Category Archives: Governor

BREAKING NEWS: Dr. Keven Ellis appointed chair of the State Board of Education

A press statement released earlier today announced that Dr. Keven Ellis of Lufkin has been appointed chair of the State Board of Education. Dr. Ellis assumes the role after the previous chair, Donna Bahorich, served the maximum of two terms over the last 4 years. A Parent PAC endorsee, Dr. Ellis has been a member of the board since 2016 when he won the open seat, vacated by previous board member Thomas Ratliff. Most recently Dr. Ellis represented the Board as the vice chair of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The full press release announcing the Governor’s appointment of Dr. Ellis can be found here.

 

Breaking news: Gov. Abbott issues executive orders in response to shootings

In response to the recent El Paso and Odessa shootings, Gov. Greg Abbott today issued eight executive orders aimed at addressing public safety regarding gun violence. The executive orders are focused on tightening the alignment between reporting suspicious behavior and the actions taken by law enforcement officials in response to potential threats. Executive orders numbers five and six are likely to have the most impact on schools.

  • Order No. 1 Within thirty days of this order, the Texas Department of Public Safety shall develop standardized intake questions that can be used by all Texas law-enforcement agencies to better identify whether a person calling the agency has information that should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.
  • Order No. 2 Within thirty days of this order, the Department of Public Safety shall develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law-enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.
  • Order No. 3 Within sixty days of this order, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shall make training available to educate all law-enforcement officers regarding the standards that will be developed pursuant to Order No. 1 and Order No. 2.
  • Order No. 4 The Department of Public Safety shall create and conduct an initiative to raise public awareness and understanding of how Suspicious Activity Reports are used by law-enforcement agencies to identify potential mass shooters or terroristic threats, so that the general public and friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates will be more likely to report information about potential gunmen.
  • Order No. 5 The Department of Public Safety shall work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students, staff, and families about the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports and how to initiate that process.
  • Order No. 6 The Department of Public Safety shall work with local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions, and when appropriate shall coordinate with federal partners.
  • Order No. 7 The Department of Public Safety, as well as the Office of the Governor, shall use all available resources to increase staff at all fusion centers in Texas for the purpose of better collecting and responding to Suspicious Activity Reports, and better monitoring and analyzing social media and other online forums, for potential threats.
  • Order No. 8 Beginning January 1, 2020, all future grant awards from the Office of the Governor to counties shall require a commitment that the county will report at least 90 percent of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety.  By January 1, 2021, such reporting must take place within five business days.

Before the 86th legislative session, Gov. Abbott declared school safety as an emergency item, which led to the passage of several bills on the topic. See our blog post on school safety, part of ATPE’s “New School Year, New Laws” series here on Teach the Vote, for more information on changes coming to school districts this year. For more information on the funding and policy decisions made over the last two years to address school safety, view the governor’s recently released report entitled “Improving School Safety in Texas”.

Breaking news: Governor releases Texas School Safety Update

Gov. Greg Abbott released his 23-page Texas School Safety Update today. As we have reported here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog, Gov. Abbott convened a series of roundtable discussions on the issues of school shootings and school safety following the tragic shooting that occurred last year at Santa Fe High School. The governor also designated school safety as an emergency item for the 86th Texas Legislature to work on during the 2019 legislative session. 

The Texas School Safety Update is aimed largely at highlighting in one document the funding and policy decisions that have been made over the last two years to address school safety. Entitled “Improving School Safety in Texas,” the report shared with the public today details both legislative and administrative actions that have been taken at least partly in response to the governor’s focus on school safety and his recommendations for dealing with the issue. View the full report here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 21, 2019

From Austin to Washington, D.C., here’s a look at the latest advocacy news from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Last week, ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand, Vice President Tonja Gray, Executive Director Shannon Holmes, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, and ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist David Pore met with members of the Texas congressional delegation at the U.S. Capitol.

Discussions focused on public education priorities at the federal level, including funding and the repeal of Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). The group also visited with officials at the U.S. Department of Education.

For a full recap of the Washington trip, check out this blog post by Exter.


All bills passed by the Texas legislature are subject to the governor’s veto pen, and Sunday, June 16, 2019, marked the end of the period in which the governor may exercise this power. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed three education bills that had been finally passed by the 86th Legislature when it adjourned sine die last month.

This year’s vetoed bills included House Bill (HB) 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), which would have required charter schools to give students Memorial Day off as school districts are currently required to do, yet the bill exempted districts of innovation (DOI). Gov. Abbott explained in his veto message that the bill would have exempted up to 859 school districts, and suggested the legislature draft more targeted legislation in the future.

The governor also vetoed HB 455 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would have required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. Despite praising the bill’s good intentions, the governor called HB 455 “bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.”

Additionally, Gov. Abbott vetoed HB 3511 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would have created a “Commission on Texas Workforce of the Future.” The governor called the bill redundant and duplicative of work being done by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, which involves the Texas Workforce Commission, TEA, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

Incidentally, the Texas governor has “line-item” veto authority over the budget, and governors have often exercised this power to strike the funding from programs of which they disapprove. Gov. Abbott raised eyebrows this year by declining to veto any lines from the state budget, allowing all of the provisions of HB 1 to go into effect without opposition.

For a complete look at the education bills that passed this session, be sure to check out our 86th Legislative Session Highlights here on Teach the Vote penned by the ATPE staff lobbyists who worked on these and hundreds of other bills throughout the 140-day session.


 

School finance and property tax reform bill signed into law

Gov. Abbott signs HB 3 into law at a ceremony at Parmer Lane Elementary in Pflugerville ISD, June 11, 2019.

Just before noon today, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill (HB) 3 into law. The bill signing took place in front of a crowd of reporters at an elementary school in Pflugerville ISD. The governor was flanked by his fellow members of the “Big Three,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Also up on stage were members of the House and Senate education and finance committees, the superintendents of San Antonio ISD and Longview ISD, and Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

The ceremony began with remarks from Gov. Abbott about the importance of this legislation in improving school finance and reducing property taxes, with emphasis on the success of the legislature in working together on a solution in the absence of a court order. Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and the bill’s author, House Committee on Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), also spoke at the bill signing ceremony, giving thanks and praise for the efforts of those who collaborated on HB 3.

Notably, Speaker Bonnen thanked the people of Texas, for whom he said the school finance and reform bill had been passed. This remark is a testament to the power of educators and public education supporters across Texas who have made their voices known through voting and advocacy. As we watch the implementation of HB 3, some parts of which take effect immediately while others are delayed, ATPE will stay vigilant in ensuring the integrity of the promises made by our leaders. Stay tuned for more updates as implementation rolls out over the next several months. To learn more about what’s in the bill, check out our detailed HB 3 blog post here.

More detail on the legislative deal to address school finance, property taxes, and TRS

As the ATPE lobby team reported here on our blog yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, collectively known as the “Big Three” heads of government, held a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce that negotiators had finalized a grand bargain to address property tax relief, school finance reform, and funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Gov. Abbott told media that lawmakers had reached agreement on the budget, House Bill (HB) 1; the property tax relief bill, Senate Bill (SB) 2; HB 3, which deals with a combination of property taxes and school finance; and SB 12 addressing TRS funding. Each of the three leaders took turns explaining parts of the final compromise.

The only details available yesterday were in the form of a handout given to members of the media and the comments made by the elected officials. As of Thursday afternoon, most legislators had not even seen the actual text of the final plan. Even though the bills have not yet been made available to the public as of 5:30 this Friday afternoon, ATPE’s lobbyists have had their first “unofficial” look today at the new bill language proposed for HB 3 and can provide some additional insights and observations.

SCHOOL FINANCE

The price tag of the newest version of the school finance legislation has expanded to more than $11 billion. According to the handout shared with reporters yesterday, the compromise plan includes $4.5 billion intended to:

  • Increase the basic allotment from $5,140 to $6,160 per student.
  • Fund full-day pre-K for low-income students
  • Adopt high-quality reading standards for grades K-3
  • Create a dyslexia identification program
  • Support dual-language programs and extended year summer programs for economically disadvantaged students
  • Provide outcomes-based bonuses for college, career, and military readiness (CCMR)
  • Fund transportation at a rate of $1.00 per mile, as opposed to on a per-student basis
  • Quadruple funding for building and equipping new facilities
  • Direct more funds to schools with higher concentrations of under-served students, including dropouts, students in special education, and students in residential treatment facilities

Here are some additional details gleaned from the previewed language of the final bill:

Outcomes-based funding:

  • Controversial outcomes-based funding tied to third-grade reading performance was removed from the final bill.
  • The bill includes outcomes-based bonuses for college, career, and military readiness that are tied to the number of graduates who exceed a minimum threshold to be determined by the commissioner.
  • The bonuses paid to the school district would be weighted based whether or not the graduating students are educationally disadvantaged (either $3,000 or $5,000 per student above the minimum number of students established by the commissioner for each group).
  • The bill also defines the readiness standard for each category of college, career, or military, with commissioner authority for setting some criteria.
  • School districts will be required to spend at least 55 percent of the bonuses they receive in grades 8 through 12 to improve readiness outcomes.
  • The bill calls for TEA to conduct a study on alternative career readiness measures for small
    and rural school districts with results to be reported to the legislature by January 1, 2021.

Bilingual education funding:

  • In addition to other uses already outlined in current law, districts will be allowed to use funding associated with bilingual education for “incremental costs associated with providing smaller class sizes.”
  • Districts must now use at least 55 percent of the bilingual allotment to provide bilingual education or special language program, and the bill authorizes the commissioner to reduce a district’s FSP amount in subsequent years by an amount equal to the amount of bilingual education or
    special language funds the commissioner determines were not used in in this manner.

Career and technology:

  • The Career and Technology Allotment is expanded to cover students in grades 7 through 12, rather than just high school students.
  • The bill adds funding for students enrolled in a campus designated as a P-TECH school or a campus that is a member of the New Tech Network and focuses on project-based learning and work-based education.
  • For purposes of the allotment, the definition of “career and technology education class” is broadened to include technology applications courses generally (rather than being restricted to approved cybersecurity courses).
  • Similar to the bilingual allotment, districts must use at least 55 percent of the career and technology allotment for providing CTE programs in grades 7 through 12.
  • Districts will be entitled to reimbursement if they pay a subsidy for a student in a special education or career and technology program to earn a license or certificate, as allowed under current law.

Early education:

  • The bill adds an early education allotment for students in grades K-3 where funding is increased for educationally disadvantaged students and students of limited English proficiency who are enrolled in a bilingual or special language program. The funds must be used to improve student performance in reading and math in Pre-K through through third grade.
  • While not tied specifically or directly to funding, HB 3 calls for school boards to adopt five-year plans for early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency that include annual goals for student performance. The plans should include goals for aggregate student growth on certain assessment instruments and targeted professional development for teachers in these early grades.

Miscellaneous:

  • HB 3 calls for using current year property values to determine school districts’ available tax revenue, as opposed to the prior year’s values under current law. This change has been highly controversial, with several districts complaining that they will lose money with this change.
  • School districts or charter schools that offer an additional 30 days of half-day instruction for students in grades pre-K through 5 will be entitled to additional incentive funding.
  • The bill’s new Fast Growth Allotment applies to school districts in which enrollment for the past three school years is in the top quartile of student enrollment growth for the entire state. These districts will be entitled to additional funding equating to the basic allotment multiplied by 0.04 for each student in average daily attendance.
  • Districts will be entitled to reimbursement of fees they pay under existing law for the administration of college-prep assessments to high school juniors and seniors.
  • The bill calls for TEA to partner with a public institution of higher education to study and report to the legislature on geographic variations in the cost of education and transportation costs. Results of the study must be reported by Dec. 1, 2020.

TEACHER PAY & BENEFITS

The plan announced yesterday aims to spend $1.6 billion over the next two years to provide what state leaders have described as “dynamic pay raises” for teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses, while prioritizing veteran educators. They also indicated in yesterday’s press statements that the state would contribute $922 per teacher over the next two years to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas in order to make it actuarially sound. The plan includes $140 million for a merit/incentive pay program, $30 million annually for an extended year program that rewards teachers who work an additional 30 days during the summer, $8 million for mentoring new teachers, and $6 million toward professional development for teachers in blended learning instruction. Here are some additional details based upon ATPE’s reading of the bill.

Educator compensation:

The increase in the basic allotment will also cause an increase in the state’s minimum salary schedule that applies to teachers and some other educators. This will have the effect of increasing the floor for many educators, providing raises for some, and increasing the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

According to ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier, HB 3 also includes a mechanism to automatically require districts to increase some educators’ pay under certain circumstances. Here are some more details:

  • If the basic allotment of a district increases from one year to the next, the district must use at least 30% of the difference in the funding level to provide pay increases to certain full-time school employees who are not administrators. (For instance, if a district had an increase in student funding from one year to the next of $100,000, the district would need to spend at least $30,000 on increased compensation.)
  • Of this “at least 30%” amount, 75% of that funding must be used for compensation increases for full-time classroom teachers, counselors, librarians, and school nurses. However, districts must prioritize using this money for increasing the compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years of experience.
  • The other 25% of the “at least 30% amount” may be used as determined by the district to increase compensation for full-time district employees.
  • Unlike the earlier versions of HB 3, there is no requirement that these compensation increases be made in an across-the-board manner with each eligible employee receiving the same amount. There is also no guarantee that all of the employees in these categories would receive a salary increase under this bill.
  • It is unclear but presumed that the compensation increases allowed under this section of the bill would be in addition to potential stipends provided by districts’ participation in extended school year, mentoring, or merit pay programs that are also in HB 3.

Merit pay:

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell provided additional insights on the bill’s merit pay language. The new “Teacher Incentive Allotment” is structured in a manner similar to the Senate’s adopted proposal for merit pay, but the final HB 3 proposal will give districts more flexibility, reduce the commissioner’s authority to set criteria compared to what was in the Senate plan, and place less emphasis on student performance and test scores compared to the Senate plan. While the allotment does provide districts with new funding that is specifically allocated for teacher compensation, there are few guarantees that the teachers who demonstrate the merit as defined by this bill will receive substantially higher pay. Still, we are pleased that legislators listened to our requests that they remove troubling test-based criteria from the merit pay plan.

  • School districts would be eligible for additional funding through this allotment for certain teachers who are designated as recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. It is important to emphasize that these funds do not flow directly to the teachers who earn the designations but are paid to the districts instead.
  • The designations are defined in a new statute under which a school district or open-enrollment
    charter school has the local option of designating a certified classroom teacher as a master, exemplary, or recognized teacher for a five-year period. Designations would be noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate maintained by SBEC. Teachers will have no vested property right in the designation according to this bill, and any designation found to have been made improperly will be voided. HB 3 repeals various older “master teacher” statutes that are being replaced with this program.
  • Districts are not required to participate in this new local optional teacher designation program, but we assume that most will want to participate in order to qualify for the additional state funding that is tied to it.
  • The bill requires the commissioner to set “performance and validity standards” that will mathematically allow for all eligible teachers to earn the designation. The bill adds that these standards “may not require a district” to use a state assessment instrument like the STAAR test “to evaluate teacher performance.”
  • Districts may designate a nationally board-certified teacher as recognized even if the teacher does not otherwise meet the performance standards set by the commissioner.
  • The teacher designations will be based on the results of single year or multiyear appraisals of the teachers pursuant to the existing T-TESS statutes. Unlike the Senate’s merit pay proposal that called for a competitive statewide ranking of teachers based on student performance, districts will determine eligibility for the new merit designations using evaluation criteria, which under the existing T-TESS statutes incorporate observations of teacher performance and the performance of teachers’ students. These determinations will be subject to the performance standards set by the commissioner, however, and the local designation system must be validated.
  • For the validation element, Texas Tech University is tasked with monitoring the quality and fairness of the local optional teacher designation systems. The commissioner is required to ensure that the local optional teacher designation systems “prioritize high needs campuses.” TEA will be required, with cooperation from the participating districts, to evaluate the effectiveness of the local optional teacher designation systems and report their findings to the legislature.
  • The commissioner may adopt fees and rules to implement this program.
  • The amount of the funding paid to districts through this allotment will vary. Districts may receive between $3,000 and $9,000 for each recognized teacher; between $6,000 and $18,000 for each exemplary teacher; and between $12,000 and $32,000 for each master teacher. We presume that specific amounts paid within these ranges will be determined by the commissioner and outlined more specifically in commissioner’s rules to be adopted later.
  • If the recognized, exemplary, or master teacher works at a rural campus or one that serves a higher number of disadvantaged students, a funding weight is applied to the allotment that entitles the district to higher funding.
  • Districts must certify annually that they are spending the allotment in compliance with the law. They are required to show that they have “prioritized high needs campuses” in their use of the allotment.
  • The districts will be required to spend at least 90 percent of the allotment “for the compensation of teachers” who are employed at the same campus as the campus where the teacher who earned the designation and enabled the district to receive the additional funding is employed. Note that this does not specifically require the teacher who earned the designation corresponding to the allotment to receive any additional funding. In other words, districts will have discretion on how they spend these funds for teacher compensation.
  • Beyond the 90 percent requirement, districts may use the allotment for costs associated with implementing the teacher designation program.
  • Unfortunately, there is no language in the bill ensuring that this allotment cannot be used by school districts to supplant other district funds for teacher compensation.

TAX RELIEF

The proposal includes $5 billion for tax relief that is intended increase the state’s share of education funding to 45 percent from 38 percent. The governor’s office claims the plan will lower school property tax rates by an average of eight cents per $100 of property valuation in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021, and provide an additional 2.5 percent tax compression starting in 2021. The plan also requires efficiency audits before holding a tax election.

RECAPTURE

Part of the plan addresses recapture, often commonly referred to as a “Robin Hood” system, which seeks to ensure equity by transferring tax revenue from property-wealthy districts to those that are property-poor. The promotional materials indicated that recapture would be reduced by $3.6 billion as part of the $11.6 billion investment made in HB 3 to buy down property taxes and reform school finance formulas.

OTHER PROVISIONS

The negotiated version of HB 3 contains a number of provisions that bear little relation to “school finance.” For instance, the bill requires the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to adopt rules that that will pertain to new certificates issued after Jan. 1, 2021 and will require teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading before they can be assigned to teach any grade level from prekindergarten through grade six.

The bill also adds new reading standards for kindergarten through third grade students. Under these standards, school districts and open-enrollment charter schools must use a phonics curriculum that
uses systematic direct instruction to ensure all students obtain necessary early literacy skills. Districts must also ensure that teachers of grades K-3 and principals at the campuses serving those grades have attended a literacy achievement academy by no later than the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, the district or charter school must certified that it has prioritized placement of “highly effective” teachers in classrooms for grades K-2. The commissioner will adopt rules to implement these new provisions.

Other non-finance related provisions of the bill include measures related to educator misconduct and eligibility to work in a public school.

  • The bill will create a “do not hire” registry of educators who are ineligible for employment. HB 3 adds requirements for reporting alleged misconduct to TEA and SBEC. To facilitate such reporting, SBEC will be required to set up a new internet portal that superintendents will use to share such information.
  • The bill gives the commissioner of education authority to investigate and sanction non-certified employees in a manner similar to SBEC’s current disciplinary authority over certified educators.
  • The commissioner will also have broad access to school district records, the criminal history record clearinghouse, and law enforcement records from criminal cases to ensure compliance with the requirement to report allegations of misconduct.
  • For Districts of Innovation (DOI), failure to comply with the reporting requirements can invalidate their designation as a DOI.

ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff members are continuing to analyze the newly designed versions of these bills and will provide additional details throughout these final days of the session. We expect the House and Senate to vote on them either Saturday or Sunday, and we hope that the new bill text for HB 3 and SB 12 will be shared with the public this evening. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest rapidly developing updates.

Governor Abbott declares emergency items, includes teacher pay

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a total of six emergency items in Tuesday’s State of the State address to a joint session of the 86th Texas Legislature. The State of the State is traditionally delivered by the governor at the beginning of each legislative session, and is the state equivalent to the national State of the Union address delivered by the president.

The governor often uses the State of the State as an opportunity to announce emergency items for the current legislature. The first 60 days of the legislative session are meant for organization and bill filing, and legislators cannot vote on bills until after 60 days have passed. Emergency items declared by the governor are the only exception.

Standing ovation for teacher pay announcement during State of the State address, Feb. 5, 2019.

Governor Abbott listed six emergency items on Tuesday: School finance reform, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, property tax relief, and disaster response.

What does this mean functionally? The legislature may vote on bills under these emergency headings immediately instead of waiting for the March 8 deadline, theoretically granting them a one-month head start ahead of other bills. Yet few of these bills have been filed, and none have begun the committee process that marks the first major step in a bill’s journey to becoming a law. For this reason, the practical impact of designation as emergency items has more to do with sending a signal to legislators and the public that these are the governor’s top priorities.

In addition, each of these items is expected to require a significant amount of state funding. The budget offered by the Texas House would provide $7.1 billion in new revenue for public education, contingent upon spending a significant portion of that money on providing property tax relief, ostensibly by rebalancing the state and local share of education funding. Increasing the state’s share will ease the burden on local property taxpayers, but will not increase overall public school funding. To increase overall school funding will require spending additional money on top of what is required to ease local tax pressure.

Increasing teacher pay will require another tranche of state funds. The Texas Senate has proposed Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would grant teachers a $5,000 annual raise. The bill’s cost is tagged at $3.7 billion for the first biennium. Gov. Abbott’s comments today on teacher pay implied that he prefers a plan under development by House leaders to provide a differentiated pay program that could create a path for select teachers to earn as much as $100,000. This would apply to far fewer teachers than the Senate’s plan and consequently carry a much smaller price tag.

School safety, mental health, and disaster response will each require further funding. Fortunately, the biennial revenue estimate delivered by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar in January projects legislators will have roughly $12 billion more than they budgeted the previous two years. It’s important to note that some of that money will be taken up by inflation and population growth. Some of the emergency items, such as disaster response, are prime targets for one-time spending from the Economic Stabilization Fund. The state’s “rainy day fund,” as it is often called, is projected to total $15.4 billion by the end of 2021.