Category Archives: Legislative Update

House panel weighs Harvey accountability fixes

ATPE member Paula Franklin testifies before House Public Education Committee, November 14, 2017.

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday morning, Nov. 14, in Austin to hear from educators about the effects of Hurricane Harvey on the public school accountability system, including testimony from ATPE member Paula Franklin from Pasadena. The hearing focused on the following interim charges set by Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

  • Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Hurricane Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Humble) gaveled the committee together Tuesday to hear from teachers, administrators and state agency staff. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that a survey of school districts showed roughly two-to-one in favor of keeping the current test administration dates unchanged. Morath suggested waiving tests altogether would violate both state and federal laws, and would hinder the ability to track student performance. The commissioner indicated a decision whether to delay the testing schedule would be forthcoming within the next two weeks.

Morath listed a number of disruptions experienced by students affected by the storm, including displacement and homelessness, instructional setting disruption, and disruption of staff. The commissioner suggested these three categories of disruption will be factored into decisions how to address accountability in individual affected districts, which could be modified through the agency’s rulemaking authority.

“Is this the most effective way to help kids? Or is there a more effective way?” asked state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas), noting impacted students and staff are already under enough stress before factoring in test-based accountability.

Morath suggested a one-year accountability waiver for affected districts could jeopardize federal funding, which accounts for roughly ten percent of the state’s overall public education budget. The percent of federal dollars directly tied to testing is in fact much less than that. Rep. Koop pointed out TEA issued a “non-rating” for West ISD after a fertilizer plant explosion devastated the Central Texas town. While acknowledging this precedent, Morath warned such measures could delay state interventions for districts with failing campuses. Chairman Huberty requested Morath formally ask for a federal testing waiver for districts affected by Hurricane Harvey.

On the financial side, Chairman Huberty voiced complaints raised by districts that have still not received replacements for textbooks lost in the storm. State Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) chided the agency for not being a more proactive advocate for such districts. The agency set up a portal to allow other districts to donate textbooks, but some districts continue to wait for needed instructional materials. Morath testified this is a cash flow issue, which the agency doesn’t have the authority to adjust. At the chairman’s request, the commissioner agreed to poll districts on outstanding needs and explore ways to provide a one-time purchase.

The commissioner testified that the agency does not have the authority to order automatic reappraisal of property values in districts affected by the storm, but indicated that the state could shoulder the cost of reappraisals. Whether such a reappraisal would be beneficial appears to vary from district to district. Finally, Chairman Huberty requested TEA keep tabs on facilities damage not covered by insurance and FEMA for the purpose of submitting a supplemental appropriations request for the 86th Texas Legislature.

Considering the level of trauma caused by the storm, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers suggested that testing in affected districts may not necessarily yield useful data. Chambers testified that whether or not assessments are waived, the agency should think twice about how that data is used, in particular with regard to accountability in the short term.

“Right now we’re dealing with issues that accountability doesn’t have the capacity to account for,” said Chambers.

Galveston ISD Special Education Instructional Specialist and ATPE member Paula Franklin shared her own community’s experience before the committee. Franklin described the catastrophic damage to teachers’ homes caused by the storm, and testified that some teachers are putting off needed repairs over fears of missing class and the negative consequences of the state accountability system. Additionally, Franklin suggested that districts would be unlikely to risk federal dollars under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) are untethered to testing requirements, and would likely be safe in the event of a dispute between the state and federal government over accountability.

While noting that some tests continue to serve a purpose, panelists overwhelmingly voiced concerns over the negative consequences of holding students impacted by the storm to the same accountability standards as those who were unaffected. Chambers pointed out that the issue is compounded by the fact that administrators are already dealing with the rollout of a complex new “A through F” accountability system, and suggested the state consider potential accommodations on a year by year basis. Chambers emphasized, “I just think the stakes are too high.”

Chairman Huberty pointed out there is already precedent for holding certain districts harmless from state accountability ratings from 2006, following Hurricane Katrina. He suggested the precedent will likely be cited in a letter from the committee addressed to TEA in the next few weeks. Chairman Huberty indicated that the committee’s next interim hearing will be in the first quarter of 2018.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 27, 2017

Here’s this week’s round-up of education news from the ATPE lobby team:


ATPE state officers met with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017.

ATPE state officers with Speaker Joe Straus in March 2017

Texas political circles were shaken up this week by a pair of election announcements from top leaders in the Texas House of Representatives.

First came a surprise announcement on Wednesday that House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) will not seek reelection in 2018. The news of the departure of the popular house speaker was a disappointment to many in the public education community who appreciated his rational approach to leading the Texas House and willingness to prioritize school needs over divisive ideological battles.

ATPE state officers met with Rep. Byron Cook in Feb. 2017.

ATPE state officers with Rep. Byron Cook in Feb. 2017

Straus’s announcement was followed by a similar one from Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) on the same day. Cook, who has chaired the powerful House State Affairs Committee and the newly created House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness, similarly announced that he will step down at the end of his current term.

For more on Wednesday’s big announcements, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was in Dallas yesterday for a stakeholder meeting regarding data collection for educator preparation in Texas. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) partnered with Educate Texas and other entities to solicit input and recommendations on data the agency collects to assess and improve educator preparation programs (EPPS) across Texas. A bill passed earlier this year during the 85th regular legislative session, Senate Bill (SB) 1839, added new requirements to data collection for EPPs. The work to solicit input will help guide the agency and the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) as they work to implement the new law.

As Kuhlmann reports, teachers, school districts, EPP representatives, and other engaged stakeholders convened in Dallas this week to consider and identify data that would would offer transparency for candidates considering future programs, provide diagnostic value to programs, and improve upon current data used to hold programs accountable. All agreed that a focus should be placed on presenting the data in a more easily accessible manner, such as a user-friendly online dashboard. Participants also agreed that the presentation of such data should include differentiated interfacing specific to consumers (future EPP candidates and the general public), school districts, and EPPs.

Yesterday’s meeting was the second of four scheduled stakeholder meetings. Two more will be held next week in Lubbock and Austin. The TEA, under the direction of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC), will also convene a formal stakeholder committee to make recommendations on the matter and is reaching out to various standing committees for input. The agency expects to begin discussion on next steps for implementing recommendations at SBEC’s March 2018 meeting, once the initial stakeholder input has been collected. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


TRS logoToday, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees is meeting in Austin, where ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending and has contributed the following report on the meeting:

The TRS Board of Directors convened today for a short meeting. After taking brief public testimony, they received an update from TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie, which focused primarily on administrative housekeeping with regard to the agendas of future meetings. Guthrie did drop one bomb during his update, informing the board that there has been some discussion in Washington of reclassifying the contributions to retirement systems like TRS such that they would no longer be tax-deferred. Such a move would be a monumental policy shift dramatically impacting both educators and the pension fund itself.

After Guthrie’s comments, the board received its first update on the TRS Enterprise Application Modernization or (TEAM) program since the go live date on which we’ve previously reported. The transition has not been without the “hiccups” that accompany any such major technology transition, but the new system is stable and operational and the transition has been mostly smooth.

Next, the board worked its way through a series of administrative items before taking up proposed rules on 403(b) vendor rates. There has been significant back and forth between the board and a large segment of the 403(b) vendor community with regard to these rule changes. Many vendors acknowledge that the rules have been significantly improved, from their perspective, throughout the process. That said, most vendors still do not favor the new rules. Despite the board’s adoption of the rules, many expect this issue to remain a topic of discussion for the 86th legislature in 2019.

Finally, the board received its first overview presentation on the TRS experience study the board will undertake early next year. The experience study will help the board set many of the assumptions that are used to determine the actuarial health of the pension fund. The actuarial picture of a fund can help lawmakers makers determine contribution rates and is often used by anti-pension advocates to push for abandonment of defined-benefit pension plans based on their unfunded liabilities. Additionally, in the case of TRS, the actuarial soundness as defined by a funding horizon of less than 31 years is what allows TRS to give a COLA to retirees.

The last TRS board meeting of 2017 will be in December, and the first board meeting of 2018 will be a board retreat scheduled to commence on Valentine’s Day, February 14th.

 


Interim charges have now been released for both House and Senate committees to study in preparation for the 2019 legislative session. The charges issued by House Speaker Joe Straus and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick direct standing committees in the House and Senate, respectively, to convene hearings and gather feedback from stakeholders on hot topics expected to be debated by the 86th legislature.

Rebuilding efforts following Hurricane Harvey are among the numerous charges for multiple committees, but there are also several directives that focus specifically on public education. The Senate Education Committee, for instance, will study such issues as teacher compensation, virtual learning, student discipline, dual credit, and school choice. The House Public Education  Committee is tasked with studying teacher retention, educating students with disabilities, charter school laws, and ways to assess student performance other than using standardized test scores. Other committees will examine public pension systems and the TRS healthcare programs for educators.

Read more about the House interim charges here and Senate interim charges here. ATPE’s lobbyists will be covering all of the education-related interim hearings and providing updates here on our Teach the Vote blog and on Twitter.

 


DNA_4w2U8AARK-pOne week of early voting remains for the Nov. 7 constitutional amendment election. As part of our work with the Texas Educators Vote coalition to create a culture of voting in the education community, ATPE urges our members and all other registered voters to participate in this and all elections. Early voting runs through Friday, Nov. 3. The Texas Secretary of State also declared today, Oct. 27, as #StudentVotingDay, encouraging eligible high school students who registered to vote to get out and cast their ballots today. Learn more about what’s on the Nov. 7 ballot and how to be an engaged voter in this ATPE Blog post.

 


 

Speaker’s exit puts public education on edge

Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) announced yesterday that he will not be running for re-election to the Texas House of Representatives, and therefore will not return to lead the Texas House of Representatives when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes in January 2019. In addition, state Rep. Byron Cook (R-Corsicana), who chairs the House State Affairs Committee, announced the same day that he will not run for re-election in 2018.

The significance of yesterday’s announcements can’t be overstated. Speaker Straus and Chairman Cook each have played a tremendous role in protecting public school students and teachers, and their leadership during the 2017 legislative session prevented the worst anti-public education and anti-teacher legislation from becoming law.

ATPE presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed in July 2017, recognizing his support for public education.

ATPE presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution passed in July 2017, recognizing his support for public education.

Under Speaker Straus, the Texas House made public education its top priority. As part of House Bill (HB) 21 during the regular session, the House proposed $1.9 billion in increased funding for all Texas students. This legislation was opposed by the Texas Senate under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has repeatedly made private school vouchers a top legislative priority. The Texas House blocked Senate voucher legislation during both the regular and special sessions, as well as legislation that would have taken away the rights of teachers who choose to advocate for their children as members of professional associations like ATPE.

It is unclear who will step into the void created by the absence of Speaker Straus and Chairman Cook. What we do know is that anti-education forces are already celebrating victory, and those hoping to privatize public education and revoke the rights of students and educators will only be emboldened by this week’s announcements.

It is therefore all the more important that we use our teacher voices in both the March primary and November general elections in 2018 to put public education supporters in office.

Rep. Byron Cook joined Corsicana ATPE members at a pro-public education rally in July 2017.

Rep. Byron Cook joined Corsicana ATPE members at a pro-public education rally in July 2017.

It is likely that there will be more news in the coming days related to leadership in the Texas Legislature, and we will continue to provide you with updates here at TeachTheVote.org. You can also check back soon at TeachTheVote.org to find out how your individual representatives voted during the 2017 legislative sessions.

The next Texas House speaker will have some mighty boots to fill. In the meantime, please join us on Twitter and Facebook as we say #thankyoujoestraus for all he’s done for public education.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 13, 2017

Here’s your “Friday the 13th” edition of our weekly education news highlights from ATPE:


Commissioner of Education Mike Morath exercised his authority this week to authorize an adjustment in average daily attendance (ADA) for certain districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins details the adjustment and eligibility requirements, including the list of more than 150 districts affected by the storm.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) also released guidance this week regarding transportation in the wake of the storm. In some cases, districts may be required to provide transportation between districts. The agency guidance indicates that these costs may be covered by Foundation School Program (FSP) funds.


On Thursday, the House Public Education Committee met to consider interim charges related to Hurricane Harvey. Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) ordered several committees to study the costs of the storm, and look at ways to provide assistance. The committee charged with overseeing public education policy convened for a day-long meeting, and took testimony from Education Commissioner Mike Morath and several superintendents from affected districts.

The committee discussed ways to provide both short-term and long-term relief for districts, and vowed to look at ramifications for the state school accountability system in the coming weeks. This report by ATPE lobbyist Mark Wiggins recaps the committee’s work this week.


The 2017 legislative session saw the lengths to which some in the Texas Capitol are willing to go in order to weaken the teaching profession. At the same time, it showed the power Texas educators can wield when we work together to defend our students and public schools. The March 2018 primary and November 2018 general elections will be prime opportunities for educators to show up and make our voices count. This is why ATPE has partnered with other public education supporters through Texas Educators Vote to make teachers the biggest voice in 2018.

The idea is simple: If 100% of educators vote, we can change the outcome of elections. The people you elect decide:

  • How much to fund public schools
  • How much time, money, and attention is spent on standardized testing
  • Whether to support or undermine public education
  • Whether to privatize education in Texas

Visit the Texas Educators Vote website today and sign the oath that you will vote in the March primary AND the general election in November. Texas is at the bottom of the heap when it comes to the percentage of registered voters who actually show up to vote. Teachers can change that. Educators of all political stripes are coming together through Facebook groups like Texans for Public Education and organizations such as Friends of Texas Public Schools. Together, we can make a difference!

 

 

 


Your ATPE Governmental Relations staff is on the road again this weekend visiting regions that have requested a speaker to provide a Capitol update. Staff will be attending meetings in Region 4 and Region 16, with more visits on the calendar. There’s plenty to talk about, so be on the lookout for a region meeting near you!


 

Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Speaker Straus issues interim charges on Hurricane Harvey

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) issued five interim charges today related to Hurricane Harvey. He tasked three House committees, including the House Committee on Public Education, with studying issues related to the recent hurricane as well as preparations for future natural disasters. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) plans to hold a public hearing on the charges in the coming weeks.

The five interim charges:

  • Committee on Appropriations: Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also identify the need for state resources to respond to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
  • Committee on Public Education: Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses.
  • Committee on Public Education: Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Harvey and its aftermath.
  • Committee on Public Education: Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.
  • Committee on Natural Resources: Examine the following issues within the committee’s jurisdiction regarding Harvey and flooding in general: the role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure; mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.

Speaker Straus plans to release a full list of interim charges, which will include additional charges related to Hurricane Harvey, in the next couple of months. His full press release on the announcement can be read here.

Special session update: House rejects amendment targeting payroll deduction; finance negotiations continue

Tomorrow is the last day of the special session that has featured a number of education-related debates. As ATPE’s lobbyists have been reporting here on Teach the Vote and Twitter, the special session agenda directed by Gov. Greg Abbott contained 20 topics, including some directly related to education, such as teacher pay and private school vouchers. ATPE joined with others in the education community to urge lawmakers to use this 30-day special session to address meaningful public education issues, such as advancing school finance improvements and helping educators facing dramatic increases in their healthcare costs.

  • For its part, the Texas House of Representatives has proposed major school finance reforms similar to those developed with stakeholder input during the regular session, and House leaders have recommended making a conservative withdrawal from the state’s robust rainy day fund (Economic Stabilization Fund) to cover short-term needs, including shoring up the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators for the upcoming biennium.
  • The Texas Senate has favored smaller one-time investments into the public education system paid for by deferring state payments to Medicaid/CHIP managed care organizations. These proposed deferrals would only increase the already $1.2 billion the next legislature will have to pay back to make Medicaid/CHIP whole during the 2019 legislative session. In addition to under funding Medicaid/CHIP, the Senate proposal fails to make any long-term changes to our state’s school finance system, preferring instead that a commission be appointed to study scraping the current system for two more years. Senators also proposed one-time bonuses for experienced teachers. The Senate, at the direction of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, initially coupled the one-time bonuses with proposed pay raises that would have been funded by school districts through their existing budgets, which the education community strongly rejected.
  • Some of the high-profile issues on the governor’s special session agenda, such as passing state regulations for the use of bathrooms by transgender individuals and enacting a private school voucher program for students with special needs, were quickly advanced by the Senate but gained no traction in the more moderate House. With the final hours ticking down now in this special session, bills remaining in negotiations are primarily those dealing with property tax reform at the local level and a handful of education funding measures, such as helping school districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) monies and decreasing, in part, increased healthcare costs of retired educators, due to legislation passed during the regular session.
  • Late today, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar released a revised state revenue estimate that shows legislators have more money to spend this special session than originally predicted. The announcement means there is an extra $237 million in general revenue available to be spent, which is a substantial jump from the $41.5 million in the original estimate last month. The “discovery” of the additional money could alleviate conflicts over whether to dip into the state’s rainy day fund or defer Medicaid MCO payments in order to fund remaining special session priorities, including those that are education-related.

Here is an update on recent votes and where the remaining bills stand:

Senate Bill 16: School Finance Commission

Yesterday, Aug. 14, the Texas House of Representatives debated Senate Bill 16, a bill intended to create a commission to study school finance. The bill by Sen. Larry Taylor is a renewed version of a similar measure considered during the regular session. The Senate unanimously approved SB 16 on July 24. The House voted 142-2 to advance its version of the measure yesterday, but not without a lengthy debate and controversy over amendments.

During yesterday’s House floor debate on SB 16, Rep. Bill Zedler offered a floor amendment to require the state to study “the effects” of letting educators voluntarily deduct their association dues from their own paychecks. The paycheck deduction issue, referred to by Gov. Abbott as the “collection of union dues,” has been on the governor’s special session wish list and a topic of much debate. Bills to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues were considered but not approved during both the regular and special sessions, as we have been reporting. Rep. Zedler’s floor amendment was viewed as a last gasp for air to keep the issue at the forefront of legislative discussions for two more years. During the floor debate, Rep. Zedler unabashedly articulated his political motivation for the amendment, complaining that educator associations like ATPE are helping teachers engage in the political process. The Zedler amendment failed by a vote of 49 to 78 after a bipartisan majority of representatives stood up for teachers’ rights, exposed the discriminatory intent of the amendment, and highlighted the fact that payroll deduction has already been studied and has been shown to result in no cost to the state or taxpayers.

ATPE has encouraged its members to thank those representatives who voted against the Zedler amendment on payroll deduction, as well as those who spoke eloquently on behalf of the education community during the debate, such as House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R) who highlighted the benefits that ATPE provides its dues-paying members and House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R) who called the amendment another form of “teacher discrimination.” Click here to view the breakdown of votes for and against the Zedler amendment, including statements added to the official House journal reflecting votes that were changed or correctedTo watch archived footage of the debate on the Zedler amendment to SB 16, click here and scroll to approximately the 1:43:22 mark during the video playback; debate resumes at the 2:01:00 mark after other amendments were considered.

In the event that SB 16 does not pass, similar language calling for creation of a school finance commission has been added to other bills that remain pending at this late stage.

House Bill 21 and House Bill 30: School Finance

This pair of bills offers another example of where the House and Senate diverge on school finance. The House-approved HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty contemplated an increase of $1.8 billion for public schools, but the Senate has balked at its price tag and method of finance (including use of the rainy day fund). HB 30 is a related bill that provides the source of the appropriation of the funds. Late last night and early this morning, the Senate approved its own version of HB 21, paring the funding down from $1.8 billion to $351 million (plus an additional $212 million for TRS-Care) and relying on the MCO payment deferral as its source. Both versions would provide some relief to districts facing an ASATR funding cliff this year, extra money for TRS-Care, and funds to help students with autism and dyslexia. The Senate’s version is more focused on one-time funding grants, while the House version calls for longer-term changes to the school finance formulas and increasing the basic allotment. Negotiations between House and Senate leaders, as well as the governor’s office, have been taking place around the clock.

Senate Bill 19: TRS-Care and/or Teacher Pay

This bill filed by Sen. Jane Nelson was originally intended to legislate teacher pay raises, but the Senate under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick was reluctant to provide any state funding for the raises. Instead, the Senate modified the bill to provide a mechanism for one-time bonuses to veteran teachers using MCO payment deferrals, as well as extra money for TRS-Care. The Senate passed this bill on July 25, sending it to the House for consideration. The House Appropriations Committee stripped out the teacher bonus language and approved a version of the bill mirroring the language in HB 20, devoted entirely to helping retired educators with their rising healthcare costs using dollars from the ESF or Rainy Day Fund. The full House is slated to debate SB 19 today, and it’s unclear whether there will be sufficient time for the House and Senate to negotiate a deal before the session ends tomorrow.

Senate Bill 1: Property Taxes

Another bill passed in different versions by the House and Senate would address the ability of local governments to raise taxes. The bill remains stuck in a conference committee this afternoon, where one of the main issues in contention is the rollback rate for elections. Gov. Abbott has called passing property tax legislation his top priority for this special session.

 

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual ATPE lobbyists on Twitter for the latest updates during the last hours of the special session.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 28, 2017

The Texas Legislature is wrapping up its second week of a special session. Here are stories you might have missed:


During this second week of the special session, bills pertaining to teacher compensation and funding for teachers’ healthcare were on the move in both the Texas House and Senate. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided the following update on their current status:

Senate Bill 19 was filed as the vehicle for the lieutenant governor’s plan to address the need for better teacher pay and funds for TRS-Care. The bill, carried by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson was heard in and passed out of her committee on Saturday. During the hearing ATPE, other teacher organizations, and individual teachers such as ATPE State Treasurer Tonja Gray all expressed strong concerns about a provision of the bill that mandated school districts to spend roughly a billion dollars statewide on teacher pay raises without providing any state funding to cover the mandate.

In addition to the unfunded mandate, SB 19 includes a one-time bonus in 2018 for teachers who have been in the classroom more than six years ($600 for teachers with 6-10 years’ service, $1000 for teachers with 11 or more years of service). The bill also includes additional funding to reduce health insurance costs for retired teachers on TRS-Care. The longevity bonus and TRS-Care portions of SB 19 are paid for during the upcoming biennium through a deferral of payments to managed care organizations (MCOs). MCOs coordinate health services for those enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP programs for low-income and disabled individuals. If finally passed, SB 19 will increase the state’s projected Medicaid shortfall, which the next legislature will have to cover, from $1.2 to 1.6 billion.

The full Senate took up SB 19 on Tuesday, July 25. Senators removed the unfunded pay raise leaving only the one-time funding for longevity bonuses and TRS-Care supplemental spending. Republican Senators rejected floor amendments by Democratic Senators Kirk Watson of Austin and Jose Menendez of San Antonio to ensure more suitable or ongoing funding beyond 2018, leaving that for a future legislature to decide whether the additional funding for teacher bonuses and TRS-Care will be continued. SB 19 was received by the House yesterday and will likely be referred to a House committee early next week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the House Appropriations Committee this week.

Also happening Tuesday, July 25, the House Appropriations Committee met to hear House Bills 24, 20, 76, and 151, among others. HB 24 by Representative Drew Darby calls for giving teachers an across-the-board $1,000 pay raise. Unlike the pay increase that was ultimately removed from SB 19, Darby’s HB 24 includes three distinctive features. One, the raise would be paid for during the current biennium. HB 24 does this by calling for an appropriation from the state’s rainy day fund, or as Rep. Darby called it, the state’s “mattress fund.” Rep. Darby stated in his explanation of the bill that he felt $11 billion was too much money to keep in a mattress, and that the state should find more responsible ways to invest those funds. Second, HB 24 includes language that ensures the money appropriated will be used to supplement, not supplant, current teacher salaries and that salaries could not simply be reduced again in future years. Third, the bill would change the state salary factor funding formulas such that it would increase the state appropriation called for in the base budget for future legislatures. This does not bind future legislators, but it does create a starting point of funding the HB 24 pay raise in future years so as to better ensure that there will be state funding for the raises.

House Bills 20, 76, and 151 have been filed respectively by Representatives Trent Ashby, Drew Darby, and Lance Gooden; all call for supplemental appropriations of varying amounts for TRS-Care. HB 151 would send additional dollars form the state’s General Revenue fund, while HB 20 and HB 76 call for spending dollars out of the rainy day fund to boost TRS-Care. HB 76 and HB 151 were left pending in the committee, while HB 20 was voted out of committee favorably and is on its way to the House Calendars Committee to be scheduled for floor debate in the near future. HB 20 calls for an additional $212 million for TRS that would be used to reduce premiums and deductibles.

For a closer look at the breakdown of how SB 19 and HB 20 would be anticipated to impact TRS-Care, check out this comparison chart.

 


The Texas Senate is taking a break this weekend after working throughout last weekend and several late nights to advance a controversial agenda pushed by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her blog post this week, the Senate passed a private school voucher bill disguised as a school funding measure in the form of Senate Bill 2, a bill dictating the policies local school boards must adopt regulating the use of bathrooms in Senate Bill 3, and the politically motivated Senate Bill 7 to prohibit educators and certain other public employees from using payroll deduction to pay their voluntary association dues, while allowing other public employee association members deemed “first responders” to continue the practice. Less controversial measures passed by the Senate included a bill that funds one-time bonuses for experienced teachers and extra money to offset increased healthcare costs for retired educators in 2018, as well as a bill appointing a state commission to study school finance between now and the next legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_StandUpPublicEdNow that several anti-public education measures have sailed through the Senate and been sent to the House, and Gov. Abbott is threatening that lawmakers who oppose his agenda will be blacklisted, now is the time for House members to hear from their own voters and especially educators. ATPE is urging its members to call and write to their state representatives urging them to oppose bills like SB 2 and SB 7 that would defund public schools and needlessly punish public school employees. Visit Advocacy Central for quick and easy tools to communicate with your lawmakers about these issues. While you’re on Advocacy Central, be sure to also check out which lawmakers are supporting bills like these and let them know you disapprove. With only a couple weeks left in the special session, it’s critical for educators to speak up now!

 


Dollar banknotes heapWhile the Senate has worked to rapidly advance the governor’s controversial agenda, the House under the leadership of Speaker Joe Straus has stuck to its pledge to continue working on school finance solutions during this special session. The House Public Education Committee held hearings Monday and Tuesday on a number of finance-related bills, including several that were refiled from the regular session. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended and reported on the hearings for our blog here and here.

Bills advanced by the committee included Chairman Dan Huberty’s special session versions of House Bill 21, a comprehensive school finance reform bill that would inject additional money into public schools, provide increased funding through weighted formulas for bilingual students and those with dyslexia, and offer hardship grants to certain districts facing the loss of ASATR (Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction) funding this year; House Bill 22 to extend ASATR; and House Bill 23 providing grants to schools serving students with autism.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again Tuesday, Aug. 1, to hear a number of additional bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


tea-logo-header-2Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced this week that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) will release Texas’s plan to satisfy new federal education laws on Monday. Congress passed and former President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in December 2015. Since then, the U.S. Department of Education, under the direction of both the Obama and Trump administrations, has spent time developing, altering, and in some cases even omitting the rules that govern the law. Those rules are now finalized, and states are now tasked with submitting their individual plans to satisfy the law and remaining rules. The federal law returns some education decision making to states and, in several areas, offers states an opportunity to alter the way they plan to satisfy federal education requirements.

Stay tuned for more next week on how Texas plans to handle the new law. The release of the Texas ESSA plan on Monday will also initiate the first day of a thirty-day public comment period.

 


At the annual ATPE Summit held in Austin earlier this month, Humble ATPE member Gayle Sampley authored a resolution for ATPE to honor House Speaker Joe Straus and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty for their support of public education. On Tuesday, Gayle visited the Texas State Capitol and joined members of the ATPE lobby team to present the honorary resolution to Chairman Huberty, who is also Gayle’s own state representative.

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins

Humble ATPE Member Gayle Sampley presents an ATPE honorary resolution to Chairman Dan Huberty, joined by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


 

School finance reform bill heads to full House

The House Public Education Committee approved school finance HB 21 Tuesday by a vote of 10-1, with state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) voting in opposition. The committee unanimously approved HB 22, which would extend ASATR funding, and HB 23, which would create an autism grant program. One or more could reach the House floor by Monday.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meets July 25, 2017.

Noting concerns raised by some over changes from the regular session version of the bill, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) indicated he would be open to floor amendments to HB 21 restricting charter school funding in the bill to special needs and dropout recovery schools, as well as extending hardship grants to 1993 hold harmless districts.

The committee met Tuesday morning to consider additional bills related to school finance and other subjects. Among those is HB 22 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), which would extend additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR) funding to certain school districts for an additional biennium.

HB 98 by Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would create a mentor teacher program, and is identical to HB 816 filed by Bernal during the regular session. The program would allow schools to assign a veteran teacher to mentor a new teacher for at least two years, and receive a stipend and specialized mentorship training. Mentors would be required to meet with mentees at least once a week in order to discuss district context and policies, instructional practices, professional development, and expectations. Mentors and mentees would be guaranteed release time to facilitate mentoring activities, including classroom observation and coaching. According to the fiscal note for HB 816, the program would cost a modest $3 million over the next biennium in order to provide a $250 allotment for each of the 5,800 educators forecast to participate in the program. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 140 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would allow districts to include full days of attendance for each student who attends full-day prekindergarten. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 178 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would extend career and technology education (CTE) allotment eligibility to the eighth grade. Currently, only high school programs are eligible for weighted funding through the CTE allotment.

HB 248 by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would extend ASATR funding to districts that received ASATR funding for the 2016-2017 school year and operated a campus in a county in which no other district operated a campus. Funding under HB 248 could be counted against the total amount of attendance credits required to be purchased by districts under recapture.

HB 256 by Vice-chair Bernal would modify the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) report on equalized funding elements under the public school finance system. The bill would add a requirement that the LBB adopt rules necessary to enable each student to achieve satisfactory performance on state assessment instruments and include in its report recommendations regarding the equalized funding elements necessary to do so.

Chairman Huberty announced the House could see a long day on the floor next Monday, and the committee will therefore plan to meet again next Tuesday.