Category Archives: Innovation Districts

School finance commission talks about teacher supports

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin for a discussion on English learners. Opening the meeting, commission Chair Scott Brister urged the working groups assigned to study different aspects of school finance to be specific in the recommendations they make. In particular, Brister said the commission should strive to reach a consensus on the numbers: How much is the state spending on public education? Is it raising or cutting funding? Should textbooks be included in the cost of education?

School finance commission meeting June 5, 2018.

It’s important to note that most of these numbers are readily available from the Legislative Budget Board and are not in dispute. The disagreement has arisen as a result of some witnesses and commission members attempting to use alternative calculations that are not used in state accounting documents, usually in an attempt to inflate spending figures. Part of the argument used by those hoping to privatize public education is that the state spends enough on public schools already. Compared to other states, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 in per-pupil spending.

The English learners discussion began with invited witnesses pointing out the benefits of dual-language programs over traditional English as a Second Language (ESL) models. Texas has a high percentage of English learners, who benefit the most from strong language instruction early in their academic careers. Students who don’t become proficient in English in elementary school are increasingly likely to struggle later on, and are at a higher risk of failing to graduate. Chair Brister expressed concern over the cost of high-quality programs for English learners. Conversely, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) warned of the future costs of failing to ensure students successfully learn English.

A witness from the Mark Twain Dual Language Academy in San Antonio explained that most of the costs of dual language program are related to start-up, such as training and hiring bilingual educators. The challenge for many schools is hiring educators from a limited pool of certified teachers who are highly proficient in both English and Spanish.

The next panel focused on supports for teachers in general. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that the evidence supports the idea that teachers should be paid significantly more, which would aid retention at high-poverty schools. Morath suggested it is also possible to develop an evaluation system that can identify high quality teachers, and advised the commission that a policy framework to provide better pay for high-quality teachers will require long-term commitment by the state, not a one-time grant or budget rider.

Morath further said that pay, not working conditions, is the top hurdle when it comes to recruiting people into the education profession. When it comes to retention, teachers say working conditions are more important than pay. Pay for education jobs has decreased over time, and the average classroom teacher has gotten younger as veterans leave the profession.

The commissioner discussed legislation filed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature that would have created a system of tiered certification distinctions tied to significant increases in pay. For example, a “master teacher” who has received a national certification and fulfilled additional requirements and serves at a rural or high-poverty campus could earn up to $20,000 more.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said he declined to support the bill because of the cost it would have imposed on a long-term basis. Morath emphasized that higher pay is a long-term strategy and would not improve current performance, rather it would recruit and retain better quality educators in the future. In endorsing the idea, Morath indicated it will only work if the funding is baked into the funding formulas for school districts. The commissioner also suggested that one of the bill’s flaws was calibrating the process of identifying high-performing teachers, explaining that each school principal could have a different opinion when it comes to what defines a great teacher.

Responding to a question about high-stakes testing from State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath said testing would have to be at least one component of a program that evaluates teacher quality. The commissioner suggested there should also be an observational component and perhaps a student survey, which is included in the Dallas ISD program upon which the bill was based.

Commission member Todd Williams also noted that there is no incentive for teachers to work in high-poverty or rural schools. In addition, teachers who are at the top of the pay scale cannot increase their pay without leaving the classroom and becoming an administrator, which means their teaching talent would be removed from the system. Finally, Williams noted that there is no incentive for teacher candidates to choose a high-quality preparation program over a cheaper, fly-by-night program. Williams suggested creating incentives in these areas could increase teacher quality and retention.

Concluding his testimony, Morath said that investing in better quality teachers would lead to better-prepared students graduating and pursuing more lucrative jobs. That, combined with teachers themselves earning more, would materially increase the state’s GDP. Morath reasoned this would have a positive and measurable impact on the Texas economy.

Following up on Morath’s testimony, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers noted that rising health care costs have also driven teachers out of the profession. Chambers said children need to come to kindergarten ready to go to school, which pre-K helps accomplish, and must be reading on grade level by the third grade. Quality teachers should be in all classrooms, which is helped by differentiated teacher pay, such as paying teachers more to teach in more challenging classrooms.

San Antonio ISD fourth grade teacher Sarah Perez, who is also a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, rounded out the panel on educator supports. Perez testified that students need more social and emotional supports, such as counseling services. According to Perez, a teacher survey by Teach Plus found that teachers identify large class sizes and low teacher pay as having a negative impact on student learning. So do inadequate facilities and limited access to technology or funding for classroom expenses. This led to a lively discussion regarding how much the state could reimburse teachers for classroom expenses and how renewing this program could be done using technology, such as a debit card.

The rest of the day’s panels focused on “inefficiencies” in public education. Michael Szabo, a high school math teacher from Galena Park ISD, gave moving testimony about the struggles his students face. Some deal with teen pregnancy, homelessness, deportation, absent parents and other issues that distract from their ability to concentrate on schoolwork. At the same time, they and the school are being judged based on their performance on standardized tests. Instead, Szabo suggested tying performance evaluation to the percentage of graduates who enter the workforce, as well as those who are incarcerated or end up on welfare.

Other witnesses testified regarding reviewing special program allotments and how those funds can be spent. That included raising the compensatory allotment and easing back spending requirements. Responding to a question about charter schools, one witness noted that while charter school teachers are eligible to participate in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, charters are not required to pay into the system. Another district suggested requiring charter schools to provide more notice and information to the district before setting up shop within a district’s borders and a “universal wait list” for charters. Some charters have touted dubious statistics regarding the number of students who are on wait lists. At the conclusion of the meeting, Brister invited a representative from a charter school to advocate for charters in general.

Districts requested more flexibility with regard to instruction time, as well as accessing the virtual school network. Districts also identified unfunded mandates and the unique challenges facing small, rural districts as drivers of inefficiency. There was some discussion as well from members of the commission who suggested districts faced with burdensome regulations consider becoming districts of innovation (DOI). It’s important to note that despite the perceived benefits of becoming a DOI, most districts have used DOI to hire uncertified teachers and expand class sizes beyond the statutory maximum. These are cost-cutting measures that ultimately hurt students.

The commission working group on expenditures is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning. The next meeting of the full commission is July 10.

School finance commission focuses on charters

The Texas Commission on School Finance met for the fourth time Wednesday in Austin. After a late start due to members trickling in the day after the state’s heated primary elections, the commission quickly launched into a debate about just how much of its activities will be open to members of the public.

Texas Commission on School Finance meeting March 7, 2018.

Chairman Justice Scott Brister began by informing members of the commission that commission subcommittees will be free to hold meetings without posting notice to the public. Brister gave members specific guidance in order to avoid having to comply with state open meetings laws, and led a vote expanding the number of members who can attend committee meetings out of the public eye.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, argued for greater transparency, suggesting members of the public have an interest in what the commission is doing behind closed doors. State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) joined in highlighting the importance of transparency. Arguing for more secrecy, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) noted members of the Texas Senate regularly hold secret meetings.

The committee also discussed logistics for the next meeting, March 19, when members of the public will be able to testify. Before public testimony, the commission plans to invite various stakeholders and interest groups to testify for up to five minutes. Brister stated the list of potential invited witnesses compiled by members and Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff numbered roughly fifty, and asked for help whittling down that number. He warned the March 19 meeting will be long, and members should expect to work well into the evening hours. Sen. Bettencourt asked to reduce the amount of time allotted to public witnesses to avoid a lengthy meeting, and Brister expressed interest in doing so based upon the number of witnesses who sign up.

The topic of Wednesday’s meeting was “efficiency,” with panels dedicated to efficiencies at the classroom, campus and district levels. The first panel featured witnesses from Cisco and Pasadena ISDs to discuss blended learning programs, which combine classroom time with self-paced digital learning incorporating technology such as computers and tablets. Todd Williams, an advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, asked whether blended learning would enable a single teacher to teach more students. Pasadena ISD Deputy Superintendent Karen Hickman indicated that may be possible, but had not been her district’s experience.

The next panel featured witnesses from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, along with Dallas County Community College and the Dallas County Promise program. College partnership programs allow students to earn industry credentials or college credits by taking courses through local higher education institutions. While praising the work of PSJA ISD, Williams suggested college completion rates in these programs are not always where many would like to see them. DCCC Chancellor Joe May testified that the Dallas program is an efficient way to get students to a four-year degree at a quarter of the typical cost.

The final panel on district-level efficiencies was led off by San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who highlighted new innovative campuses and advanced teacher training. Martinez made a compelling argument against basing too much accountability on end-of-course exams, pointing out that SAT scores have a far greater impact on the future trajectory of individual students. Martinez also laid out a nuanced way of tracking income demographics for the purposes of equalization within the district. More controversially, Martinez discussed bringing in charter operators from New York to take over a local elementary campus. These types of arrangements receive financial incentives from the state as a result of SB 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature despite warnings raised by ATPE over the potential negative impacts on students and teachers. In consideration of these criticisms, Martinez suggested adding Dallas ISD’s ACE model or similar teacher retention programs as a third option under SB 1882. Martinez further acknowledged that charters are not interested in taking on the task of educating the most economically disadvantaged students.

The commission also heard from Paul Hill, a Washington-based policy consultant whose work has been affiliated with handing campuses over the charters and supporters of broader education privatization, including vouchers. Midland ISD Superintendent Orlando Riddick spoke of districts of innovation (DOI), and confirmed that districts are eager to waive requirements for maximum class sizes and teacher certification. ATPE has repeatedly warned of DOI being used to hire cheaper, uncertified teachers and assign larger classrooms.

The meeting ended with testimony from IDEA Public Schools charter founder Tom Torkelson. While acknowledging that well-trained teachers should earn more money, Torkelson also suggested that class size limits designed to protect students should be waived in order to place more students in a single classroom. Torkelson also suggested eliminating regional education service centers (ESCs), which were designed to increase efficiency by consolidating various support tasks in order to service multiple districts. Torkelson gave no indication what should replace the ESCs in his estimation.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, concluded Wednesday’s hearing by directing members to the task at hand: Finding a way to pay for public education for all Texas students. Anything short of that, he reminded members, will not help Texas out of its current predicament. The commission will next meet March 19, and members of the public will be allowed to testify.

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

Check out this week’s education news headlines from ATPE:


At its second meeting, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on Thursday elected a new vice-chair and heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other witnesses about the current state of public education funding. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this report for Teach the Vote. The commission’s next meeting on Feb. 22 will feature invited testimony from ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey. The commission will also meet on March 7 and will allow members of the public to testify at another meeting on March 19. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as the commission fulfills its interim charge to study and make recommendations for how Texas funds its public schools.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: We’re now less than two weeks away from the start of early voting for the March 6 primary elections. ATPE urges educators to check out our Teach the Vote candidate profiles ahead of the first day of early voting on Feb. 20. All candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, State Board of Education, Texas State Senate, and Texas State House are profiled on our website, with additional information about incumbents’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to ATPE’s survey about education issues and priorities, and links to their campaign websites and social media accounts.

As you gear up for the primaries, we’ve also got information about the nonbinding propositions that will be included on your ballot as way to shape the platforms of the state Republican and Democratic parties. Find out what will be on your ballot by checking out this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday. In addition, we’ve shared tips courtesy of our friends at the Texas Tribune on how voters can get more involved in shaping party platforms by participating in election year conventions. Read about the process for becoming a convention delegate here. We’ll have even more election resources for you on Teach the Vote next week, so stay tuned!

 


As ATPE, the Texas Educators Vote coalition, and other groups work to motivate educators to vote in the 2018 elections, those fearful of high voter turnout among the education community are getting desperate in their attempts to intimidate teachers. Today on our blog, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday reports on the surprising and heartwarming way that educators used social media this week to respond to threatening letters they received from an anti-public education lobbying group. Check out her new post about teachers who are #blowingthewhistle here.

 


ATPE’s lobbyists were interviewed this week for multiple stories about the impact of Texas’s District of Innovation law on teacher certification. The DOI law passed by the legislature in 2015 allows certain school districts to exempt themselves from many education laws. One such law is the requirement for hiring certified teachers, which the Texas Tribune wrote about this week. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was interviewed for the story, which highlights the fact that half of Texas’s school districts are now able to ignore the certification law by using DOI exemptions. In Waco, Taylor Durden reported for KXXV-TV about how area school districts have used the DOI law to waive certification requirements for some of their teachers, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday was interviewed for that story. Check it out here. For more about the DOI law, see the resources available from ATPE on our website here.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released the accreditation statuses for school districts and charter schools for the 2017-2018 school year. The accreditation status is primarily based upon the new “A through F” accountability system and the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).

A total of 1,185 out of 1,201 districts and charters received a status of “Accredited” for the current school year, and four districts received a “Not Accredited-Revoked” status. Four districts and five charters received warnings to fix deficiencies in academic or financial performance or face probation or revocation. Two districts were placed on probation for exhibiting deficiencies over a three year period.

Districts whose accreditation has been revoked have an opportunity for review by the TEA and the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). For the 2017-2018 school year, those districts include Buckholts ISD, Sierra Blanca ISD, Winfield ISD and Marlin ISD – the latter two of which were given an “A” in the overall state accountability ratings despite earning “improvement required” designations under the previous accountability system.

Carpe Diem Schools, Dell City ISD, Dime Box ISD, Hart ISD, Montessori For All, Natalia ISD, The Lawson Academy, Trinity Environmental Academy and Zoe Learning Academy all received warnings. Hearne ISD and Trinity ISD were placed on probation.

The full list of accreditation statuses can be found on the TEA website.

 


 

Highlights of today’s SBEC meeting

SBECThe State Board for Education Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin to take up an agenda involving a few actions items and several discussions. The topic of Districts of Innovation (DOIs) has also made several appearances at today’s meeting.

 

Action Items

The action items for today’s meeting included preliminary action on new passing standards for out-of-country certification candidates required to show evidence of English language proficiency via the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). A committee of stakeholders proposed minimum cut scores of 24 for the speaking portion of the exam, 25 on the reading, 25 on the listening, and 21 on the writing. The board also took a preliminary step to disallow out-of-country candidates to show English language proficiency solely based on the fact that they earned a degree from an institution of higher education that delivers instruction in English. The board also took final action on revisions to late renewal requirements for certificate holders. The new language clarifies processes for certification renewals that are submitted not more than six months after the renewal deadline and those submitted more than six months after the deadline.

 

Discussion Items

The discussion items before the board today included an update on work to redesign the principal and teacher surveys for the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP); a presentation on the plan to implement the recent changes to rule chapters involving educator preparation programs and their candidates; and an initial discussion regarding future extensive changes to the Standard School Counselor Certificate requirements and standards, as well as additional changes to the Standard Educational Diagnostician Certificate.

The board also received an update on the SBEC directive to explore best pathways for training early childhood through grade 3 teachers. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on the decision by the 85th Texas Legislature to pass legislation mandating the creation of an Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate. Staff expanded the discussion to include an educator certification structure redesign to best accommodate new certificate and district needs. The board approved a Classroom Teacher Standards Advisory Committee, which includes ATPE members, to immediately begin work on addressing this charge.

 

Districts of Innovation

The topic of Districts of Innovation (DOI) also came up several times at today’s meeting. First, in relation to approving the rule review process for the SBEC chapter involving school personnel assignments, TEA staff presented data on district’s certification exemptions under DOI. To date, 416 Texas districts across the state have exempted themselves from certification requirements. Examples of district reasons for certification exemptions shared by TEA included the desire to hire trade professionals to teach CTE courses (an area where state law already grants considerable flexibility to districts); the flexibility to allow teachers to teach outside their field of certification; the intent to hire community college instructors and university professors; and the need to fill science, math and foreign language classrooms in rural areas of the state. The data presented also showed that 127 districts have exempted themselves from the requirement to notify parents of a student who is taught by an uncertified teacher, and 12 DOIs will not follow state law requiring districts to void the contract of a probationary educator who fails to complete all certification requirements in the three years the candidate is given to do so.

Later, TEA attorneys also explained to members of the board how it is possible for DOIs to hire educators who previously had their SBEC certificates revoked  – even permanently – because state law fails to prevent such conduct, despite specific provisions in place for charter schools given similar flexibility.

House Public Education revives bill regulating DOIs

The House Public Education Committee called an impromptu meeting Friday afternoon to vote on a pending bill and reconsider the vote on a bill that failed on Thursday.

House Public Education Committee meeting Friday, May 5, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting Friday, May 5, 2017.

The committee revived HB 3635 by state Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), which failed on a 5-4 vote Thursday. The bill was passed upon reconsideration Friday by a vote of 7-2. HB 3635 would require the commissioner to establish objective eligibility and performance standards, including academic and financial performance, for districts pursuing DOI status. Would require DOI plans to include performance objectives and allow the commissioner to terminate a DOI after a single unacceptable performance rating. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and state Rep. Lance Gooden (R-Terrell) voted against the bill.

The committee unanimously passed HB 4111 by state Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would allow an open-enrollment charter school that has been rated lower than satisfactory solely due to a data error reported by the charter to PEIMS to have its rating corrected.

The committee is expected to next meet Tuesday morning to discuss five Senate bills.

Preparation, training, and support that educators deserve

Students School College Teaching Learning Education ConceptAs we reported following the board’s meeting last month, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) recently revised a number of rules involving educator preparation in Texas. The lengthy and thorough process to rewrite the rules lasted about a year. The rules cover preparation, program requirements, pathways to certification, and more, and they seek to raise the quality of training all teachers receive before going into the classroom where they are expected to excel.

One of ATPE’s policy priorities involves a strong focus on all aspects of the teacher pipeline, and that starts with high-quality training for Texas educators. ATPE recognizes that we do a disservice to our teachers and our students when inadequately prepared educators are placed in the classroom and expected to achieve excellence. We also recognize that we cannot expect teachers to stay in the profession if they aren’t strongly prepared to enter the classroom in the first place.

ATPE knows that Texas teachers are incredible and work hard in their classrooms (and beyond!) every day to provide a great education for the students they teach; they deserve high-quality preparation that will provide them with a strong, solid base and great potential from which they can continue to grow.


Research also backs ATPE’s focus on ensuring all Texas teachers receive the high-quality preparation and support they deserve. A sampling of those findings include: that access to an effective educator is the most important school-based factor affecting a student’s success; that we can better prepare Texas teachers and create a higher achieving student body by raising standards for educator preparation; that candidates seeking certification through the state’s most popular pathway, alternative certification (or a post-baccalaureate path that can currently involve as little as two weeks of training), are leaving the classroom at a faster rate than their peers; and that teacher turnover could be costing our state up to billions of dollars.


SBEC’s new rules are not extreme and they represent a lot of compromise with interests that thought original proposals went too far. Still, they set a foundation and represent a positive step. Here are some of the ways SBEC’s new rules seek to improve preparation:

  • a two-tiered system of probationary certification for alternative certification candidates, which better identifies a candidate’s level of training and requires supplementary support for less prepared candidates;
  • revised measures of accountability for EPPs, such as a newly established new-teacher survey;
  • a more appropriate definition of “late hire” candidates, who are put in the classroom as the teacher-of-record with significantly less coursework and training; and
  • an increase in the number of coursework hours a candidate must receive prior to an internship or clinical teaching.

The rule revisions and rationale for the changes can be read in their entirety here. They now go to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which will review them at its meeting in two weeks and can affirm the proposals or send them back to SBEC for further review.

Educational Aide Certificate

The SBEC rules also include recent changes to educational aide certificates. The new rules specify that beginning Sept. 1, 2017, all educational aide certificates issued will be valid for two years. The current validity period of an educational aide certificates is five years. Concurrently, the fees associated with renewing an educational aide certificate will be reduced to $15 (from $30). Those aides with lifetime certificates will not be affected by this change.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided several reasons for this move in their rationale to SBEC, including a large number of unused certificates and the issues this can cause with TEA’s investigations and prosecutions divisions. According to TEA staff, a total of 227,910 educational aide certificates were issued in the 2014-15 school year, but only approximately 53,791 educational aides were actively employed.

As TEA has explained it, although only 53,791 educational aides were employed in schools, the investigations and prosecutions divisions remain responsible for all 227,910 certificate holders, meaning they are using resources to pursue any certificate holder accused of wrongdoing. As TEA put it, “Shortening the validity period for the educational aide certificate would focus TEA investigative and prosecutorial resources only on those who are actively using the educational aide certificate in a Texas public school.”

Districts of Innovation

Regardless of the SBOE’s actions on these newly revised certification rules, another piece of education policy has the potential to interfere with SBEC’s work: Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law was created by the Texas legislature last session, and it allows certain school districts to opt out of the majority of the Texas Education Code, including provisions requiring quality teacher preparation and certification. ATPE will continue to advocate for high-quality educator training for all Texas educators and will encourage the upcoming legislature to join SBEC in its quest toward raised standards as they consider the potential negative effects of the broad exemption opportunities created under the DOI statutes. Fore more on DOI, visit our DOI Resource Page at atpe.org.

Senate committees preview controversial education issues they will address in 2017

ThinkstockPhotos-144283240It’s been a busy week in the Texas Capitol for the ATPE Governmental Relations team as the Senate held a handful of big issue hearings in the Senate Education and State Affairs committees. The serving of hot topics included vouchers, districts of innovation (DOI), individual graduation committees, and payroll deduction.

Senate Education Committee

The education committee kicked the week off on Tuesday with an interim charge on access to digital learning opportunities in Texas classrooms. Invited testifiers lauded the advantages of using technology programs in the classroom, discussed ways some districts and education service centers (ESCs) have overcome limited broadband access, and dove into the federal e-rate program. The e-rate program is currently offering a 10 to 1 match for states that seek to expand broadband infrastructure. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, who handled testimony in the Senate this week, encouraged senators to take advantage of the limited-time arrangement offered through the e-rate program. He also reminded the committee that while digital learning is a great tool, it is important to not consider it a panacea, and training and support for teachers, among other things, must be paired in order for it to be effective.

The committee also received an update on the individual graduation committees that were created last session by Senator Kel Seliger’s SB 149. The bill received strong support from both education committees last session and was voted out of each chamber by overwhelming majorities, taking immediate effect after being signed into law by the Governor. The law is set to expire unless the Texas Legislature chooses to renew it in 2017. ATPE expressed support for continuing the committees, recognizing that state standardized tests should not be the only thing that stands between a qualified student and a diploma.

On Wednesday, the committee held a marathon interim hearing covering vouchers, DOI, and a bill that altered the minimum school year standard from days to minutes. ATPE joined other public school advocates in opposition of the voucher charge, which instructs the committee to study “education savings account and tax credit scholarship programs” in other states. Exter stressed to senators our concerns about the funding issues with a voucher proposal, which not only uses public dollars to support non-public schools, but also fails to address the real funding problem: the students who need the most resources are the students most underfunded. Under any form of a voucher, it would still be the lowest-income students receiving the fewest amount of resources; such a plan would only exasperate the problem for most.

Exter also testified on DOI, a new Texas law allowing acceptably-rated districts to opt themselves out of large amounts of the education code. A bipartisan handful of senators (those who were left in the room at the late hour) agreed with Exter’s testimony that raised alarm to the fact that essentially no checks and balances exist under the law and additional transparency should be fostered through the application process.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Also on Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee held a hearing on payroll deduction. The committee, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), was given an interim charge from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” Sen. Huffman authored a bill last legislative session that would have prohibited most public employers, including school districts, from allowing their staffs to use payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to professional associations such as ATPE. That 2015 bill passed the Senate on a party line vote but died in a House committee. On Wednesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee first heard testimony from the State Comptroller’s office about the criteria that must be met for organizations to qualify for payroll deductions through government employers. Following that testimony, representatives from the Texas affiliate of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) and the Texas Association of Business (TAB) both urged the committee to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for dues payments but admitted that there was virtually no cost to the state or taxpayers associated with that practice. The committee then heard testimony from several public employees and representatives of groups that could be affected by payroll deduction legislation. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday testified that public employers’ payroll offices routinely process a host of deductions from their employees’ paychecks, including insurance premiums and voluntary payments to charities and professional associations like ATPE. She emphasized that ATPE is not a labor union and does not engage in collective bargaining, calling efforts to prohibit payroll deduction in our state for hardworking public servants such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters an “unnecessary” and “misdirected” objective.

 

Meanwhile, the State Board of Education (SBOE) convened a few blocks away to cover an agenda that included its own high profile issue: a controversial proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook. Look for more on the SBOE meeting in Friday’s wrap-up and stay tuned as the House and Senate committees are poised to convene regularly in the upcoming months.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.

 


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.

 


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.

 


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.

NO VOUCHERS

At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!

 


 

Commissioner adopts final DOI rules, incorporates ATPE recommendations

Throughout the past year, ATPE has reported on the implementation of a new law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from several state laws governing public education. The law, which was incorporated into last year’s House Bill 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), sets forth limited parameters for so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOI) that have met minimal accountability standards and allows them to claim exemptions from various laws.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath proposed a set of rules to implement the new DOI law. ATPE submitted input on the proposed rules and testified at a public hearing back in April. Today, Commissioner Morath released his final adopted rules for DOIs, incorporating some recommendations from stakeholders and ignoring others. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received and responded to comments from several groups representing educators and school boards, individual school districts pursuing DOI status, and Raise Your Hand Texas, the advocacy group that was behind the push to enact the DOI law last year.

ATPE’s formal comments to TEA included a request that the rules clearly state that civil immunity protections in the Texas Education Code will continue to apply to innovation districts. The agency responded that it agreed with ATPE’s position and in order to address our concern has added the immunity statutes to the list in commissioner’s rules of laws that DOIs are prohibited from exempting. This ATPE-advised change will help ensure that educators maintain their immunity protections and will not face increased liability risks and insurance costs as a result of working in a DOI.

The adopted DOI rules take effect Sept. 13, 2016. For more on DOIs, be sure to check out ATPE’s DOI resource page here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 24, 2016

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of the education news from Texas and Washington, D.C.:


image2A group of ATPE state officers and employees were in the nation’s capital this week for business on Capitol Hill. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended numerous meetings, along with ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists at the firm of Arnold & Porter.

The ATPE representatives’ busy agenda this week included meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation and their staffs, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Education. Topics of discussion included the ongoing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and legislation to improve Social Security benefits for educators. ATPE’s team also attended a hearing of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce yesterday. Read more in today’s blog post from Kate Kuhlmann.


The Commissioner of Education this week recognized a group of eight school districts that are among the first to adopt and submit their plans to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to become Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law, passed in 2015, allows certain acceptably-rated school districts to adopt innovation plans and exempt themselves from various education laws. ATPE has created a DOI resource page to assist educators and parents in districts that may be considering these new regulatory exemptions. TEA also announced its creation of a website to track which districts have become DOIs with links to their innovation plans. Learn more in our DOI blog post from yesterday.


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

With the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability approaching its last meeting, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) want to hear from stakeholders before recommendations are made to the 85th Legislature on student testing and accountability systems. SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich recently announced the availability of a public survey on testing and related issues. The SBOE survey remains open through Thursday, June 30, and we encourage you to share your valuable input. Click here to learn more and access the SBOE survey.


Here’s a look at ATPE’s week in Washington in pictures. (Click each photo to view a larger version.)

image1

Cory Colby, Kate Kuhlmann, Gary Godsey, and Julleen Bottoms on Capitol Hill

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ATPE meets with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX)

ESSA hearing

Attending a House committee on ESSA implementation featuring U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

 

Julleen and Gary at hearing

Julleen Bottoms and Gary Godsey at the meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Cory and Julleen at Cornyn office

Cory Colby and Julleen Bottoms at the office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

DOE

Kuhlmann, Bottoms, Colby, and Godsey at the U.S. Department of Education

IMG_2729_WILLIAMS

ATPE meets with Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX)