriations Committee also began meeting this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the first few meetings and provided this update. After opening remarks from Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), including some gentle ribbing about punctuality that will likely turn into a session long running joke, the committee heard from what is likely the last stop on the Comptroller’s biennial revenue estimate tour. The committee also received from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) some high-level budget numbers, including  on public education and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). The committee is scheduled to hear more in-depth testimony on TRS, school safety, and school finance on Monday, Feb. 4. Most of the truly in-depth work on the initial House budget bill is done by subcommittees, including an Article III subcommittee that reviews the education portion of the budget. The members of those subcommittees are determined by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and will likely be named next week.

The Senate Finance Committee also continued to meet this week but on areas other than public education. The Senate committee will turn its attention to education funding later this month, and ATPE’s lobby team will provide updates here on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 9, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This past Tuesday was Election Day. All across the country registered voters lined up at polling places (some with hours-long waits) to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. There were a number of impressive wins and historical elections across the country and Texas was no exception. Turnout for this midterm election was nearly double what it was in 2014.

While Texas’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz were all able to secure reelection, the margins by which they won were closer than usual. Democrats in the Texas House were able to flip 12 seats, a gain that has implications for the impending race for a new House Speaker, while the minority party in the Senate also gained two seats. Senate Democrats will most likely still face a vacancy for at least the first part of the 2019 legislative session; Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) announced her resignation today following her election to a U.S. Congressional seat on Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott must now call a special election to fill the state senate seat within the next couple of months. Additionally, the seat flipping in the state legislature might not be complete at this point as a number of candidates who seemingly lost their elections Tuesday by narrow margins are waiting for provisional and mail-in absentee ballots to be counted. Margins that remain slim following the completion of the vote counting could trigger recounts in a few races.

What we know for sure at this point is that Texans made a statement with this election by electing a myriad of pro-public education candidates to office. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the math of this week’s election results in this blog post.

 


A 2012 decision by the state of Texas to spend less money on students with disabilities is coming back to haunt it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled to uphold a penalty levied by the U.S. Department of Education that withholds $33.3 million dollars in federal funding from Texas’s special education grants. The penalty was imposed after Texas was found to have withheld the same amount of money in funding for special education programs. While the state argued that its special education programs had helped students overcome their disabilities and hence fewer special education services were needed following the 2012 funding decrease, the federal education ageny contended that states can not reduce funding levels from year to year.

You can read more about the ruling and the history behind it in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


 

Educators gain friendly statehouse seats in midterms

After more than a year of voter mobilization efforts aimed at making an impact on the Texas Legislature, educators sprinted across the finish line Tuesday with plenty to be proud of.

Pro-public education candidates for the Texas House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, had a great night. When the dust settled, 74 percent of candidates supported by ATPE-PAC won their races. Conversely, many candidates backed by the infamous group Empower Texans lost their races last night. Forty-two candidates endorsed by the pro-public education entity Texas Parent PAC were victorious, including these new representatives-elect:

  • HD 4—Keith Bell, R-Forney
  • HD 8—Cody Harris, R-Palestine
  • HD 46—Sheryl Cole, D-Austin
  • HD 47—Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin
  • HD 52—James Talarico, D-Round Rock
  • HD 62—Reggie Smith, R-Van Alstyne
  • HD 105—Terry Meza, D-Irving
  • HD 113—Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland
  • HD 114—John Turner, D-Dallas
  • HD 115—Julie Johnson, D-Addison
  • HD 118—Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio
  • HD 121—Steve Allison, R-San Antonio
  • HD 126—Sam Harless, R-Houston
  • HD 136—John H Bucy III, D-Round Rock

Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House, which lowers the mathematical advantage for Republicans to 83-67 from the more lopsided 95-55. This shouldn’t matter on most issues, but it could be extremely significant when it comes to dealing with highly partisan legislation such as vouchers or another anti-teacher payroll deduction bill, which the Republican Party of Texas has declared a top legislative priority despite resistance from within the Republican caucus. This new math could also influence the selection of a new House speaker to replace retiring pro-public education Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Over to the Texas Senate, the addition of two pro-public education members marks a slight improvement over the last legislative session. Beverly Powell defeated incumbent state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) 52-48%, and Nathan Johnson defeated incumbent Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) 54-46%.  Their election helps offset the loss of a Democrat-held seat won by Republican state Senator-elect Pete Flores during a summer special election for Senate District 19.

The GOP majority in the Texas Senate now changes to 19-12 from 21-10, however Republicans will hold a 19-11 advantage for the majority of session due to U.S. Representative-elect Sylvia Garcia’s (D-Houston) refusal to resign her state senate seat on time to hold a replacement election before the legislative session begins.

Under the Senate’s 3/5 rule, 19 votes are needed to pass most major legislation, and just 18 votes will be needed until Garcia’s seat is filled. This is very significant math in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) was able to push through multiple anti-public education bills, including voucher legislation, along largely party-line votes last session. However, there is reason to be optimistic that the results of this election cycle may embolden some pro-public education Republicans in the Senate to stand up to the lieutenant governor on these divisive issues.

Speaking of the lieutenant governor, Texas voters awarded him four more years Tuesday night. Despite his extremely anti-public education policies, Dan Patrick won reelection with a 51-46% victory over Democratic businessman Mike Collier. Patrick’s support roughly tracked with his GOP colleagues on the statewide ballot. Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton each received about 4.2 million votes. Gov. Greg Abbott received the most votes at 4.6 million.

The results up and down the statewide ballot were fairly consistent despite vast differences in the amount spent in each race. Cruz’s Democratic challenger, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, raised a staggering $70 million. His performance at the polls was largely mirrored by his statewide Democratic colleagues who raised a fraction of that amount. Democrats dominated the state’s largest urban areas and were thereby able to flip several local seats, but their numbers were not sufficient to overcome rural Republicans’ advantage in statewide races.

Now begins the process of dissecting the polling data to try and derive additional insights. At a general level, the Democratic strategy relied in part on mobilizing Democratic voters to achieve presidential election-level turnout while hoping Republicans turned out at typical midterm election levels. What happened instead was both Democrats and Republicans turned out at levels approaching a presidential election.

A total of 8.3 million Texas voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections, compared to just 4.6 million voters for the 2014 midterms. Tuesday marked the highest turnout for a midterm election in Texas history, overall second only to the 2016 presidential election in which just shy of 9.0 million Texans voted. Looking deeper, about 400,000 fewer people voted for Cruz in 2018 than voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Conversely, O’Rourke received roughly 400,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton.

Registration of eligible voters increased to 79.40 percent in 2018 from 74.15 percent in 2014. This year’s turnout of 52.70 percent marked a 59 percent increase in turnout from 33.70 percent who participated in 2014. Turnout for the 2016 presidential election was 59.39 percent. In raw numbers, turnout compared to the last midterm election was nearly double.

So what does this all mean? It means that overall, educators did a great job electing local candidates who will stand up for public education. Through your hard work, you’ve made a positive difference on the political math within the Texas Legislature. Notwithstanding this success, arguably the largest challenge facing educators will be the retention of statewide leaders who have not taken the most education-friendly stances in the past. Will close calls during this election and the increase in voter turnout and enthusiasm among the education community this year provide an incentive for state leaders to become more responsive to and accountable for the needs of public schools? With the elections over, the battle now moves from the ballot box to the statehouse. Educators will need to harness the same enthusiasm to help make the 2019 legislative session a success for our students and classrooms.