It’s been a busy week for education policy watchers in Texas and around the country. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and members of our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the very latest. Here are updates on the week’s big news stories that you might have missed:
The outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which should have been reauthorized back in 2007, is finally a step closer to being updated. Yesterday, a bipartisan conference committee in the U.S. House and Senate voted 39 to 1 to move forward a negotiated reauthorization bill.
ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a recap of the conference committee action for our blog both Wednesday and Thursday of this week. The full text of the negotiated bill has not yet been released, but we will provide updates on our blog as soon as that occurs.
The full House will take up the bill on Dec. 2 or 3; there is no scheduled date for Senate floor debate, but leaders expect the discussions to proceed quickly with a goal of getting a bill to the president’s desk by the end of the year.
The State Board of Education met this week in Austin. Its agenda included review of a recent SBEC decision to change the qualifications for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE opposed the SBEC rule change, which would allow individuals with no education experience to become certified. Texas law provides for all SBEC rules to be reviewed by the elected SBOE, which may veto a rule by a two-thirds vote. Today was one of those rare occurrences in which the SBOE voted to reject the SBEC rule and send it back to the certification board for further revision.
ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, the Texas Association of School Administrators, other education group representatives, and education experts testified against the SBEC proposal, arguing that an existing waiver process, tweaked by the legislature just this year, already provides a mechanism for non-traditional superintendents to be hired in exceptional circumstances. The SBOE board agreed, voting 10 to 5 in favor of rejecting the rule and sending it back to SBEC. The motion was made today by board member Thomas Ratliff (R).
SBOE has the statutory power to reject SBEC rules but cannot modify them. The last time an SBEC rule was vetoed was in September 2014, when ATPE also successfully lobbied the SBOE to reject a proposal to water down entrance requirements for educator preparation programs. The SBOE veto today means that SBEC must now choose whether to stick with current rules on superintendent certification or rewrite the rule revision and send it back to SBOE for another review.
This week, the SBOE also considered adopting a new definition to try to qualify those who may sit on panels to review textbooks and instructional materials. As with the review of curriculum standards, the board’s procedures for reviewing and adopting textbooks have faced immense scrutiny over the years, often plagued by disputes over political ideologies. Recent news stories about inaccuracies in adopted texts have also spurred renewed discussion of the SBOE’s review processes. Board member Erika Beltran (D) attempted to craft a definition to ensure that textbook reviewers would meet certain minimum academic qualifications. Unfortunately, SBOE members in favor of specifying a standard for who meets the term “qualified individuals” were short by two votes. This item will come back to the SBOE for second reading and final adoption at the next board meeting. ATPE’s Exter reports that there may be further efforts to put in place some standard for textbook reviewers at that time.
The Board of Trustees for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas also met this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended and provided information about the Nov. 19 and 20 meetings, which he described as “fairly uneventful.”
The board heard updates on the status of the pension trust fund and both active and retiree healthcare programs that were discussed in depth last week at a briefing provided to stakeholder groups, legislative members, and staff. The board adopted an incentive pay plan for the TRS executive director, which includes member satisfaction measures, as well as several other metrics that are used to evaluate the director’s performance. A slate of rule changes, including an improvement to the rule that is used to calculate compensation during the final year before retirement, were also adopted by the board.
Sanderson added that there have been problems reported concerning active employee enrollment with Aetna’s health insurance plan. At this week’s board meeting, Aetna representatives presented information on how they are addressing these issues and what their plans are to remedy the problem. The TRS board met in an executive session at length to discuss how they plan to deal with Aetna, but no final decision was delivered. Sanderson says that a more detailed update is expected during the next TRS board meeting in Dallas on Dec. 7.
In related news, the coalition known as Texans for Secure Retirement (TSR) also met earlier this week. The group advocates for the security of pension programs for public employees in Texas, including preventing them from being converted to defined-contribution plans. ATPE’s Sanderson has served as a member of the board for TSR and was selected this week to continue in that role for another year.
Announced today was an upcoming hearing of the Texas Senate Education Committee, the first interim hearing to be scheduled this year by one of the state’s education committees. The meeting is slated for Dec. 7 and will be focused on charter schools and inappropriate teacher-student relationships. Here are the two specific interim charges that are to be addressed by the committee, which is chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Pearland):
- Study the approval, expansion, and revocation of public charter schools in Texas, including the implementation of SB 2 (83R) and other legislation. In particular, examine the issues surrounding the disposition of state property when charters are revoked, non-renewed, or cease to operate. Make recommendations regarding policies to ensure an efficient and effective transfer and disposal of state property that preserves state interest while ensuring that certain investment capital and the bond market supporting charter construction remains robust. In addition, make recommendations if needed to clarify policies regarding expansion of existing high-quality charter schools in Texas. Additionally, examine facility funding for charter schools in other states and make recommendations on facility funding assistance for charter schools in Texas.
- Study the recent rise of inappropriate teacher-student relationships, the impact of social media interaction between teachers and students, and examine the current efforts by the Texas Education Agency, schools, law enforcement, and the courts to investigate and prosecute any educator engaged in inappropriate relationships. Determine what recommendations, if any, are needed to improve student safety, including increasing agency staff, adjusting penalties, and strengthening efforts to sanction educators’ certificates for misconduct. Study and address the issue of prevention through training and education of school employees.
TEA is soliciting input on rules to implement grants for pre-Kindergarten under Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill (HB) 4 that passed earlier this year. Under the program, school districts and charter schools that implement certain quality standards for curriculum, teacher qualifications, academic performance, and family engagement may apply for grant funding starting in 2016. The commissioner will adopt rules to determine parameters for the grant program.
TEA will hold a public hearing to solicit input on the new rules on Dec. 1, starting at 11 a.m. Click here for more details on the hearing and how you may sign up to testify. Through the same link, you may find TEA’s Family Engagement Survey, which is open until Nov. 25. The survey allows you to share input on proposed definitions and strategies for the family engagement component of the pre-K grants. Finally, you may also submit feedback to TEA on draft pre-K guidelines that are posted on the same website. The guidelines address curriculum and are broken into ten domains. Again, the deadline for submitting feedback via email to TEA is Nov. 25.
Three senators and three state representatives have been appointed to serve on a new Committee to Study TRS Health Benefit Plans. The committee is tasked with reviewing the healthcare plans administered by TRS and proposing reforms to address their financial solvency, costs, and affordability. The legislatively mandated committee will also look at whether access to physicians and other healthcare providers is sufficient under those plans. Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R) has appointed Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) to co-chair the committee, along with Reps. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Justin Rodriguez (D-San Antonio). Senators appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) for the special committee are Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who will co-chair it, joined by Sens. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) and Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls). The committee will report its findings back to the legislature by January 15, 2017.