Category Archives: Legislative Update

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 14, 2020

Whether you started school or not this week, nearly everyone is switching into back-to-school mode. Unwind and stay up-to-date with this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Gov. Abbott speaks in El Paso, August 13, 2020. (Source)

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Saturday, August 8, Gov. Greg Abbott renewed the COVID-19 disaster declaration for the state of Texas. The declaration continues many of the special provisions, funding mechanisms, and waivers that have helped Texans get through the pandemic. Abbott traveled to Beaumont, Victoria, Lubbock, and El Paso this week to speak about COVID-19. He stressed remaining vigilant in best practices to avoid contracting COVID-19, said that bars were hot-spots and the state would need to meet certain metrics before they could reopen, and added that the state is investigating its high test positivity rate. With regard to schools, Abbott reiterated that it is up to school districts to provide remote, in-person, or hybrid models under the flexibilities (and limitations) offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

ATPE sent a letter to all Texas superintendents this week that included recommendations for how to respond to COVID-19, based on the communications ATPE has received from its membership. These recommendations include implementing a process to consider and make accommodations for staff health concerns; granting requested contract releases or refraining from filing complaints with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) if a staff member resigns due to health concerns that cannot be accommodated; and providing paid leave for staff members who are ordered to quarantine.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was featured in an article by the Texas Signal this week on the confusion that has surrounded a safe school reopening. With an order to open schools but details left up to local decision-makers, educators have gotten lost in the mix of constantly changing messages and guidelines. Wiggins said, “It is a tough situation for people who have dedicated their lives to serving children. In some cases, parents will have a choice for their kids to receive remote instruction, but educators don’t get that choice. Confusion doesn’t inspire confidence.”

The ATPE COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page has frequently-updated answers to common questions from educators. Also be sure to check out ATPE’s recent legal webinar on COVID-19 with explanations of many issues facing educators during the pandemic. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues.


ELECTION UPDATE: State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) was ceremonially sworn into office this week after formally taking the oath two weeks ago. Eckhardt will serve out the remainder of the term left vacant by former Sen. Kirk Watson through 2022. Meanwhile, a potential shakeup is brewing in Senate District (SD) 30 in North Texas. State Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) is expected to be promoted to the U.S. Congress, creating a vacancy for his Texas Senate seat that is drawing interest from many candidates, including some members of the Texas House of Representatives. This sets up a unique dilemma surrounding the mathematical majority in the chamber and the election of a new House Speaker in January.

In national news this week, Joe Biden selected his former presidential rival and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Harris is the first African-American woman and person of Asian-American descent in U.S. history to appear on a major political party’s presidential ticket, and was among the first in the Democratic presidential primary to call for a raise for teachers.

Finally, the U.S. Census is underway and will have a significant impact on how much power Texas holds in Congress. Read more about what’s at stake, as well as the rest of this week’s election news, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


ATPE Vice President Karen Hames participated in a virtual forum hosted by CBS Austin.

ATPE members have been speaking up for their students and fellow colleagues all over Texas this week! ATPE State Vice President and veteran middle school teacher Karen Hames was featured in a statewide virtual forum hosted by CBS Austin this week. During the Wednesday evening broadcast, Hames detailed how her school is approaching in-service days and the school year. She provided advice to parents as they begin school in a completely different environment, saying that a parent’s encouragement during virtual learning is “incalculable.”

ATPE member Myra Rodriguez-Berrones took part in a Q&A panel hosted by Sen. Zaffirini.

Zapata ISD Special Services Teacher and ATPE Member Myra Rodriguez-Berrones also participated in “Back to School? Your Questions Answered,” a Q&A panel hosted by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) on Wednesday. Berrones has spent 20 years serving children with special needs and the hard of hearing in Zapata ISD, and shared her thoughts on serving children with special needs in the COVID environment. Berrones also shared tips for engaging children at home, as well as increasing participation for parents of English learners. The panel included representatives from the Texas Education Agency, as well as speakers representing administrators, counselors, and school nurses. You can watch the full Q&A session here.


The Texas Senate Finance Committee released its interim report to the 87th legislature last week. The report comes at a time when committees in both chambers of the Texas legislature have not been able to meet for interim hearings due to COVID-19 concerns and closures. Having just received guidance not too long ago on how to conduct interim business amid the pandemic, many Texas House committees have now posted “formal requests for information” on their websites to gain information without holding a formal public hearing in person. Read more about the Senate Finance Committee report and the House requests for information in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Communication is key in every relationship. That’s why ATPE has partnered with several other education organizations to develop a public online toolkit with tips and suggestions that parents and educators can use during the challenges of virtual instruction. Use ATPE’s open submission form to submit tips from either a parent or educator perspective for classroom engagement, parent and student communication, and more!


The Texas Education Agency updated nearly all of its COVID-19 resources this week, just as some school districts across the state opened for in-person and remote instruction. The agency answered new questions regarding full-day pre-K requirements and funding, the optional and extended transition periods in the beginning of the year, and attendance and enrollment. TEA also created a new “Education Rights and Responsibilities” document for families that outlines what options for instruction and reminds parents of attendance requirements. Districts were notified this week of free training provided by OnRamps for those who are teaching in distance or hybrid learning environments. Additionally, as in the spring, districts will be required to report “crisis codes” for students based on whether the student is receiving in-person, remote synchronous, or remote asynchronous instruction. Lastly, the agency’s resources on educator preparation remind  certification candidates that, under the Governor’s disaster declaration, TEA can reduce face-to-face requirements by 20%. Similarly, the agency is advising educator preparation programs to process probationary certificates for candidates who cannot meet testing requirements (under the Governor’s waiver) as quickly as possible.

Senate Finance releases first interim report as the House ramps up its committee work

On Friday, the Senate Finance committee released its interim report containing recommendations for the 87th Texas Legislature set to convene in Jan. 2021. The report touched on proposed reforms to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas and the Permanent School Fund (PSF), which helps fund public schools in Texas.

Each committee in the Texas Legislature spends the time between legislative sessions — the “interim” — writing a report to hand off to that committee’s future self when the next session begins. The subject matter of the interim report is determined by interim committee charges handed out by the lieutenant governor in the Senate and the speaker in the House. The charges generally include monitoring major legislation passed in the prior legislative session, committee recommendations on how to address notable developments since session that fall under the committee’s jurisdiction, and proposals for additional legislation to consider in the upcoming legislative session.

Typically a committee’s interim report is preceded by one or more interim hearings on the committee’s assigned charges, but due the realities of COVID-19 have kept committees from holding regular hearings this year. On July 16, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen informed House committee chairs of three COVID-compliant options for conducting interim business. In keeping with those options, house committees have recently put out calls to the public for written comments, which the committee will consider prior to releasing its report. However, seeking public input is not a prerequisite to producing an interim report, and some committees may not request any such feedback.

The Senate Finance Committee was first out of the gate this cycle to release its interim report. In it, the committee studied the management, structure, and investments of the state’s major trust funds. At a combined nearly $200 billion, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ (TRS) pension fund and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) are among the state’s largest trust funds, and the report touched on each. The report also highlighted the impact the economic recession driven by COVID-19 has made on the state’s investment funds across the board.

Legislators passed Senate Bill (SB) 12 last session, a significant reform bill aimed at increasing contributions to the TRS pension fund in order to reduce its funding period from 87 years to 29 years and qualify for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The Senate Finance committee’s interim report mentions that the need to serve 1.6 million retirees necessitates a significant staff size, which in turn requires substantial office space for TRS. The agency is currently seeking a long-term solution for its space needs.

The committee report also noted that the 15-member State Board of Education (SBOE) and the 5-member School Land Board (SLB) each control a portion of the PSF. The SBOE manages $34 billion in the fund’s investment portfolio, while the SLB manages $7.1 billion in real estate owned by the PSF. Each entity has the authority to transfer money to the Available School Fund (ASF), which provides money to local districts, but the SLB has usually routed its portion through the SBOE. This separation became a political issue last session. Legislators unsuccessfully attempted to pass a bill that would have created a combined management structure, settling instead on a bill that required the SLB and SBOE to hold formal meetings in order to work together.

The recommendations in the Senate Finance report relevant to TRS and the PSF include the following:

  • Consider reforms to statutory limits on TRS investments in real estate to increase transparency in any future real estate investments by the TRS Pension Trust Fund.
  • Evaluate the efficiency of the current governance and investment structure of the PSF and consider alternative structures to reduce costs and streamline transfers to the ASF.
  • Continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on markets and major state investment funds. Look for ways to further insulate the state from future global pandemics or similar events.

Despite Pre-K through 12th grade public education funding representing over one-third of the total Texas budget, public education is not significantly addressed, outside of the limited areas mentioned above, in the Senate Finance Committee’s report.

The following other legislative committees have posted notice for formal requests for information directly related to public education:

The House Pensions/Investments/Financial Services committee is requesting information due by August 28, 2020, related to a few of that committee’s interim charges. Interim Charge 2 is to monitor TRS actions in implementing high-deductible regional healthcare plans for certain school districts interested in providing alternatives to the current TRS-ActiveCare options. Interim Charge 4, which is a joint charge with the House Appropriations committee, is to review and evaluate the actuarial soundness of the Employees Retirement System and TRS pension funds; examine the cost of and potential strategies for achieving and maintaining the actuarial soundness of the funds; examine the effect the unfunded liabilities could have on the state’s credit; and examine the state’s investment policies and practices, including investment objectives, targets, disclosure policies, and transparency. Interim Charge 5 is to monitor the State Auditor’s review of agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction.

The House Higher Education committee is also requesting information, due by September 1, 2020, on five interim charges, which cover a variety of topics including online coursework and degrees, reviewing progress towards 60x30TX goals, and higher education infrastructure.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on Article III has issued a formal request for information, due by September 30, 2020. The subcommittee will address one interim charge specifically related to K-12 education, which is to evaluate the ongoing costs associated with implementing the provisions of last year’s school finance and reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3. In addition to this charge, the committee will also seek information related to oversight of the implementation of education-related legislation and spending, as well as higher-education funding equity and efficiency.

The House Ways and Means committee is requesting information due by September 14, 2020, on a variety of charges, one of which is to study and consider possible methods of providing tax relief, including potential sources of revenue that may be used to reduce or eliminate school district maintenance and operations property tax rates.

The House Elections committee has requested information due by September 18, 2020, on its interim charges, which include oversight of elections bills passed by the 86th legislature last year, making recommendations for best practices for conducting an election during a declared disaster, and evaluating election laws with the purpose of strengthening voter integrity and fair elections. The charges also include a review of the state’s curbside voting protocols, which are increasingly being utilized due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Senate has not released ways for other committees to conduct interim business. As of now, the Senate Health and Human Services committee has a hearing scheduled for September 9, 2020, at 9:00 a.m.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on additional interim committee work between now and the end of the year.

Wrapping up the July TRS board meeting

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Board of Trustees met virtually last week on Wednesday through Friday, July 15-17, for its regular board meeting. In addition to other items, the board discussed the current financial market, TRS-Care and ActiveCare, the fiscal year 2021 budget and highlights of the preliminary legislative appropriations request, and updated considerations on TRS office space.

The official numbers for the trust fund through March 31 were presented to the board, but it was noted that those numbers are at this point significantly out of date. Staff went on to report that the market (as gauged by the S&P 500) has rebounded to approximately January 2020 levels, and they indicated that the TRS fund has tracked the market similarly. The benefit of the quick recovery of fund assets is that only a relatively small amount of assets had to be sold while prices were down to cover the cost of pension benefits paid out over that time frame. Longer recovery periods are by comparison much more detrimental to the fund because the period in which assets have to be sold at a reduced price, effectively locking in losses, is much longer.

TRS Board Presentation: S&P 500 chart

While the stock market and the TRS pension fund are relatively unscathed by the coronavirus pandemic for the moment, the state budget that relies largely on sales tax receipts and oil and gas severance taxes is in much worse shape. Due to this reality, state leaders called on all state agencies to cut their fiscal year 2021 budgets. Although the retirement system’s operational expenses are paid out of the pension fund itself and not out of the state’s general revenue, TRS still undertook the budget trimming exercise.

TRS staff presented the board with a proposed operational budget of $211 million for fiscal year (FY) 2021. This represents a 9% decrease from the FY21 target budget and a 6% decrease from the FY20 operational budget, which was $225 million. As part of the cost saving measures, TRS has instituted a hiring freeze through 2020 and a salary freeze through FY21. The agency has also cut the majority of outsourced funding going to vendors previously working on the data systems project dubbed TEAMS. The project will continue with the current number of in-house employees. TRS is also abandoning the effort to set completion dates on TEAMS benchmarks, as those dates have proven to be unrealistic and problematic.

In addition to next year’s budget, TRS staff also updated the board on the draft legislative appropriations request (LAR) the agency will present to lawmakers during the next legislative session. The agency’s request will cover fiscal years 2022 and 2023. The request will ask for specific funding to cover the state’s share of healthcare and pension costs, in addition to approval of the agency’s projected operational budget. TRS plans to ask for funding in the agency’s LAR based on the increased state contributions to pensions and retiree healthcare that legislators ordered during the last session and considering standard payroll growth assumptions for teacher salaries.

The agency’s LAR will also include a request for funding for 25 additional employees, or what are referred to as “Full-Time Equivalents” (FTEs). TRS staff had internally requested an additional 167 FTEs: 57 for the Investment Management Division (IMD) and 110 for the Benefits division. The 25 new FTEs in the agency’s LAR will go to IMD as a part of a “growing the fleet” initiative. This initiative aims to save the pension fund money by reducing outsourced costs in a greater amount than the cost of the new salaries. The Benefits division will have no new FTEs included in the upcoming LAR.

Over the last 18 months, space planning has become a constant conversation at the TRS board level as issues over the short term plans to lease space for housing the IMD staff have transitioned into a broader conversation on longer-term space needs for all staff. TRS continues to move forward with the goal of having a solution for its long-term office space needs in place by 2025. A major priority of that push is to house all TRS employees in the same location and discontinue the practice of housing the IMD staff in separate leased space.

As with everything, the current coronavirus has impacted the discussion around TRS space planning. With declining real estate prices and new potential spaces opening up in downtown Austin, the agency has paused its negotiations to renew its lease at 816 Congress so as to assess if there are better options available. Unfortunately, while the current market may present an opportunity for savings as a tenant, it is creating a more challenging environment in which to sublet the TRS space in Austin’s new Indeed Tower. The COVID-19 pandemic also has forced the agency to utilize remote working for a significant number of its staff for an extended time frame. Due to this change, TRS has revised its assumptions going forward on the percentage of staff who can work from home on a daily basis from 5% up to 25%. This change decreases TRS’s overall space requirements but also highlights a need for more collaborative space for staff who may usually work outside the office to come in and use. This also opens up the possibility that, with significant renovations, the agency’s current Red River location could house all TRS employees on a longer-term basis. Such renovations might not be any less expensive than simply relocating the agency to a new location outside of downtown Austin.

Finally, nominations for an active member seat on the TRS board of trustees are currently underway. The nomination period began June 15 and will continue through January 25, 2021. Assuming there are more than three successful nominees, an election will be held from March 15 to May 5, 2021. The top three vote-earners from that election will be reported to the governor, who will appoint the new board member from among those three candidates. ATPE members interested in running for this TRS board position can contact the ATPE Government Relations team for more information.

Access board documents and archived video of the July meeting here on the TRS website. The next TRS board meeting will be held in September.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 8, 2020

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Hardworking educators have been in the spotlight this week, but soon the attention will shift to graduating seniors. Who is ready for virtual graduation ceremonies from home and honking parades of whooping high school seniors down the street? We are excited for the good news this week that teachers and students can celebrate their accomplishments (safely). Here is more of this week’s education news from the ATPE lobby team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: For a comprehensive look at the intersection of COVID-19 and education, from the first major event cancellation to the road ahead, ATPE’s lobbyists have compiled a new summary this week of the legislative and regulatory developments since the crisis began. Read the coronavirus recap in this May 8 blog post.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the types of businesses that can reopen in his phased plan to reopen Texas. Today, salons, barbershops, and pools will join malls, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, museums, and libraries as those that can reopen their doors to limited numbers of customers. This development is a change from Abbott’s previous declaration that the state would wait two weeks before expanding which businesses can open. It is still expected that gyms, office buildings, and non-essential manufacturing facilities will open (with occupancy limitations) on May 18. Abbott also modified his previous order by allowing weddings with social distancing guidelines.

Commissioner Morath speaks at Gov. Abbott’s press conference, May 5, 2020.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath joined Abbott at his press conference Tuesday to talk about graduation ceremonies. Under Abbott’s orders, graduation ceremonies and grade promotion ceremonies must be approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and adhere to certain stipulations. Outdoor ceremonies are allowed in rural counties between May 15 and May 31, and only with social distancing protocols in place. On or after June 1, outdoor ceremonies will be allowed in any Texas county. TEA has also suggested other options such as hybrid ceremonies (where students are video-recorded receiving their diplomas one-by-one and these videos are stitched together for a virtual ceremony), all-virtual ceremonies, and vehicle-based parades and drive-in ceremonies. Perhaps you’ve heard (literally) of some districts already honoring their seniors through “honk lines” or seen yard signs popping up to celebrate graduating seniors. TEA has provided guidance on graduation ceremonies here.

Also this week, TEA updated its main coronavirus resource page on nearly every topic and added new superintendent debriefs. Among many other things, TEA has provided updates to the protocol for employees who are accessing school buildings, the FAQ on optional end-of-year assessments (which will NOT be used for accountability), and the educator certification and preparation FAQ (including answers to questions about probationary certificates, rescheduling cancelled tests, and continuing professional education requirements for educators), plus new guidance on school calendars and start dates for this fall. (Read more on this topic below.)

Yesterday, Commissioner Morath sent a response to ATPE’s April 2 letter asking for a statewide suspension of educator appraisals for the 2019-20 school year due to challenges associated with COVID-19. In his reply, Morath declined to issue a statewide order and stated that, ”The decision to pursue waivers of appraisal requirements is strictly a local decision.” ATPE has yet to receive a response to our joint letter with 17 other organizations regarding a moratorium on costly charter school expansion during the pandemic.

For more resources related to the pandemic, visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page, and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


Last week, we reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has allocated $180 million of the funding approved by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act for private school vouchers. In response, ATPE sent a letter in opposition of this development to every member of the Texas congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R). In particular, ATPE asked for strong congressional oversight of this use of funds and for continued diligence regarding federal funding for vouchers in any future legislation passed by Congress.

At the state level, the Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, sent a letter this week to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to address recent suggestions made by Republican members of the Texas Senate Education Committee that the state should try to expand virtual school options in Texas, despite the data showing that virtual schools do not perform as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.


ELECTION UPDATE: With all the coronavirus news, it’s easy to forget that another election is slowly creeping up on us. On July 14, Texans in various parts of the state will be able to vote in primary runoff elections to choose which candidates will be on the general election ballot this November.

The runoff elections were originally scheduled for May 26, but were postponed by Gov. Abbott over concerns about the safety of voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the election has been postponed, many of the deadlines leading up to it have also been shifted. For example, the deadline for registering to vote in time to participate in the runoff elections is now June 15, 2020. Check out this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a list of important deadlines as we get closer to voting time.


One of the biggest questions on educators’ minds right now is what the return to school in the fall will look like. The variety in plans being contemplated by school districts for the 2020-21 school year was the topic of a recent article from the Texas Tribune, which ATPE republished here on our our Teach the Vote blog this week. Also this week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided updated guidance on start date and calendar changes to account for student learning loss and a potential resurgence in virus cases this fall.

In particular, the agency has suggested that districts can become Districts of Innovation (DOI) or add an amendment to their existing DOI plans to allow for an exemption from the law preventing schools from starting earlier than the fourth Monday in August. This exemption is already the most popular one among DOIs, as many districts prefer to start their school year earlier, insert more breaks throughout the year, and end the year later. TEA suggests that this format of an “intersessional” calendar could help to build in breaks that may be used for remediation of students who have fallen into a steep loss of learning on the “COVID slide.”

Other districts may choose to implement a year-round school calendar, which in many ways is easier than obtaining DOI approval. Under this route, districts need only obtain board approval for a new academic calendar and designation as a year-round system, and they must notify their Education Service Center PEIMS coordinator of their intent to operate through a year-round system.

TEA has also suggested using the flexibility in additional school days for elementary students as provided by House Bill (HB) 3 passed in 2019. HB 3 adds half-day formula funding for school systems that want to add up to 30 instructional days beyond the minimum of 180 days, but only for grades PK-5 and only after September 1, 2020.

Related: The COVID-19 pandemic has already dealt an enormous economic blow to our state, resulting in declining state revenue from oil and gas as well as sales taxes. This has many educators worrying about budget cuts next year. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter discussed the financial uncertainty with KXAN this week in this news story about how school districts in Central Texas are preparing for the future.


When SXSW EDU was abruptly cancelled back in March 2020, many in the education community were disappointed to miss the week-long learning event in Austin, Texas. Since then, SXSW EDU has gone virtual. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended this week’s virtual keynote address on growth mindset in education  The presentation, entitled “A Science of Human Motivation for the Next Decade,” is viewable here. Read Chevalier’s blog post about the session here.


ATPE member Morgan Castillo received an H-E-B Excellence in Education Teaching Leadership Award.

This week, ATPE member Morgan Castillo of Woodgate Intermediate School in Midway ISD received an H-E-B Excellence in Education Teaching Leadership Award. This award honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. Castillo received a $10,000 award for herself and a $10,000 grant for her school. She was one of eight educator winners announced this week and chosen from a group of 40 finalists who received smaller cash awards earlier this year. Castillo and the other award recipients were recognized Tuesday during a virtual “Toast to Texas Teachers” organized by the #TeachersCan initiative as part of several Teacher Appreciation Week festivities.

ATPE has been featuring our “Work from Home Classroom Makeover Contest” during Teacher Appreciation Week. Visit ATPE’s Facebook page to view the entries and cast a vote for your favorite between now and May 13. Winners will be announced on May 15.

Recapping education changes due to the coronavirus

Two months have passed since Austin’s cancellation of the popular South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival became national news as one of the first major events in the country called off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also one of the first developments that made many of us wonder how serious the novel coronavirus was. As school districts embarked on their spring breaks, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) began to send out notices advising deep cleaning of school facilities, heightened hygiene practices, and protocols for students and families who might be traveling on vacation. In an interview with the Texas Tribune on March 6, 2020, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath jokingly advised students not to go around licking doorknobs.

Since this preliminary incubation phase (to borrow a term from the virus world), we’ve witnessed a barrage of press conferences, executive orders closing school facilities through the end of the school year, and a triage-like approach to maintaining educational services. New information surfaces daily amid an ever-developing curve of cases, while educators work speedily to learn and implement effective distance learning methods. To help you navigate everything that has happened, the ATPE lobby team offers a recap of the coronavirus-related education developments so far in this blog post, broken down into these categories:


State action in response to the pandemic

On March 13, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of public disaster in Texas — the same day President Donald Trump declared a national state of emergency. At the time, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath erred on the side of local control in letting school districts decide whether or not they wanted to extend their spring breaks or temporarily close down their facilities. Among many worries, school administrators struggled with how they would feed students who relied on school meals.

At a time when over half of Texas school districts had closed and under pressure from both Democratic and Republican legislators, Gov. Abbott agreed on March 16 to cancel this year’s administration of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests. The College Board also cancelled March and May test administrations and has since announced plans to offer the SAT test starting in August. The College Board also is offering online Advanced Placement (AP) exams.

Around the time of these events, TEA launched a new section of its website containing FAQs and guidance aiming to provide some degree of certainty to educators. This site has grown to include links to other web pages that offer meal locations for students and home learning resources. ATPE also launched its own Coronavirus FAQ and Resources web page for educators in early March.

Gov. Abbott explained a new coronavirus executive order during a press conference with other state leaders, March 31, 2020.

On March 19, Gov. Abbott announced the physical closure of schools, gyms, bars, and restaurants through April 3, which included all Texas public and private K-12 and higher education institutions. This order was extended by another month on March 31, when Abbott issued a more restrictive executive order that closed school buildings across Texas until May 4. The order also followed federal guidelines for “essential workers.” Included within the federal definition of essential workers were “Educators supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions.” TEA reminded school officials that continued funding during closure of their campuses would be dependent on students receiving instructional support even when they are unable to physically attend school.

On April 17, the governor extended school facility closures through the end of the academic year and announced preliminary plans for reopening Texas in gradual phases. While sharing designs for reopening various businesses, Abbott stated that schools would remain physically closed through the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, although teachers could still access school buildings in order to carry out their duties (including facilitating distance learning). TEA quickly issued its guidance on entering school buildings for more information.

On April 27, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a phased plan to reopen Texas businesses, starting May 1 with limited capacity at malls, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, museums, and libraries. Establishments are currently limited to 25% occupancy, although those in counties with five or fewer confirmed COVID-19 cases are allowed up to 50% occupancy. Abbott stated that after two weeks, if there has not been a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, the state will move into its next phase, loosening restrictions and opening hair salons, barbershops, gyms, and bars. However, Abbott on May 5 announced that wedding venues, salons, barbershops, and pools may reopen on May 8, with gyms being allowed to open with reduced occupancy on May 18. The state has yet to allow bars to reopen.

State regulatory entities such as the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), State Board of Education (SBOE), and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) have moved to online meeting platforms to continue fulfilling their duties. The SBOE met via video-conference in mid-April to take up an abbreviated agenda, which included a discussion of funding concerns related to the pandemic. The TRS Board of Trustees also met in mid-April for a truncated online meeting that included a discussion of delaying office space changes until the real estate market stabilizes. TRS was one of the first state bodies to change its practices at the beginning of the pandemic by restricting in-person visits and moving its staff to a tele-working environment. The SBEC board met May 1 to discuss a variety of issues, including the impact of COVID-19 on current and future educators.

Elections have also been affected by the pandemic. Most local elections, including a number of school board races around the state, originally slated for May 2, 2020, were postponed to November. The runoff elections for the Texas primaries have also been postponed from May to July 14, 2020.


Federal action in response to the pandemic

On March 13, President Trump declared a national state of emergency. Five days later, he signed into law the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which was the second coronavirus-related aid bill passed by Congress. (The first coronavirus bill signed by the president was a supplemental appropriations package that sent $8.3 billion to federal agencies to promote their work in combating the developing coronavirus crisis in America.) The higher profile FFCRA included, among other provisions, expanded paid sick/family leave and authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to waive federal provisions regarding the National School Lunch Program, allowing schools to continue providing food service to qualifying students while they are not on campus. Read ATPE’s information about the FFCRA here.

On March 27, Congress passed and the president signed a third coronavirus aid package. The $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act contains $13.5 billion in funding for K-12 education, plus additional amounts for child nutrition and child care. The bill also included temporary deferment on payments and interest for federal student loans and  a cash assistance program, which has begun to deliver one-time direct payments to qualifying individuals and families. Read ATPE’s information about the CARES Act relief for individuals here.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos spoke at a White House press conference in March 2020.

The CARES Act also authorized the U.S. Secretary of Education to provide flexibility to states in the form of waivers of various federal laws, such as student testing and accountability requirements. CARES also provides $3 billion in relief through the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund. Read more about the new funding available to Texas under this provision in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The additional $13.5 billion in dedicated education funding under the CARES Act has yet to be distributed.

On April 27, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that it will use some of the funding approved by Congress through the CARES Act for competitive grants to states that may use the money for private school vouchers. The $180 million “Rethink K-12 Education Models” or “REM” grant would be available for implementation of voucher programs, statewide virtual learning, or other models of remote learning. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a vocal proponent of vouchers, had previously said her department would urge Congress to approve a form of voucher termed a “microgrant,” but many lawmakers were surprised by her decision to preemptively use the CARES Act funding, intended to provide coronavirus relief, in this manner. Read more about the voucher proposal in this blog post from the ATPE lobby team. Working with our federal lobby team in Washington, D.C., ATPE continues to address this issue with Texas’ Congressional delegation.

A fourth coronavirus aid package was approved by Congress and signed by the president on April 24. Known as the “Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act,” this $484 billion dollar package is focused on loans for small businesses, with other much smaller pots of money for hospitals and increased virus testing. More federal legislation is anticipated in the coming months, which ATPE hopes will include additional funding related to public education.


Waivers are everywhere

At both the state and federal level, waivers have been the preferred method of responding to the challenges facing education during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Waivers are quick, easy, and in some cases can provide automatic relief from mandates that may make an already tough situation tougher. For instance, thanks to a waiver granted to Texas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, parents can pick up meals from ISDs for their children without the children being present. Gov. Abbott also issued several waivers related to educator preparation that will assist candidates in moving forward with their careers while testing centers are closed. More long-term fixes such as funding take longer to roll out, and remedies that require state legislation will have to wait until Texas’ next legislative session in 2021, absent a special session being called by the governor.

TEA has compiled a list of all state and federal waivers. Some waivers don’t require any action by school districts or individuals, as they apply automatically. Others require documentation. For instance, in order to avoid being penalized financially for missed school days, districts must attest that they are providing off-campus instruction to the best of their ability and submit supporting documentation. Additionally, districts must proactively request to waive educator, principal, and administrator appraisals. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote a letter to Commissioner Morath asking for statewide action to suspend appraisals this year for all districts. (See ATPE’s press release here.)

Among the most popular statewide waivers is the assessment and accountability waiver, provided first by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and subsequently (in a streamlined fashion) as part of the CARES Act. Texas received approval from ED that freed our state from student assessment and accountability requirements under federal law. As a result, all districts will officially receive a rating of “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for the 2019-20 school year, and the list of schools previously identified for improvement will essentially freeze in place.

The federal government is also offering a spending flexibility waiver that allows states to move money around as they anticipate new expenditures and potential shortfalls. For instance, under this waiver, school districts could carry over as much Title I money from this school year to the next as necessary, spend more Title IV money on technology infrastructure, spend federal funds over a longer period of time, and take advantage of a broader definition of professional development that allows funds to be used on remote instruction training. On April 10, Texas received approval from ED for these waivers and two other waivers that will allow districts to spend federal funds more readily.

Secretary DeVos announced on April 27 that ED would not seek additional waiver authority from Congress for the Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) and Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). Additionally, the Department is not requesting further waiver authority from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), but it is requesting various waivers under other federal education statutes such as the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, the IDEA, and the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act that mostly pertain to flexibility in using federal funds. The CARES Act required DeVos to notify Congress 30 days after its passage on any additional requests for waiver authority.


Changes to educators’ work

COVID-19 continues to impact educators’ work lives. ATPE’s lobbyists previously reported on uncertainty around educator preparation and certification procedures during the pandemic since certification tests were suspended through April 30, 2020. TEA has posted information about certification testing and announced that out-of-state educators who are on a one-year certificate will receive an automatic one-year extension. Solving this issue for those in other situations will likely require rulemaking by SBEC and potential legislation during the next legislative session.

TEA’s educator support page features guidance for individuals pursuing educator certification, including details on a waiver from Gov. Abbott that allows certain educator certification candidates to apply for a one-year probationary certificate. If they haven’t already, these candidates will have to complete the fingerprinting process, which — while safer for students — will also create some hiccups as many fingerprinting locations are closed or offering limited appointments. Certification candidates will also have to pay the probationary certificate fee now, plus the standard certificate fee later on when they pass the required examinations. Additionally, candidates must meet all requirements for initial certification, which are outlined in the Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 230, Subchapter B, General Requirements (230.11), with the exception of passing the certification exam. These requirements include having a bachelor’s degree and submitting to a criminal history review. Out-of-state educators who are on a one-year certificate will receive an automatic one-year extension.

On April 2, ATPE sent a letter to Commissioner Morath asking for a statewide suspension of educator appraisals for the 2019-20 school year in light of the closure of school facilities and resulting disruptions to normal classroom instructional practices. Citing the inability to conduct classroom observations, fears of adverse employment actions, and the high stakes attached to teacher evaluations, ATPE urged the commissioner to issue a statewide moratorium rather than allowing evaluations to be conducted in an inconsistent manner at each district’s discretion.

Commissioner Morath wrote a response to our letter on April 23, which was not transmitted to ATPE until May 7. In his reply, Morath declined to issue a statewide order, noting that TEA has offered schools districts opportunities to apply for waivers of certain requirements pertaining to evaluations. TEA posted guidance documents in late April advising that school districts may apply for waivers of educator evaluation requirements found in Sections 21.351, 21.352, 21.354 and 21.3541 of the Texas Education Code, plus related commissioner’s rules in Title 19, Chapter 150 of the Texas Administrative Code, if the districts find that they are unable to complete aspects of the appraisal process.”The decision to pursue waivers of appraisal requirements is strictly a local decision,” the commissioner wrote in his letter to ATPE.

School districts around the state have taken varying approaches to the issue of evaluating their staff during this crisis, and ATPE maintains that educator appraisals conducted in an incomplete or truncated manner are unlikely to yield fair and valid results under current conditions.


The Texas budget

On April 7, 2020, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sat down (virtually) with Texas Tribune Executive Editor Ross Ramsey, to confirm that Texas is in a recession. Hegar said that Texas will be able to meet current budget obligations through August 31, 2021, despite the recession.

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar was interviewed by the Texas Tribune, April 7, 2020.

On May 1, Hegar announced that state sales tax revenue totaled $2.58 billion in April, which is 9.3 percent less than the $2.8 billion brought in by the state in April 2019, the steepest decline since January 2010. In the summer, Hegar will release an updated revenue estimate that will likely be several billion dollars less. Because the state pumped billions into education during the last legislative session, educators worry that the continued funding commitment might be hard to maintain.

In light of these budget concerns, ATPE joined 17 other organizations calling on Commissioner Morath to place a moratorium on charter school expansion during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Because charters cannot levy taxes, the state picks up the tab in order to fully fund every charter school while reducing the amount of funding available to local school districts. ATPE believes the expansion of charter enrollment during a pandemic with extremely uncertain financial outcomes would be fiscally irresponsible. In fact, the 94 charter expansion amendments currently on file with TEA could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved, money that may be sorely needed to shore up budgets of existing public schools across the state.


The road ahead

What lies ahead for Texas education is murky. Many graduation ceremonies this spring will be virtual, socially distanced, and involve a lot of honking car processionals. We still don’t know what a return to school in the fall will look like, or even if there will be a physical return at all should the virus rebound. Will students start back to school earlier in the summer? Will social distancing guidelines still be in place? Will schools implement extended school days or staggered instruction?

With each new piece of guidance or set of rules and policies that agencies and bodies such as TEA, SBEC, SBOE, and TRS develop, we get a little bit more clarity. Rest assured, the ATPE lobby team is involved in this process to make sure the voices of public educators are heard. As developments occur, check ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources and watch for updates here on Teach the Vote and via our @TeachtheVote Twitter account.

One thing we know for sure is that educators are resilient and abundantly caring individuals, which is why each Friday we are featuring a positive educator story in our “Week in Review” blog post. here on Teach the Vote. Thank you to all educators who are still brightening their students’ days, all while taking care of their own needs and the needs of their families. #TeachersCan

Share how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your stories, best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis.

Special Texas House runoff election results for Jan. 28, 2020

Voters in three Texas House districts hit the polls on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020, to elect their new state representatives. The special runoff elections in Ft. Bend County’s House District (HD) 28, HD 100 in Dallas, and Houston’s HD 148 were needed after those three state representatives resigned their seats late last year. No candidate earned enough votes in the original special elections on Nov. 5, 2019, to win any of these House seats outright. The winner in each of tonight’s runoffs will serve out the remainder of the current term of office, ending just prior to the start of the next regular legislative session in 2021.

Here’s a look at the results of the three special election runoffs held tonight:

HD 28 Runoff:

This was a race to fill the seat previously held by former Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), who resigned in 2019 to become executive vice chancellor for health affairs for the University of Texas System. As reported on the Texas Secretary of State’s website, a total of 30,074 votes were cast in this highly publicized runoff, representing an impressive 20% of the registered voters in that district. This figure exceeded turnout in the original November special election and is believed to be higher than any other Texas House special election taking place since at least 1992.

  • Gary Gates (R) earned 58.05% of the vote to win the race. He is a real estate investor from Rosenberg.
  • Eliz Markowitz (D), an educator from Katy, received 41.95% of the vote.

HD 100 Runoff:

This seat was previously held by former Rep. Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) who resigned last fall after being elected Mayor of Dallas. Per the Texas Secretary of State’s website, only 2,479 voters weighed in on this all-Democratic runoff.

  • Lorraine Birabil (D) was declared the winner with 66.28% of the vote. She is an attorney from Dallas with a background in public policy.
  • James Armstrong, III (D) received 33.72% of the vote. Armstrong leads an affordable housing organization in Dallas.

HD 148 Runoff:

This race was to fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), who also resigned in 2019. The Texas Secretary of State’s website reported that 6,915 votes were cast in this special runoff election.

  • Anna Eastman (D) won with 65.47% of the vote. Eastman is a social worker who previously served on the Houston ISD board of trustees.
  • Luis LaRotta (R), a Navy veteran from Houston now working in the energy industry, earned 34.53% of the vote.

Barring a special session, it is unlikely that any of the winners of tonight’s runoff will have an opportunity to vote on legislation this year before their terms expire in Jan. 2021. However, all six of the candidates in the above runoffs are also vying for a full term in these same seats during the regular 2020 elections, meaning that their names will be on the ballot again in the Texas primary election that is only weeks away. The winners of tonight’s special election will now have the advantage of claiming incumbent status during the remainder of this 2020 election cycle. Be sure to check out their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote before the next elections on Super Tuesday in March 2020.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 17, 2020

As you slip into the three-day weekend and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, take a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have just over a month until the Texas primary election on March 3, 2020. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s most recent election-related blog post for the latest campaign finance insights and other tidbits. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in the Texas Tribune’s five-week crash course called “Teach Me How to Texas.” It’s free and fun! Click here to sign up.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

RELATED: If you live the Houston or Dallas area, don’t forget about the upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registered voters in those districts can vote in the runoff even they skipped the first special election back in November. Learn more about the special election candidates on our Resources page.


ATPE’s Monty Exter

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing on Monday regarding proposed new commissioner’s rules affecting expansion of charter schools in Texas. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter joined other education stakeholders, including school district leaders and parents, at the hearing to testify on proposed revisions to the charter performance framework and charter expansion amendment process. Their input focused on concerns about the potential for significant expansion of charter schools with little state oversight or consideration of the fiscal consequences or impact on students.

Specific points offered through the testimony included the following:

  • TEA does not consider proximity to existing campuses when approving new charter school campuses, which can lead to duplication, waste, and inefficiency. Existing school districts near the new charter campus retain fixed costs but receive less funding.
  • State law requires TEA to consider the impact on all students served by the Texas public school system when proposing rule changes like these. This includes the economic impact of a program serving only a small subset of students and the educational impact on students, especially if the local population is not large enough to support robust programming at both the existing school(s) and the added charter campus in the same location.
  • TEA already has approved more than 557,000 seats at charter schools, which exceeds the enrollment level on which the state’s budget is based. If all those seats were filled, it would cost the state more than $11 billion over a two-year period s and consume more than a quarter of the funding under the Foundation School Program. Moreover, this maximum approved enrollment capacity of 557,000 would grow even larger under the commissioner’s proposals.
  • The state’s performance framework should not reward charter operators for things like maintaining their status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is already required by law.
  • A charter operator should not be labeled “high quality” if its performance is based on excluding students with disabilities or filtering out other students who are harder to teach. Under federal law, TEA must ensure all public schools identify, enroll, and serve special education students.

ATPE joined more than a dozen other education advocacy groups in submitting formal written comments to the commissioner, as well. Click here and here to read the text of the proposed rule changes that were published in the Texas Register on Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, 2019, respectively.


Thank you to all ATPE members who took our very first “Your Voice” survey this winter. The results provided valuable insight into what our members’ top policy issues are, such as standardized testing, educator compensation and benefits, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Look for a blog post diving deeper into these issues on Teach the Vote next week.


On Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, President Donald Trump announced from the Oval Office that nine federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education (ED), would release new guidance regarding religious expression. In public schools specifically, the new guidance clarifies protections for students who want to pray or worship in school and eases access to federal funds for religious organizations that provide social services. The guidance also requires that, in order to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school districts must certify with their state agency that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students’ right to pray. Additionally, states must have a process in place to receive complaints against school districts regarding religious expression and must notify ED about such complaints.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students and teachers have a right to pray in public schools. However, while acting in their official capacities, teachers, administrators, and other school employees are not permitted to lead, encourage, or discourage students from participating in prayer. Read more about the new rules in this reporting by the Washington Post.


On Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 three Texas voters, the League of Women Voters, and the Move Texas Civic Fund filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Texas’s lack of online voter registration when residents update or renew their driver’s licenses online. Under The federal motor voter law allows for voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license, but in Texas, the law is only carried out in face-to-face interactions. This is the second iteration of the case, which was originally dismissed by a federal court because the plaintiff had become re-registered to vote before a verdict was reached and lost standing to sue. Should the plaintiffs ultimately win this latest case, Texas would have to allow online voter registration through the driver’s license process. Read more about the new case in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


As ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reported earlier today on our blog, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) has announced his appointment of Rep. Giovanni Capriglione to chair the powerful House Appropriations committee. Read more about the announcement here.


 

Breaking news: Capriglione appointed chairman of House Appropriations

Rep. Giovanni Capriglione

Today, state Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) was appointed chairman of the House Appropriations Committee by Speaker Dennis Bonnen. The appointment was made in the wake of former Chairman John Zerwas’s (R-Fulshear) retirement from the legislature. Rep. Capriglione will remain the chairman of the Appropriations Committee until the next legislative session, when a new speaker will be chosen and new committee assignments will be made.

Rep. Capriglione is a small business owner and has an extensive professional background in finance and investment. As part of their duties, the House Appropriations Committee deliberates on and approves the billions of dollars necessary to fund our Texas public schools. ATPE congratulates Rep. Capriglione on his appointment and wishes him well!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 10, 2020

Happy New Year! We hope your holiday break was filled with rest and relaxation. Please enjoy this week’s education update from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have less than two months until the Texas primary election on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins shares the latest election news, including new endorsements and presidential race updates, in this blog post. Don’t forget that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

The upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in the Houston and Dallas areas is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2020. The seats are Texas House District 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registration to vote in these elections closed on Dec. 29, 2019. Remember that as long as you are a registered voter residing in one of these districts, you can vote in the upcoming runoff even if you missed out on voting in this election back in Nov. 2019. Since voter turnout is typically even lower for special elections and runoffs, these House races could be decided by a very small group of voters. Make sure you are among them!

ATPE joins our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition in thanking educators for their involvement and helping us spread our “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) messages around the state. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many election resources available at TexasEducatorsVote.com and prepare to be an informed voter in 2020 by learning about the candidates. Join educators around the state in taking the “Oath to Vote” and be sure to vote on Educators’ Voting Day – February 18, 2020!

ATPE’s Governmental Relations team members are currently updating our Teach the Vote website with profiles of all candidates running for the Texas House or Senate, plus the State Board of Education. In the coming weeks you’ll be able to view their responses to the 2020 ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) plus additional information about the candidates. ATPE also provides voting records for all incumbent legislators, showing you how they voted in the 2019 legislative session and prior sessions on education issues. Check out the candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


ATPE is helping our friends at The Texas Tribune to promote a new resource for Texans to learn about voting in the Nov. 2020 general election: Teach Me How to Texas. Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in The Texas Tribune’s free five-week crash course. You’ll learn interesting facts about Texas’ past and culture, how different communities and regions in Texas vote, how candidates raise and spend money, how to spot a good poll from a bad one, and how to decode your November ballot. Click here to sign up!


The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation has launched “For the Future”, which is a series of candidate forums and town halls focused exclusively on public education. Over the course of 40+ events all across Texas, interested educators and community members will have the chance to learn more about candidates’ positions on public education before voting in the 2020 primary elections. Below, please find the dates and locations of candidate forums that are currently planned for January, and find additional information on all the town hall events here.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) kicked off the new year with a new video in its “HB 3 in 30” video series, which aims to explain the many different parts of House Bill (HB) 3, the school finance reform bill the Texas Legislature passed in 2019. This week’s video focuses on tax compression, which is a major component of the bill. Without getting into too many technocratic details, HB 3 aims to slow the increases in local property taxes in order to get closer to a reasonable balance between school funding that comes from local taxpayers and funding that comes from the state. Legislators promised that the state would put in enough additional money that the local tax compression under HB 3 would not reduce the amount of funding schools currently receive. You can read this set of slides from TEA that explain how this is supposed to work. The agency also released this guidance to districts explaining how tax rate changes will be implemented in 2020 and announced it will begin collecting local tax data in May 2020.

The agency also released 2018-19 School Report Cards under the A-F system in late December. Under the new accountability system, some schools are able to assign themselves a grade based upon a local accountability system. The agency is hosting webinars in February and March to explain the requirements and how to start up a local accountability system.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 20, 2020

As you end the school year and cozy up for the holidays, please enjoy the last weekly wrap-up of 2019 from the ATPE Governmental Relations team. The ATPE state office will be closed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4, reopening on Jan. 6, 2020. Expect our next Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up blog post to be published on Jan. 10, 2020.


ELECTION UPDATE: With candidate filing seemingly complete – after a few extensions in races where there were late withdrawals – we’re now getting a good picture of the match-ups that will be on the ballots for the Texas primary election on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins shares some of the insights plus endorsement news in his latest election roundup blog post here. Don’t forget that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

In the Houston and Dallas areas, candidates will be busy trying to garner voters’ support over the holidays for an upcoming runoff election on Jan. 28, 2020. The runoff is for special elections deciding three vacant House seats: Texas House District 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you live in one of those three districts and are not yet registered to vote, you have until Dec. 29, 2019, to register to vote in the runoff, even if you did not vote in the original special election in November.

We at ATPE join our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition in thanking educators for their involvement and helping us spread our “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) messages around the state. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many election resources available at TexasEducatorsVote.com and prepare to be an informed voter in 2020 by learning about the candidates. ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website in January with profiles of all candidates running for the Texas House or Senate, plus the State Board of Education. In the meantime, learn more about your incumbent state legislators, including how they voted in the 2019 legislative session on education issues, by viewing their profiles on Teach the Vote.


ATPE is helping our friends at The Texas Tribune to promote a new resource for Texans to learn about voting in the Nov. 2020 general election: Teach Me How to Texas. Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in The Texas Tribune’s free five-week crash course. You’ll learn interesting facts about Texas’ past and culture, how different communities and regions in Texas vote, how candidates raise and spend money, how to spot a good poll from a bad one, and how to decode your November ballot. Click here to sign up!


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin last week, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings. The board discussed space planning needs for the TRS agency, a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and a funding policy that will affect future benefits, on which ATPE provided testimony. Read more details about the meeting in this week’s blog post from Exter.


When you have some free time over the holiday break, ATPE encourages all of our members to take a few minutes to log into the ATPE website and answer our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. It’s a quick, three-question survey about which education issues are most important to you. Let us know which legislative issues you care about the most and want ATPE to work on in 2020 and beyond!

Click on the photo to hear a quick message from ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes about the survey.