Category Archives: school board

Summer Activism: How can I continue to fight for our classrooms?

Congratulations, you made it to summer!

The students are gone, but every teacher knows the work never really stops, even when the temperatures soar. As it turns out, this summer is already shaping up to be a pretty active one when it comes to shaping public education policies that could make a big impact on classrooms next fall.

In fact, keeping on top of what’s happening this summer is critical to ensuring lawmakers start off on the right foot when they return to Austin in January to start making laws that affect your students, classrooms and profession. To that end, many ATPE members have asked what educators can do to stay on top of these important conversations this summer.

The good news is there’s plenty to do, and much of it can be done with minimal disruption to your summer schedule! Here’s a list of ways to keep engaged:

Be Social

Keeping up on your social media feeds is the best way to stay up to date on what conversations are going down where. Your ATPE governmental relations staff is busy going to important meetings where the future of public education is being discussed, and we’re posting what’s being talked about on Twitter. Good handles to follow are @OfficialATPE, @TeachTheVote, @ATPE_JenniferC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_KateK and yours truly, @MarkWigginsTX. Also check for updates on ATPE’s Facebook page. The more follows, likes and shares we get, the more clout we’ll have when we start mobilizing members during the legislative session.

Speak Up

There are dozens of meetings scheduled this summer where members of the public are allowed to testify about public education issues, letting lawmakers know where they stand. Next month, a special Senate committee is meeting to talk about school safety, and the House Public Education Committee is holding hearings on school safety and mental health next week. The Texas Commission on Public School Finance is scheduled to meet July 10 to discuss ways to fix the school finance system. The State Board of Education (SBOE) just wrapped up their June meeting, but they’ll be back in September. If you want to know more about how to testify, just call or e-mail your ATPE governmental relations department; but you don’t have to travel to Austin to be heard. Reaching out to the people elected to represent you via letters, email, and phone calls can be just as effective. You can often them just down the street at their local district offices during this time year as well, if you want to talk to them face to face without ever leaving home.

Volunteer

The most important way to make sure we secure adequate funding, resources and respect for the teaching profession is by electing pro-public education candidates to office. You can find out who supports public education by checking out our Candidates page. The November 6 election is the biggest and last opportunity between now and the next legislative session to do that. Even though July and August are typically slow months for political campaigns, those campaigns are always looking for people to block walk, make phone calls and put up signs. Volunteering during the dog days is also a great way to get to know candidates and staff on a personal level, since they’re usually very grateful for the help!

Donate

Unfortunately, money still matters in the world of politics. Campaigns rely on it and so do political action committees (PACs). People are grateful for donations any time, and summer is no exception. For most educators, pooling your money with other donors through a PAC offers you an opportunity to get the best bang for the buck. For example, during the primaries, 72 percent of the candidates who received a donation form the ATPE-PAC went on to win their election. In the primary runoffs that number jumped to 80 percent.

Preach the Word

Summer is a time for barbecues, grilling out and social gatherings. We’ve all been general brought up to avoid talking politics, but the future of our schools is something that should rise above partisanship. Are your friends also stressed about paying too much in property taxes? Do they know that fixing the school finance system by ensuring the state pays its fair share of the burden would go a long way in fixing that? What about testing — are other parents just as fed up with the overemphasis on STAAR? Let them know the hard work you and ATPE are doing to advocate for solutions to these problems and let them know about Teach the Vote! We created the site for everyone who cares about the future of public education because we need everyone’s help to make sure we get  the right people in office to fix these and many other issues, such as teacher health care and compensation.

We’re gearing up for a scorcher, but educators can’t afford to spend too much time in the shade. Every little bit helps us to avoid getting burned next session!

Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

TEA holds public hearing on innovation district rules

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a hearing yesterday to take public testimony on the commissioner’s proposed rules for the implementation of House Bill (HB) 1842 dealing with Districts of Innovation (DOI). HB 1842 by House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) was passed by the legislature in 2015 and addressed several aspects of the state’s accountability system for schools. The provision allowing for innovation districts, which had been proposed through a stand-alone bill last session that did not pass, was added to HB 1842 as a late addition by a conference committee that was tasked with ironing out differences in House and Senate versions of the bill.

The new law allows certain acceptably rated school districts to create innovation plans and claim exemptions from various statutes in the Texas Education Code (TEC) that they feel would otherwise impede their planned innovations. After seeing the written innovation plans that have been developed by some districts, ATPE has expressed grave concerns about the massive exemptions being claimed by some districts and the rights that educators, students, and parents could lose as a result. (For instance, Spring Branch ISD’s Board of Trustees just voted last night to approve a new innovation plan in which the district exerted its right to “exemption from all permissible provisions of the TEC as allowed in the statute.”)

ATPE and the other statewide teacher groups each testified at yesterday’s public hearing that the commissioner’s rules should require districts to explicitly state which sections of the Texas Education Code they intend to exempt themselves from and why those exemptions would be necessary to effectuate the district’s specific innovation plan. ATPE also opposed allowing districts to exempt themselves from any part of the DOI statute itself, such as the provision that requires plan amendments to be sent to a district level planning committee or its equivalent. In addition, ATPE raised concerns over the possibility that districts could potentially waive statutes that deal with the state’s school finance system, including the recapture provisions in Chapter 41. We also asked the commissioner to amend the proposed rules by adding more statutes to his list of non-exemptible sections of the TEC; specifically, ATPE believes that educators’ rights and remedies currently found in Chapter 21 (such as contract rights and the requirement to hire certified teachers) should not be subject to waivers.

In addition to educators, who are concerned about the wholesale loss of educator, student, and parental rights in innovation districts that exercise their waiver authority, the primary opposition to the new law comes from the travel industry. Several school districts are considering using the innovation district law to exempt themselves from the mandatory uniform school start date law found in the TEC. During yesterday’s hearing, a number of representatives of that industry testified that travel and tourism interests could lose hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs if a significant number of districts move back their school start dates.

Stay tuned for more on innovation districts as the TEA rulemaking process continues.

Related content: Watch a quick video interview with ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter about the types of laws that can be waived by innovation districts using this new law.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at an April 25 hearing on proposed rules for innovation districts.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at an April 25 hearing on proposed rules for innovation districts.

Governor selects Mike Morath to be new Texas commissioner of education

It was announced today that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has tapped Mike Morath to serve as the state’s next commissioner of education. Morath will succeed Commissioner Michael Williams who is stepping down at the end of the year.

Morath is a business executive with a background in finance. He has been a member of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD) board of trustees since 2011. Morath gained notoriety when he joined reformers in voicing strong support for an effort last year to make DISD the first-ever home rule charter district in Texas. That effort, which was underwritten in large part by the Arnold Foundation, failed, as we reported on Teach the Vote. Morath also serves on the advisory board of Texans for Education Reform (TER).

Today’s announcement comes just one month after Abbott also selected Morath to chair the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability, which the legislature created to recommend changes to our state’s student testing and accountability systems. The governor’s press release today states that “Morath is a product of Texas public schools” and that he once briefly taught computer science at Garland High School “during a school year when the previous teacher unexpectedly resigned.”

There has been much speculation lately as to whether the governor would select an education insider or a reformer/business leader to head the Texas Education Agency going forward. Morath’s name was not one that was more widely circulated, but his selection sends another signal that Abbott is very interested in the agenda of the education reform and pro-privatization crowd. Morath joins the list of other recent reform-minded appointees we’ve written about on Teach the Vote, such as newly-minted Pension Review Board chair Josh McGee.

As the state’s largest educator association, ATPE looks forward to an opportunity to meet with Morath and share our members’ input and experiences with him. We anticipate that he will want to pursue innovative approaches to regulations dealing with such issues as charter schools, teacher appraisals, and student testing. We hope that Morath will be the type of commissioner who is receptive to educators’ voices in matters of policy and will support local control.

Commissioner appoints board of managers for Beaumont ISD

The Texas Education Agency announced today that Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has selected the new board of managers for the Beaumont Independent School District. These seven members will be sworn in July 21 and will assume all responsibilities of Beaumont’s previously elected board of trustees for a period of up to two years:

  • A.B. Bernard, a business leader who has served on the board of the Beaumont Chamber of Commerce and other organizations.
  • Lenny Caballero, director of event facilities for the City of Beaumont. 
  • Jack Carroll, a personal injury and commercial litigation attorney with Orgain, Bell & Tucker, LLP.
  • Joe Domino, former president and CEO of Entergy Texas.
  • Vernice Monroe, liaison to the president on Multicultural Enhancement at Lamar University. 
  • Jimmy Simmons, former president of Lamar University, currently serving as a music instructor there.
  • Robert Turner, auto dealership owner and former chairman of the board for the Greater Beaumont Area Chamber of Commerce.

Commissioner Williams also announced his appointment of Vern Butler as interim superintendent of Beaumont ISD. Butler will serve until the board of managers hires a permanent superintendent. Fred Shafer, who was previously appointed conservator of Beaumont ISD in April, will remain in his role supporting the new board of managers and interim superintendent.