Category Archives: safe schools

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 7, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


If you are a new teacher who participated in an Educator Preparation Program (EPP) and completed your first year of teaching on a standard teaching certificate, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) would like to hear from you. This survey for first year teachers is a part of the Accountability System for Educator Preparation. An email containing the survey link was sent to all eligible teachers on April 3. Be sure to complete your survey by Monday, June 17. For more information check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a number of bills related to school safety. Chief among them, SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) was the omnibus school safety bill passed as a response to the deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. A full breakdown of SB 11 can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The governor also signed HB 11 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo), which increases mental health training requirements for school employees, as well as HB 1387 by Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), which removes the cap on the number of school marshals that can work at a single campus. The governor’s press release on Thursday’s signings can be found here.

 


The “86th Legislative Session Highlights from ATPE” is a high level overview of the major bills impacting public education passed during the recently adjourned legislative session. This post has now been updated to include more information on bills passed this session. Continue to follow TeachtheVote.org for the most up to date information regarding public education.

 


ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and State Vice President Tonja Grey will be traveling to the nation’s capital next week. While there they will meet with members of the Texas congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Education officials. Their meetings will feature discussions  about issues including Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)  and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), as well as ATPE’s stance on federal voucher proposals. Byron and Tonja will be accompanied by ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter. David Pore, ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist, will be on hand to assist and coordinate. We’ll provide updates from Washington, DC next week on Teach the Vote.


Session Recap: The big school safety bill

One of the largest education-related bills the 86th Texas Legislature passed was Senate Bill (SB) 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the omnibus school safety bill passed in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in May 2018.

The final version of the ATPE-supported SB 11 contained a number of provisions, the most important of which is a school safety allotment, which may be used for a wide variety of purposes, including securing facilities, purchasing security technology, hiring security personnel, and providing training. According to the fiscal note, the allotment is expected to provide an additional $9.72 per student in average daily attendance (ADA) at a cost of roughly $100 million over the next two years. The other major provisions of SB 11 are as follows:

MULTIHAZARD EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLANS

  • Each district’s multihazard emergency operations plan must include measures to ensure employees have classroom access to direct communications with emergency personnel, and the district’s communications infrastructure must be adequate to allow for communication during an emergency.
  • A multihazard emergency operations plan must include a chain of command, provisions that address physical and psychological safety, provisions ensuring the safety of students in portable buildings and people with disabilities, provisions for providing immediate notification to parents of a significant threat, training and strategies for suicide prevention, and implementation of trauma-informed policies.
  • If a district does not comply with the requirements for its multihazard emergency operations plan, the school board must hold a public hearing. The commissioner may also appoint a conservator or board of managers to order the district to put a plan in place. If the district refuses, the conservator or board of managers may take over the district.
  • Local school safety and security committees must include law enforcement and emergency management officials, provide periodic recommendations to update the district’s multihazard emergency operations plan, consult with local law enforcement regarding ways to increase law enforcement presence near district campuses, and hold regular public meetings.
  • The Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) may audit a district’s plan and must establish a regular review cycle.

THREAT ASSESSMENT & SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE SCHOOL TEAMS

  • Each district’s board of trustees must appoint a threat assessment team and a safe and supportive school team to serve at each campus to assess threats and to develop and implement a new safe and supportive school program developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the TSSC.
  • Teams must immediately report to the superintendent any determination that a person poses a threat to himself or others.
  • Teams must report demographic data back to the TEA regarding assessments and disciplinary actions.
  • TSSC must adopt model policies and procedures to assist districts in training threat assessment teams.

TEXAS CHILD MENTAL HEALTH CARE CONSORTIUM

  • The bill creates a new Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, established to leverage the expertise of institutions of higher education to address urgent mental health care challenges.
  • The consortium will establish a network of comprehensive child psychiatry access centers and expand telemedicine for identifying mental health needs.
  • The consortium will be funded using $99 million from state general revenue.

OTHER PROVISIONS

  • The commissioner of education must adopt rules regarding best practices for school district and charter school facilities that provide a secure and safe environment.
  • District improvement plans must include a trauma-informed care policy.
  • The commissioner must provide a waiver of operational and instructional time for a district that requires each educator to attend a school safety training course, provided that the waiver does not result in an inadequate number of minutes of instructional time for students or reduce operational and instructional time by more than 420 minutes.
  • Physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention are added to the Health curriculum.
  • The State Board of Education (SBOE) must require each district to incorporate instruction on digital citizenship and cyberbullying.
  • Suicide early warning signs, mental health, and identifying community resources for suicide risks and behavioral health concerns are added to the responsibilities of local school health advisory committees (SHAC).
  • A district that receives a bomb threat or terroristic threat must provide immediate parental notification.
  • The commissioner must adopt rules providing school evacuation procedures and designating school drills, including fire exit, lockdown, lockout, shelter-in-place, and evacuation drills.
  • The TEA must develop a rubric for use by the regional education service centers (ESC) in identifying local mental health resources. Each ESC must create an inventory of local resources and report it to the TEA.
  • The TEA must develop a statewide plan for mental health, which includes connecting people to local mental health resources. The plan must be used to revise the agency’s long-term strategic plan and progress must be reported to the legislature.
  • Districts may issue bonds for retrofitting vehicles for safety or security purposes.

Full implementation of SB 11 will require multiple entities to work in coordination with each other and districts, as well as what will likely be significant rulemaking to implement aspects of the law.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 24, 2019

We’re down to the final stretch of the 86th legislative session, and there’s been major breaking news about education bills in the last 24 hours. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators have reached a deal on priority legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and teacher retirement funding. The deal was announced in a press conference yesterday afternoon by, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston), and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), along with the House and Senate conferees on House Bill 3 (Senators Larry Taylor, Donna Campbell, Jane Nelson, Kirk Watson, and Royce West and Representatives Dan Huberty, Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Mary Gonzalez, and Ken King). They happily announced that negotiations had concluded and a compromise had been made on the school finance bill, House Bill 3; the property tax bill, Senate Bill 2; and Senate Bill 12 pertaining to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

Architects of the compromise provided reporters with an explanatory flyer highlighting its elements, which can be viewed here, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell reported on the announced deal on our Teach the Vote blog yesterday, and we’ve got updated information about the bill posted on our blog today.

As of this Friday afternoon, the final conference committee reports on these bills had not been released to the public, so many of the finer details about the agreement remain unknown. Meanwhile, we know that the school finance bill raises the basic allotment, aims to reduce recapture by 47% over the next two years, and caps the rate of local school district property tax increases at 2.5% starting in the year 2021. The plan is said to raise the state’s share of education funding from its current level of 38% up to 45%.

The final version of HB 3 also aims to increase pay to some educators by providing additional funding to districts through a $140 million merit pay program and various other allotments. Teacher pay was another of Gov. Abbott’s emergency issues so declared earlier this session, along with school finance reform. To the extent that the compromise bill raises funding for school districts generally, HB 3 requires school districts to spend a significant portion of those increases to improve compensation. The final version of HB 3 does not include any across-the-board pay raise requirements, however.

The agreement on SB 12 is expected to raise the state’s contribution to the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound and provide current retirees with a 13th check. While the amount of the 13th check will vary, it is believed that the average amount of this payment will be around $2,000. The state is also increasing funding for TRS-ActiveCare, which will help active school employees with their healthcare costs.

Check out our lobbyists’ latest comprehensive blog post here for more detail on what is in the final versions of these high-profile bills. As we enter the final days of the session, don’t forget to follow the Teachthevote.org blog and our Twitter account for the most up-to-date information about the bills.


Legislation aimed at improving school safety and providing for mental health interventions for students is one step closer to passing. The issue was one of the emergency items Governor Abbott declared during his State of the State address in January.

After dying on a technicality earlier this week, a major mental health bill, Senate Bill 10 by Rep. John Zerwas (R- Richmond), was brought back to life when major portions of it were grafted onto another bill late on the night of the House’s deadline for passing bills on second reading. The carrier bill is Senate Bill 11, this session’s major school safety bill. SB 10 which would create a Texas Mental Health Consortium of mental health professionals from universities and health care providers around the state in order to identify children with mental illness and connect them to resources. SB 11 requires more training for school resource officers and encourages teaching students about how to prevent domestic violence, in part.

Yesterday afternoon both the House and Senate voted to send the newly expanded SB 11 to a conference committee.


Aside from House Bill 3, another bill pertaining to student testing remains pending and is generating a lot of attention among educators this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that HB 3906 by Rep Dan Huberty (R – Kingwood) as amended by the Senate dramatically impacts STAAR and remains pending at this late stage of the session.

As originally filed, HB 3906 primarily broke what are large, single day, tests into smaller tests that could be administered over multiple days, with those days falling over a number of weeks or even months. All of the mini-tests would have to fit within the same time frame as the current STAAR test they are meant to replace. The goal was to reduce student stress, allow for the test to be closer in time to the content being taught, and make the information gleaned from the test more useful to students and teachers during the school year in which the test is given.

The Senate put a number of additional provisions into the bill. The most controversial provision is a move from third through eighth grade reading tests, which do not include an integrated writing test, to third through eighth grade language arts tests, which do include embedded writing tests. There are currently stand-alone writing tests in fourth and seventh grades. The new format could certainly be viewed as an increase of four additional writing tests.

There have been conflicting reports on tests that are required by federal law. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not require ANY state-level writing tests. In fact, the US Department of Education sent the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a letter informing the agency that Texas was out of compliance with federal law because it included two standalone writing tests as requirements.

In addition to the new writing tests proposed in HB 3906, the Senate also added the following provisions to the bill:

  • Third-grade STAAR results as disaggregated by Pre-K attendance to be added to the state’s early education report;
  • A prohibition against STAAR testing on a Monday;
  • A limit on multiple choice questions to no more than 75 percent;
  • State-developed benchmark tests;
  • A requirement to administer the vast majority of the STAAR test electronically by the 2022-23 school year, as well as a transition plan;
  • Creation of a new Assessment Advisory Committee; and
  • A study on STAAR testing.

Due in large part to what they see as in an increase in testing, parents and teachers alike have been calling on their legislators to oppose this bill. As a result, the House voted on a motion from Rep. Huberty to send HB 3906 to a conference committee today.

ATPE encourages those who are willing to continue advocating with regard to HB 3906 to consider calling out specific provisions, such as the additional writing assessments for deletion from the bill while recommending that more favorable components be passed into law. ATPE members are reminded that they can use Advocacy Central to easily contact their legislators by phone, email, or social media.


 

From The Texas Tribune: This session’s biggest mental health bill got killed on a technicality — then resurrected

This session’s biggest mental health bill got killed on a technicality — then resurrected” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has tried to kill several bills this session. Photo by Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

A major mental health bill prioritized by the state’s top leaders as a way to help prevent school shootings was partially revived late Tuesday night hours after it appeared to have been abruptly killed on a technicality during a dramatic night in the Texas House.

State Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, raised a “point of order” on Senate Bill 10, which created a Texas Mental Health Consortium aimed at bringing together psychiatric professionals from Texas medical schools and other health care providers to connect children to mental health services. Stickland’s point of order contended that an analysis of the bill provided to lawmakers was inaccurate. After the House recessed for nearly an hour and a half so parliamentarians could analyze the technicality, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, R-Angleton, somberly announced a ruling in Stickland’s favor.

But hours later, provisions from SB 10 were added to Senate Bill 11, a school safety bill that the lower chamber passed earlier in the evening. State Rep. John Zerwas, R-Richmond, sponsored SB 10 in the House and successfully amended it to SB 11 over Stickland’s objections shortly before a midnight House deadline to advance bills from the upper chamber.

SB 10 is one of several proposals that the state’s GOP leaders championed in the wake of the deadly shooting last year at Santa Fe High School. Gov. Greg Abbott named it an emergency item in his State of the State address earlier this year, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick designated it one of his 30 legislative priorities.

Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, the bill’s author, told senators earlier this year that it was her “best shot” at helping students in the aftermath of school shootings. It had bipartisan backing and cleared the upper chamber unanimously more than two months ago.

“I think it was a well-intentioned bill that had some very bad unintended consequences,” Stickland told the Tribune by phone Tuesday night, an hour after his point of order initially knocked the bill out of contention. “I think it could have been stronger on parental rights to make sure our constitutional rights are protected in the bill.”

Asked if he was bracing for backlash from leadership over killing such a high-profile bill, Stickland said, “I expect it.”

Within a couple of hours, Stickland got it.

As it became clear Tuesday that Stickland’s point of order would torpedo the legislation, key players who worked on SB 10 moved quickly to figure out next steps. Zerwas, a Richmond Republican, walked across the Capitol rotunda into the Senate, where he spoke with Nelson, presumably about news of the bill’s fate.

“It’s unfortunate that there were some people who were getting some negative comments from their constituencies that felt the need to vote against this bill or somehow kill this bill,” Zerwas told the Tribune. “And one of those happened to be Jonathan Stickland, who’s pretty adept in finding points of order and calling them, and he wins some, he loses some, and unfortunately, he happened to win one with Sen. Nelson’s bill.”

Just before 11 p.m., state Rep. Greg Bonnen, a Friendswood Republican and brother of the House speaker, made a motion to revive the mental health bill by amending a sweeping school safety bill passed earlier Tuesday. He offered a cryptic message that there was “an opportunity to do some additional work” in order to “further make safe our schools in the state of Texas.”

Stickland approached the chamber’s back microphone with questions.

“Is this something we’ve seen before?” he asked.

“Absolutely,” Greg Bonnen said.

Stickland attempted to delay the motion, asking procedural questions about how the chamber was going to reconsider a portion of a bill that had already passed. He then gave a speech imploring colleagues not to reconsider SB 11, the school safety bill.

“Maybe you plan on voting for it, and that’s fine,” Stickland said. “But here’s what I can promise you: One day, there’s gonna be something that you care about where you might be in the minority. … You’re going to hope that these rules and our traditions and the way that this House operates protects you and your ability to stand up for your constituents.”

At one point, Stickland and a group of lawmakers huddled at the front dais to discuss his attempts to prevent adding the mental health provisions to the school safety bill.

“I’m sick of this shit,” Stickland could be heard telling Dennis Bonnen.

Zerwas eventually succeeded in reviving major elements of the mental health bill, despite two further attempts from Stickland to prohibit the amendment on technicalities.

Stickland has built a reputation for being a thorn in the side of House leadership, under both Bonnen and former House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. A former member of the hardline conservative Freedom Caucus, which he resigned from earlier this session, Stickland cast the lone “no” votes on several high-priority bills this year, including the House’s school finance reform proposal.

On a number of occasions this session, Stickland has tried to kill legislation ranging from the controversial to the uncontested. In April, for example, he successfully knocked several measures off of that day’s local and consent calendar, which is typically reserved for uncontroversial legislation. Stickland’s reasoning? Liberties were under attack.

On Monday, he used a point of order to successfully halt a bill that would have made it illegal to leave an unattended dog tied up in an inhumane manner. And earlier Tuesday, Stickland unsuccessfully called a point of order on SB 11, the school safety bill that would later be used as the vehicle to revive SB 10.

It was one of two school safety bills that advanced in the Legislature within hours of each other. The Senate also approved a House bill that would abolish the cap on how many trained school teachers and support staff — known as school marshals — can carry guns on public school campuses.

The nonprofit Mental Health America ranks Texas last among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., for youth access to mental health care. According to its 2019 report, The State of Mental Health in America, 71.3% of youth in Texas with major depression go untreated, compared with the national average of 61.5%.

Acacia Coronado, Emily Goldstein, Alex Samuels, Patrick Svitek, Aliyya Swaby and Alexa Ura contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/21/texas-mental-health-bill-killed-over-technicality/.

 

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

House Public Education Committee hears 35 bills on school safety

On Tuesday, March 26, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 35 bills on various issues related to school safety. Some bills focused on student-centered measures such as mental health supports and counseling services; some focused on administrative structures such as threat assessment teams and trauma-informed care policies; some focused on school hardening and increasing the presence of law enforcement in schools; and a few focused on funding.

Those who testified during the lengthy hearing yesterday tended to fall into three camps. Those with an interest in mental health, counseling, educational equity, and disability rights overwhelmingly supported bills that focus on the care of students, citing research that shows these intervention methods work to make schools safer. Other testifiers were interested in gun rights aspects of the bills and either wanted to ensure that the Second Amendment was upheld in school safety policies or wanted to keep increased levels of firearms out of schools. Lastly, some witnesses, such as those representing school districts, expressed the long-term needs for both school-hardening structural changes and programmatic and service changes relating to counseling, mental health, and emotional health.

North East ATPE President Laura Herrera testified in support of a school safety bill during the House Public Education Committee hearing on March 26, 2019.

Rep. Greg Bonnen’s (R-Friendswood and the Speaker’s brother) House Bill (HB) 17 was the largest bill of the day and incorporated many of the concepts that other bills on the agenda also offered. Rep. Bonnen shared a newer version of his bill with the committee that would do the following:

  • Allow the Commissioner of Education to create rules on best practices for safe and secure facilities.
  • Require local mental health authorities (LMHAs) to employ a non-physician mental health professional as a resource for school districts.
  • Require that a trauma-informed care policy be included in school district improvement plans and address awareness and implementation of trauma-informed practices through TEA-approved training for new employees (which may also be incorporated into staff development).
  • Create an exception for minimum minutes of operation so that educators can attend a school safety training course.
  • Require multi-hazard emergency operations plans to incorporate the work of the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) and follow stringent preparedness guidelines. District multi-hazard plans would be reviewed and districts would be given a chance to make corrections. If districts fail to submit or correct the plan, they would be subject to conservatorship, just as with accountability sanctions.
  • Require a district that receives notice of noncompliance for their security and safety audit or their multi-hazard plan to hold a public hearing and provide information to the public.
  • Require that school safety and security committee participants include a variety of new individuals, including law enforcement representatives, a teacher, and parents.
  • Establish threat assessment teams for each campus, which would be responsible for determining the appropriate method of assessment and intervention, as well as identifying and reporting students who risk a serious threat of violence to others or themselves. The TxSSC must create model threat assessment team policies and procedures, including procedures for the referral of a student to an LMHA, health care provider, or special education evaluation.
  • Create a “school safety allotment” at an unspecified amount to be used to improve school safety and security through school facilities and technology, law enforcement and school marshals, and training and planning (including prevention such as mental health personnel).
  • Allow bonds to be issued for retrofitting school buses or purchasing/retrofitting other vehicles for safety or emergency purposes.

ATPE did not testify orally on any of the bills heard yesterday, but did register a position in support of the following bills:

  • HB 1312 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would allow a district to contract with a LMHA to provide mental health services. The Human Health and Services Commission (HHSC) would let school districts enroll as providers so that they can receive Medicaid reimbursements for providing the services.
  • HB 1496 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require law enforcement officials who learn of a school violence threat to let the superintendent know as soon as possible. The superintendent would then notify appropriate personnel.
  • HB 1754 (Bonnen, G., et al., R-Friendswood): Would create a $50 per student “school safety allotment” that can be used for school hardening and prevention and treatment programs for addressing adverse childhood experiences.
  • HB 2511 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require campus improvement plans to include goals and methods for bullying prevention and dropout deterrence, including providing teacher continuing education and materials or training for parents.
  • HB 2994 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would require the commissioner to develop mental health training materials for school districts to use. The commissioner must consult with teachers and mental health professionals and make the training available through various methods.
  • HB 3411 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would amend the list of programs created by TEA, the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and Education Service Centers (ESCs) to include programs and practices in early mental health and substance abuse prevention and intervention, positive school climate, and suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention (healing). The suicide prevention programs should include components that prepare personnel to assist students in returning to school following a mental health concern or suicide attempt. The bill would require districts to develop practices and procedures regarding the programs on the list.

The following bills were also heard by the committee:

  • HB 366 (González, M., D-Clint): Would direct the State Board of Education (SBOE) to adopt age-appropriate and accurate Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) related to relationship, communication, and decision-making skills.
  • HB 567 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would adjust a district’s wealth per student by deducting revenue spent on campus security during the previous year.
  • HB 734 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would allow board members and superintendents to carry a concealed or open handgun to a board meeting.
  • HB 876 (Allen, et al., D-Houston): Would require ALL districts with district police or school resource officers (SROs) to adopt a training policy. Current law only applies to districts with 30,000 or more students.
  • HB 973 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require that the TxSSC report to TEA on district non-compliance with certain safety requirements and allow TEA to impose a penalty up to the amount of the superintendent’s salary.
  • HB 974 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would change the cycle of the safety and security audit from three to two years and require districts to check the ID of a person who is coming to the school for a non-public event. Current law leaves checking IDs for non-public events up to districts.
  • HB 975 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require trustees to complete school safety training, as developed by the SBOE and the Texas School Safety Center.
  • HB 976 (Metcalf, et al., R-Conroe): Would require trustees and charter school governing board members to complete school safety training and make charters subject to certain safety requirements. The bill also establishes an emergency management coordinator for each district to lead the security and safety committee and creates threat assessment teams.
  • HB 1026 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would require the SBOE to incorporate character trait instruction  into the K-12 TEKS. Adds “gratitude” to the existing list of character traits under current law and requires each school district and charter to adopt a character education program and submit it to TEA. The agency would collect data and designate “Character Plus Schools” that demonstrate a correlation between the program and increase in attendance and decrease in discipline.
  • HB 1106 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would eliminate the current cap on school marshals (not more than the greater of one per 200 students or one per building on each campus) for public and private schools.
  • HB 1143 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would prevent districts and charters from regulating the manner in which guns or ammunition are stored in vehicles on school property for those who hold a license to carry.
  • HB 1387 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would allow an increase in school marshals by changing the ratio from one marshal per 200 students down to one marshal per 100 students for public and private schools.
  • HB 1467 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): Would mandate ratios of mental health professionals to law enforcement based on school district size, decreasing the ratio for smaller districts, and allow districts to request a TEA waiver if they can’t comply. The waiver would require districts to document that they tried to hire mental health professionals and require that law enforcement complete training.
  • HB 1471 (Darby, R-San Angelo): Would allow, under an optional board policy, veterans and retired law enforcement to volunteer to provide security services and carry a handgun at schools. The program would be included in the district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan and include training for each volunteer.
  • HB 1623 (Coleman, D-Houston): Would update staff development to require training on trauma-informed practices, which, in addition to suicide prevention training, would have to take place at least once every five years. The bill would update the list of programs that DSHS, TEA, and ESCs create to specify that trauma-informed practices must include training on recognizing trauma in students; recognizing warning signs such as lowered academic performance, depression, isolation; and, learning to intervene effectively. It would make charters subject to the new requirements, require reporting to TEA on the number of personnel trained, and withhold funds for mental health supports if a district or charter doesn’t report.
  • HB 1640 (Martinez, D-Weslaco): Would create a life skills pilot program on each high school campus in certain counties.
  • HB 1825 (Cortez, D-San Antonio): Would require information shared by law enforcement with a superintendent on student offenses to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.
  • HB 1959 (Hefner, R-Mount Pleasant): Would allow those with a license to carry to have their firearm/ammunition in the parking lot for a private school.
  • HB 2195 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would require an active shooter emergency policy to be included in a school district’s multi-hazard emergency operations plan.
  • HB 2653 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would require the establishment of threat assessment teams in charter schools and public school districts.
  • HB 2654 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): For new construction, would require a school district to follow building standards that include a key-less lock on each entrance, narrow classroom door windows, window coverings, a PA system, and security cameras. Charters would also be subject to the regulations for new buildings. The bill would require live feed from the cameras to be available to police, testing the PA system regularly, and storing an active shooter medical kit. School districts wouldn’t be able to seek bond guarantees without following the standards.
  • HB 2655 (Rosenthal, D-Houston): Would require an active shooter protocol to be included in the multi-hazard emergency operations plan and that school law enforcement complete an active shooter training.
  • HB 2997 (Talarico, et al., D-Round Rock): A newer version of the bill offered by its author in yesterday’s hearing would extend suicide prevention training to all school employees and require districts and charters to provide the training once every four years.
  • HB 3018 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Calls for the SBOE to require districts to incorporate digital citizenship instruction into its curriculum, which includes healthy online behavior.
  • HB 3235 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would require suicide prevention training at least once every two years. Current law leaves the frequency of the training up to TEA, which has determined that employees only have to complete it once.
  • HB 3290 (Toth, R-Woodlands): Would require districts to include a special threat response policy in their multi-hazard emergency operations plan, as coordinated with an emergency services agency. The policy must use “standard nomenclature,” conduct annual drills, be submitted to the commissioner and director of public safety, include protocols for law enforcement, and be consented to by each emergency services agency.
  • HB 3470 (Allen, D-Houston): Would allow the Texas School for the Deaf and school districts to engage with law enforcement for the provision of school resource officers. Outlines that school boards must determine the duties of the school law enforcement and include these in certain documents. The bill would prohibit these individuals from engaging in routine student discipline duties, school administrative tasks, or contact with students not related to law enforcement.
  • HB 3718 (Parker, et al., R-Flower Mound): Would require a trauma-informed care policy to be included in the district improvement plan. The policy should increase staff and parent awareness of trauma-informed care, implement trauma-informed practices, and address available counseling options for students. The training used to implement the policy should be provided through evidence-based programs for new and existing employees. Districts must maintain the names of those who complete the training and make a reasonable effort to partner with a community organization to provide free training if they don’t have the resources.

Next week, House Bill 3, Rep. Dan Huberty’s big school finance bill, heads to the House floor for debate. Considering the large number of legislators in the House who have signed on to the bill, it is expected to pass easily. However, floor debate opens up the bill to amendments that could change it. Follow @TeachtheVote and the ATPE lobbyists on Twitter (@ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @MarkWigginsTX, @ATPE_JenniferM) and continue reading our blog posts here for updates!

Senate committee discusses school marshal, safety bills

Senate Education Committee meeting March 5, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met today, March 5, 2019, to discuss a school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 11 yesterday, which includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. ATPE supports the bill.

Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) kicked off the meeting by introducing SB 406, which would allow school marshals to carry a concealed firearm on their person. This would eliminate a provision in current law that restricts school marshals who are in regular, direct contact with students from carrying a firearm on their person.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) then laid out several complementary bills, including SB 243, SB 244, and SB 477. These bills would have the effect of increasing the allowable number of school marshals, allowing greater flexibility in their ability to carry firearms, and implementing a uniform license renewal date.

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) introduced SB 811, which would extend liability protection to districts that employ school marshals.

Sen. Taylor explained SB 11 as a work in progress and the result of Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety report and action plan, both of which came in response to last year’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The bill includes requiring districts to adopt a multihazard emergency operations plan and create threat assessment teams. It would require additional grief and trauma training for school employees. The bill proposes a $50 per average daily attendance (ADA) allotment for mental health and school safety expenses and a one-time drawdown of economic stabilization fund (ESF) or “rainy day fund” dollars for school hardening.

Santa Fe ISD Board of Trustees President Rusty Norman testified that school hardening is not the only solution to school safety, and things like metal detectors require an enormous amount of ongoing funding. Norman stressed the importance of school counselors and mental health services to prevent tragedies.

The committee is expected to continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays as needed, with the early focus on the emergency items declared by the governor.

 

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.

House committee discusses school safety funding

The Texas House Committee on Appropriations met Tuesday in Austin to discuss funding for school safety, which Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) called one of the most important issues the legislature will take up next session.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 9, 2018.

Administrators from Santa Fe ISD, the site of the horrific school shooting earlier this year, were the first to testify. The district has since doubled its security staff, installed panic buttons in classrooms, and modified the design of certain instructional areas. The district indicated that funding for additional officers and counselors has come from the district’s fund balance, and leaders are concerned about long term budgeting.

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) called the amount of spending Santa Fe ISD has been forced to undertake “sobering,” and suggested that state lawmakers should not compound the burden on local property tax payers by leaving districts to fund school safety measures alone.

Lawmakers also heard from representatives from the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) and the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. Representatives indicated that while legislators have cut program budgets, demand for services has increased. Because of this, TxSSC has not been able to address 100 percent of the needs expressed by school districts. State Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) stressed the importance of training officers in de-escalation and in how to deal with special needs children.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath presented the agency’s plans to address school safety, including a $54 million exceptional item in the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR). Morath explained that the actions taken to date as well as the agency’s budget request are aligned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan. The commissioner said that federal funds would likely not help pay for school hardening efforts, which would fall instead to state and local taxpayers. Morath also suggested creating safety standards for facilities, such as new schools, that would force compliance.

State Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) questioned how far $54 million will go when spread statewide, given the testimony that Santa Fe ISD alone spent more than $30 million on safety improvements. Rep. Walle also suggested that if the state is going to gather data on students, lawmakers should also consider ways to ensure students faced with mental health emergencies do not have unfettered access to firearms.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also emphasized the need to address students’ emotional wellbeing in order to prevent tragedies. Along with state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Rep. Wu also discussed the need for access to counseling in particular in rural areas, and how telemedicine may be leveraged in some underserved locations. Morath noted that some rural schools are limited by lack of access to high-speed fiber internet. Chair Zerwas also indicated broad support for utilizing telemedicine in these settings. Zerwas credited Article III Subcommittee Chair Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Rep. Howard with working to provide $25 million in matching funds last session to implement telemedicine.

The committee heard additional testimony from the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD), the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). The LBB pegged the total of various agencies’ appropriations requests at around $100 million.

Finally, the committee received an update from the TEA regarding the agency’s implementation of corrective action to ensure students with special needs are being adequately served. This is a result of the U.S. Department of Education finding the state instituted a de facto cap on special education enrollment and failed to comply with federal law mandating the state provide special education services to all children who qualify.

Agency staff testified that districts are seeing an uptick in special education enrollment. As part of the corrective action plan, the agency is developing a rubric for schools seeking additional funding in order to provide special education services as they are required under federal law. Staff testified that each percentage point that special education enrollment increases will cost $342 million per year. In addition, staff said there are currently not enough trained staff in the state to evaluate all of the children who theoretically could be served.

Congress passes education budget

Congress passed a funding bill today that averts a looming government shutdown and, among other spending, includes FY 2019 funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The measure now heads to President Trump for his signature.

Under the spending measure, the overall federal education budget is increased based on current levels, with major programs like Title I and special education seeing program specific bumps. President Trump asked for more than $7 billion in overall budget cuts to ED in his budget request to Congress earlier this year. Congress’s education budget also largely ignores his request to funnel north of $1 billion to various school choice programs, but does include increased funding for charter school grants.

The bill increases funding levels for a grant aimed at creating safer schools. Despite efforts from Democrats, a prohibition on using certain funding under the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) to arm teachers in schools did not make it into the bill. Texas has been at the center of the debate following questions from Texas school districts asking whether Title IV ESSA funding could be used to arm teachers. At a hearing on ESSA held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee yesterday, the issue again garnered significant attention. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has maintained that the law offers districts considerable flexibility and does not specifically prohibit spending on arming teachers.

President Trump said earlier today that he will sign the measure, which keeps the government running through December 7 and also funds the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services Departments.

 

State leaders continue to discuss school safety measures

The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a report today on school safety, specifically highlighting actions being taken by school districts to respond to growing concerns about violence in schools and related safety measures. The “School Safety Action Plan Summary” follows an earlier School and Firearm Safety Action Plan shared by the governor’s office earlier this year. The governor also convened a group of stakeholders back in July to discuss the issue, and ATPE’s state officers were invited to weigh in.

Among the safety measures noted in the governor’s summary report out today are training programs for educators, including the Mental Health First Aid course that is available at no cost to public school employees through their local mental health authorities. The eight-hour course for which educators can earn CPE credit focuses on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse problems in students. Educators can learn more about the program here.

The governor’s report out today also highlights an increase in the number of school marshals, who are school employees trained and authorized to provide an armed response to violence incidents on a school campus. The school marshal program has existed since 2013 when the legislature passed House Bill 1009 by Rep. Jason Villalba, but relatively few school districts have opted into it. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter noted in this article for the Dallas Morning News, “Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge of the programs available or a lack of will to implement them, school boards have clearly not made arming educators a priority.” Money is also an ongoing issue in the debate over keeping schools safe, as school districts that are already facing deficiencies in their revenue struggle to find ample cash to pay for additional training, make building updates, or provide mental health resources.

Read the governor’s latest School Safety Action Plan Summary here. Read ATPE’s associated press statement here.

SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich addresses school safety issues as part of a federal panel on Aug. 28, 2018.

On Tuesday, Texas State Board of Education chair Donna Bahorich was a panelist in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety. The event held in Montgomery, Alabama, was part of a series of listening sessions held around the country with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety.

Bahorich talked about the mental health aspect of curbing violence in schools, including the need to remove the stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment. “We need to do a paradigm shift around mental health,” Bahorich told the panel before sharing statistics about the prevalence of mental illness among schoolchildren. She also mentioned the concerns over expecting school counselors to fulfill both a mental health treatment function and academic counseling responsibilities, noting that Texas has been discussing whether such roles should be bifurcated. The full listening session broadcast can be viewed here. (The segment featuring Bahorich begins at 1:25:25 during the broadcast.)

Expect school safety to remain a top issue for consideration during the 2019 legislative session. A Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security held hearings on the issue this year and released an interim report of its findings earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this important issue.