Category Archives: School Finance

Expenditures group considers potential recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met Thursday morning to discuss the group’s recommendations. Group leader state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, indicated no vote would be taken Thursday.

The school finance commission expenditures working group meeting August 9, 2018.

The first potential recommendations related to repeals that could free up “pots of money” to be reallocated. Commission Chair Scott Brister expressed confusion over how specific programs are funded, and suggested eliminating most programmatic funding and directing it toward the basic allotment instead. This included a discussion of repealing the high school allotment, the 1992-93 hold harmless provision, the staff allotment, the gifted and talented allotment, the public education grant (PEG) allotment, the transportation allotment, the local option homestead exemption for certain districts, the recapture discount, and the early agreement credit.

The staff allotment provides $250 for each part-time employee and $500 for each full-time not subject to the minimum salary schedule, which includes counselors and librarians – basically anyone who is not a teacher. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) indicated he would be hesitant to repeal this allotment because he believes it serves its intended purpose. State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis contended that districts would be unlikely to reduce staff if that allotment were to go away.

State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Galveston), who chairs the Senate Education Committee), proposed repealing the gifted and talented allotment. Sen. Taylor argued that most schools are already receiving five percent of their funding through this allotment, and including it into the basic allotment could allow districts more spending freedom. Sen. West clarified that members are not proposing that this money go away, only that it be delivered through a different mechanism, such as the basic allotment.

The discussion regarding the transportation allotment followed much the same logic. However, Member Ellis noted that rural districts face disproportionate transportation costs due to physical size and population density. Sen. Taylor suggested tying the funding to mileage. Sen. West offered the idea of weighted funding based on mileage. Chair Brister then questioned the value of schools having buses in general, suggesting that some districts would do better to simply encourage parents to carpool.

Rep. Huberty suggested PEG grants should be left alone because they offer a real incentive for districts to accept transfer students. It’s important to note that this is often cited as a key component of the public school choice system.

The group discussed using current year values for Foundation School Program (FSP) calculations, which would affect districts experiencing positive growth and negative growth differently. Rep. Huberty also noted that districts in which a significant portion of the local property wealth is tied to mineral wealth could experience more volatility.

Sen. Taylor suggested that pre-K is one of the areas in which districts could invest general dollars that have been untethered from specific programs, as discussed. The group discussed whether to incentivize half-day or full-day pre-K in order to achieve the goal of getting students reading by the third grade.

The group also discussed changing the equalized wealth level and simplifying the funding tiers, the recapture system in general, and the basic allotment. Brister contended that discussing recapture should be the purview of the working group on revenue, which is led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). With regard to the basic allotment, members expressed concern over tying the hands of future legislatures by tying funding to a rising cost such as inflation.

Members discussed the adjusted allotment, and Sen. Taylor proposed additional funding for charters. Sen. West quickly voiced opposition to charter expansion and the group quickly moved onto the next topic.

A larger discussion focused on the cost of education index, which was passed in 1984 and last updated in 1991. Member Ellis discussed moving to a more relevant index that includes teacher salaries. Sen. Taylor suggested districts also experience large variations in the cost of transportation, which could play a part in a CEI replacement. Rep. Huberty pointed out that even if the CEI were updated today, it would be out of date again within a few years.

The group took a look at the district size adjustments for small- and mid-sized districts, and Brister expressed the feeling that many smaller districts should be consolidated. Member Ellis noted that many rural districts have already consolidated services such as transportation and food services. Sen. Taylor suggested looking for ways to encourage districts to consolidate.

Regarding special education, Rep. Huberty indicated he did not feel comfortable tweaking weights and arrangements, and special education funding should be based on need. Huberty confirmed there will be more money pumped into special education, and members should wait and see how that funding affects the system before making modifications. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez said the increased cost of complying with order to serve all qualifying special education students is projected to be $682 million in fiscal year (FY) 2019, $1 billion in FY 2020, and $1.55 billion in FY 2021. Rep. Huberty also asked to explore fulfilling more private placement services within districts; for example, districts could offer incentives to improve retention of high-performing special education teachers.

On the issue of attendance, Sen. Larry Taylor suggested moving away from attendance-based funding requirements. Again, the argument for doing so was to give districts more flexibility, particularly at the high school level.

Members continued to focus on flexibility with regard to career and technical education (CTE), while expressing support for encouraging CTE and expanding middle school programs from eighth to as early as sixth grade. Regarding compensatory education, members discussed moving the identifying mechanism away from using free and reduced-price lunch. Members also looked at expanding the definitions to serve more low-income students who may not technically qualify under the current system. Regarding weights, the group discussed a hypothetical increase to the compensatory education weight to between .225 and .275.

Moving onto English Language Learners (ELLs), Sen. Taylor suggested the state incentive dual language over bilingual education where possible by offering a separate weight, rather than just increasing the bilingual weight.

On the issue of facilities funding, Rep. Huberty pointed out that legislators already voted to increase the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA), but the system was stretched so thin that the anticipated benefit was not fully delivered. The next step would be to increase the cap from $25 million to $100 million. Sen. West again voiced concern about the saturation of charter schools.

The group then discussed staffing, beginning with a proposal to allow staff members’ children to take advantage of free pre-K. Rep. Huberty then talked about teacher compensation, including programs intended to incentivize top teachers to work at campuses facing the toughest challenges. Lopez suggested a tiered pay program that rewards high-performing teachers would have a low initial startup cost, but would ramp up over time. Member Ellis emphasized the need for local control in setting salaries and implementing locally-developed programs, such as the Dallas ISD program that is often cited as an example of a working performance pay system. Sen. Taylor suggested providing funding for this on the back end for districts that have already put these programs into practice.

Members were unanimous in its support for mental health and wellness programs, but indicated the subject may be beyond the purview of the commission.

The group noted changes to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas ranging from adjusting the anticipated rate of return to rising drug costs and benefit reductions. Chair Huberty also indicated this subject may best be tackled by the relevant legislative committees. Notwithstanding this, the group entertained a discussion of requiring charter schools to pay into TRS at the same rate districts are required to pay. Lopez noted the interaction between district TRS contributions and the CEI, should the CEI go away.

Rep. Huberty asked TEA to pull a report together within the next 30 days, so the working group can schedule another public meeting to formally adopt its recommendations. Brister suggested getting recommendations to the full commission by mid- to late October so that the commission could consider them in November.

School finance commission considers first round of recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday morning to discuss recommendations from the working group on outcomes, lead by Todd Williams. Commission Chair Scott Brister opened the meeting by requesting suggestions for how to pay for the various recommendations the commission has received.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting July 10, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez was the first invited witness, and provided an overview of how public education in Texas is funded. Currently, the state pays 36 percent of the total cost of funding schools. Excluding local recapture, the bulk of funding – 51 percent – is carried by local property taxes. Recapture, which is also local funding but was counted separately for the purposes of Lopez’s presentation on Tuesday, amounts for three percent of funding. The remainder comes from federal funding.

According to TEA’s numbers, state funding on a per-student basis has remained flat since 2008. When adjusted for inflation, this represents a decline in actual dollars. In the same time period, the biggest increase in funding has come from local property taxes. Legislative Budget Board (LBB) Assistant Director John McGeady explained that while the LBB and TEA use different calculations to determine state spending, both sets of data show the state’s share of funding has steadily declined over the past decade.

Williams introduced the same recommendations the working group approved last week, which include outcome-based incentives at the 3rd, 8th, and 12th grade levels. The 3rd grade reading gateway would be supplemented by increased funding for schools with high populations of economically disadvantaged and English learner students that could be used to provide full-day prekindergarten. The 8th grade incentives would target reading and Algebra I, and 12th grade would focus on indicators of post-secondary readiness.

The recommendations from the outcomes working group also include a performance pay system that would reward teachers who complete more rigorous educator preparation programs, provide higher pay for educators according to locally-developed, multi-metric performance evaluation programs, and incent administrators to direct the highest performing educators into campuses and grade levels with the greatest need.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who has argued against increasing school funding, argued fiercely against objective data presented by Williams that indicate Texas will miss its “60×30” goal by two decades years. The goal is to ensure that 60 percent of Texas 25- to 34-year olds obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2030. According to current rates of postsecondary attainment, the state will not reach this goal until 2051. Bettencourt argued businesses rely on net migration into the state, despite the fact that this necessarily reduces the number of high paying jobs available to students educated in Texas.

Williams told the members he would welcome feedback on the recommendations, and suggested more testimony could be taken, specifically from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) regarding 60×30 progress. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) suggested the working group could collect comments and produce a revised draft.

Williams estimated the cost of implementing the recommendations at $1 billion annually, or $2 billion per biennium. This would gradually increase to $2.5 billion annually over a ten-year period, as districts meet stretch goals and additional districts phase in the recommendations. This could ultimately save the state money by higher-paid workers contributing more state taxes, and fewer state resources would be needed for uninsured medical costs and incarceration. The expenditures working group is expected to meet August 9 to work on recommendations. House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who leads the expenditures working group, said more than 200 recommendations have been received. The full commission does not plan to meet until September.

Brister said the commission will not hold a vote until the total cost of recommendations can be calculated and until the commission can determine from where the money to pay for them will come.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 6, 2018

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


Josette Saxton

This week Josette Saxon, Director of Mental Health Policy at the statewide, non-profit, non-partisan, multi-issue children’s policy organization, Texans Care for Children shared why it”s critical that the Legislature and local school districts act to promote the mental well being of Texas school children.

Noting alarming data on youth suicides, Sexton writes:

“The pain and despair behind these numbers is heartbreaking, but it should also be a call to action. We all need to work harder to understand and address the causes of this crisis. We also need our policymakers to strength our children’s mental health policies, including policies to support students through our schools.”

Read more here.


On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s working group on outcomes met to deliberate and discuss recommendations based on previous testimony.

The group structured incentives around three core principles: “Ready to learn, ready to teach, and ready to earn.” Goals for the working group include ensuring graduates don’t require remediation and go on to obtain a post secondary credential. In order to achieve these goals, the working group recommends new weighted funding for certain student groups and suggests the state encourage school districts to implement performance pay programs to attract and retain educators. You can read more about the group’s recommendations in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. 


 

Next week, Teach the Vote will be taking a hiatus from our regular weekly wrap-up while the ATPE Governmental Relations staff is atrending the ATPE Summit in Dallas. The wrap-up will be back the following week. A big THANK YOU to all our regular readers who look forward to getting this digest each week, as we look forward to bringing you more of what’s going on with public education in Texas directly to your email. Until our next digest on Friday, July 20, please visit the Teach the Vote blog directly and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for updates and breaking news.

Working group releases first set of school finance recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Tuesday in Austin to consider recommendations based on more than 60 hours of testimony heard by the commission since its first meeting in January.

School finance commission working group on outcomes meeting July 3, 2018.

Group leader Todd Williams began the meeting reading from a detailed report that suggested the state should invest more dollars in specific strategies to accelerate reaching the “60×30” goal of ensuring 60 percent of students go onto post-secondary success by the year 2030.

Common themes from testimony included the importance of early intervention, since only 60 percent of students arrive at school kindergarten-ready. The report indicated teachers are the most important in-school factor in student outcomes, and funding should ensure that every teacher candidate has access to high quality educator preparation programs, ensure they stay in the profession and classroom, and ensure they address student challenges as early as possible.

In order to achieve post-secondary achievement, the report suggested funding should ensure graduates do not require remediation in higher education and that achievement of a post-secondary credential is not only expected, but achievable, affordable and supported. In addition, the report suggested systemic incentives, including ensuring that financial incentives are tied to the achievement of our most critical outcomes.

The working group’s formal recommendations encompass three core principles: Ready to learn, ready to teach, and ready to earn. According to the report, funding should include some specific incentives within the formula funding tied to specific goals at critical gates.

The first of these incentive gates is 3rd grade reading, and the working group is recommending providing an additional weight for low income and/or English language learners for pre-K through grade 3. At each district’s discretion, dollars from this 3rd grade reading investment would be sufficient to be used to fund full day pre-K, tutoring interventions, expanded dual language programs, specialized multi-year early childhood professional development, and a longer school year.

The second incentive is funding for every 8th grader who meets the state’s standard in reading and Algebra I. This is expected to help increase college readiness. The third incentive is funding for every high school graduate assessed as college or career ready, who successfully achieves industry certification or enrolls in college or the military. Incentives for rewarding low-income student achievement should be higher in recognition of the greater associated challenges. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) was emphatic that incentives should not further increase inequity in the school funding system.

The fourth incentive is to provide the optional ability for districts to implement multi-measure evaluation systems and fund higher teacher distinction levels to attract and retain high-quality teachers. The working group noted the issues with current salary levels in recruiting and retaining teachers, and expressed the goal that districts be able to pay top-quality teachers more. Melissa Martin, the only teacher on the commission, said she’s torn over performance pay. Martin voiced concern that evaluations are property constructed and not totally subjective, which could introduce campus politics into the process.

The working group included the following additional recommendations:

  • Adjust compensatory education funding (currently $3.9 billion annually) in recognition that “free and reduced lunch” percentages are a very simplistic measure and do not adequately reflect the varying levels of poverty that exist throughout the state.
  • Strongly consider eliminating the five end-of-course (“EOC”) STAAR assessments and replacing with either SAT or ACT assessments that can measure growth based on a pre-SAT/ACT assessment given in 9th grade vs. a SAT/ACT assessment given in the 11th grade.
  • For districts choosing to implement a full day Pre-K program, consider crediting the appropriate full-day attendance for purposes of funding within the Foundation School Program.
  • TEA financially incent dual language strategies and disallow ELL pullout strategies as an accepted approach toward ELL instruction for larger districts exceeding 5,000 students (this subset of districts educates roughly 80% of all Texas students).
  • Align the current CTE weight of 1.35 (equivalent to $2.2 billion annually) toward CTE programs of study that are vigorously tied to the attainment of living wage credentials aligned with current workforce need and/or which provide students with critical financial literacy skills.
  • Amend legislation to require that failing ISD elementary and middle school campuses may be reconstituted after three years with an ACE-like school reconstitution plan (where better educators have been purposely placed at the struggling campus) with the state providing matching funds to reduce district costs.
  • To reduce prison recidivism and its associated costs to the state, TEA should amend the accountability system to incent school districts to help formerly incarcerated individuals receive their high school diploma or GED.
  • State funding should target professional development training towards schools/districts willing to launch blended learning and personalized learning pilots that help students matriculate faster than their peers if necessary, providing net savings in the long run to the state due to paying for less seat time.
  • Schools should be incentivized by the academic accountability system by creating a separate post-secondary readiness academic distinction. In addition, additional state funding should be awarded if the high school achieves the post-secondary readiness academic distinction.

The working group also expressed support for researching the costs associated with providing all-day pre-K for teachers’ children. The report concludes, “For us to succeed requires very substantive, immediate action on the part of the state (emphasis in original document) – we simply cannot “tweak” our K-12 system to meet this critical objective. Only by making strategic, impactful investments above current levels in the key areas noted, and implementing the innovative structural formula changes that are necessary, can we ensure Texas remains a thriving economy that all of its citizens can participate in.”

The recommendations carry an estimated $1 billion annual price tag, which would average out to about $200 per student and a 4 percent increase in the current basic allotment – still below 2008 inflation adjusted funding levels. This would gradually increase to $2.5 billion annually by 2030, which would average out to $450 per student, which would only be achieved if all districts implement performance pay programs. According to the report, this would still place Texas in the lowest quartile of per-student spending compared to other states.

The report argues these measures could pay for themselves by creating up to $4 billion in incremental potential yearly earnings and up to $250 million in additional state sales taxes for each yearly graduating cohort. Better-prepared graduates will earn more money and pay more in taxes. The report suggests success could also reduce growth in the approximate $12 billion the state spends each year in uninsured medical costs and incarceration.

The report, as amended, was approved with a unanimous vote of the five working group members. You can read all of the recommendations in the full draft report from the outcomes working group here, however some of the recommendations were altered or struck in Tuesday’s meeting. This article contains the most up-to-date versions of the recommendations. The full commission meets July 10.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 8, 2018

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


School finance commission working group on expenditures meeting June 6, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week both as a whole and in smaller working groups. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins followed the conversation and provided updates for TeachTheVote.org. His first post details Tuesday’s meeting of the full commission, in which members heard from a number of invited witness who talked about teacher supports, such as merit pay programs.

The working group on revenues, led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), held a last-minute meeting afterward that resulted in most of the public not being able to attend, but reports from those inside provided an idea of what the group has planned. State Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R-Houston) working group on expenditures met Wednesday morning, and engaged in a lively discussion about textbooks and classroom technology.

The commission is scheduled to meet again on July 10, followed by an expenditures meeting on July 11 in which the working group will vote on recommendations to submit to the full body.


The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security is set to hold two hearings next week in response to the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick assigned Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) to chair the select committee, which is composed of six Republicans and three Democrats.

Monday’s agenda includes invited and public testimony on the following: “Improve the infrastructure and design of Texas schools to reduce security threats, and discuss various proposals to harden school facilities, including limiting access points, improving screening and detecting of weapons, retrofitting school facilities with improved locks, emergency alarm systems, and monitoring cameras.”

Tuesday’s agenda includes invited and public testimony on the following: “Study school security options and resources, including, but not limited to, the school marshal program, school police officers, armed school personnel, the Texas School Safety Center, and other training programs to determine what improvements can be made to provide school districts and charter schools with more robust security options.”

Texas Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) asked the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence to study a “red flag” law that would provide a legal process for temporarily removing guns from someone considered potentially dangerous by family members or law enforcement. Straus also announced nine new interim charges for House committees:

Committee on Appropriations

“Examine the availability of federal funding and Governor’s Criminal Justice grants that may directly or indirectly improve school safety. Evaluate the potential costs of proposals identified by the Governor and House Committees related to improving access to mental health services for children, improved school safety, and enhanced firearm safety.”

Committee on Public Education

“Review the effectiveness of schools’ current multi-hazard emergency operation plans. Determine any areas of deficiency and make recommendations to ensure student safety. Research violence prevention strategies, such as threat assessment, that are available for school personnel to identify students who might pose a threat to themselves or others. Identify resources and training available to schools to help them develop intervention plans that address the underlying problems that caused the threatening behavior.”

“Examine current school facilities and grounds. Consider any research-based ‘best practices’ when designing a school to provide a more secure environment. Review the effectiveness of installing metal detectors, cameras, safety locks, streaming video of school security cameras, and other measures designed to improve school safety.”

Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence

“Examine current statutes designed to protect minors from accessing firearms without proper supervision and make recommendations to ensure responsible and safe firearm storage, including enhancing the penalty to a felony when unauthorized access results in death or bodily injury.”

Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety

“Evaluate options to increase the number of school marshals available, and identify current statutory requirements that limit utilization of the program.”

“Examine best practices and measures adopted in other states regarding reporting lost or stolen firearms. Gather information on reporting strategies, fines, and/or penalties for noncompliance, and receive testimony from law enforcement related to mishandling of firearms.”

Committees on Public Education and Committee on Public Health (Joint Charge)

“Consider testimony provided at the May 17 House Public Health Committee hearing regarding improving mental health services for children. Identify specific strategies that would enhance overall school safety. Study ways to help parents, youth and primary care providers support school personnel in their efforts to identify and intervene early when mental health problems arise. In addition to school-based trauma-informed programs and those that treat early psychosis, consider the benefits of universal screening tools and expanding the Child Psychiatry Access Program (CPAP). Make recommendations to enhance collaboration among the Health and Human Services Commission, the Texas Education Agency, local mental health authorities, and education service centers.”

Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety and Committee on Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence (Joint Charge)

“Examine current judicial procedures and practices and make recommendations to assist all courts and jurisdictions in reporting judgments and verdicts which make up the information sent to the National Instant Background Check System (NICS). Review and make recommendations regarding the list of convictions, judgments, and judicial orders which disqualify a person from possessing a firearm.”

Committee on Defense & Veterans Affairs and Committee on Homeland Security & Public Safety (Joint Charge)

“Examine the experience of other states in prioritizing retired peace officers and military veterans for school security. Determine the minimum standards necessary to implement such a program.”

ATPE will be attending these hearings will post updates at TeachTheVote.org. The House and Senate actions come after Gov. Greg Abbott released his outline of ideas to prevent further school shootings last week. Many of those ideas would require legislative action, which is among the things the committees will consider.

 


State Rep. Larry Gonzales (R-Round Rock) announced his resignation this week, saying it’s time to move on. The Texas Tribune reported on his announcement, which we’ve been expecting since he announced last year he wouldn’t be running for reelection. Rep. Gonzales chaired the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Articles VI, VII and VIII of the state budget, which includes funding for big state agencies such as the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). As a member of the Texas Legislature, he was well known for being a friendly guy and a straight shooter who worked with both parties to get things done. Gonzales was a good friend of public education, and his presence in the legislature will be dearly missed.

The race to follow Rep. Gonzales in representing House District (HD) 52 is between Republican Cynthia Flores and Democrat James Talarico. You can click on each of their names to view their candidate information and survey responses they provided to TeachTheVote.org. This is expected to be a close race, which underscores the importance of every vote.

The November 6 General Election will be the last opportunity for education supporters to make sure pro-public education candidates are elected into office. Whomever voters choose will decide what direction to take the Texas Legislature when it meets in January. Will we see a resurrection of vouchers and bills attacking teachers? Or will we see a comprehensive school finance reform bill that puts more resources into classrooms and gives local taxpayers a break? It all depends on who you elect!

 


 

Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced Wednesday the criteria for schools affected by Hurricane Harvey to receive waivers from the state accountability ratings. Campuses, districts, and open enrollment charter schools are eligible to be evaluated under the Hurricane Harvey Provision if 10% or more of students or teachers were reported as homeless after the storm, if the campus was closed for ten or more instructional days, or if the campus was reported as being displaced due to the geographic relocation of students or the sharing of instructional facilities. Campuses or districts that meet at least one of these criteria AND are labeled Improvement Required or receive a B, C, D, or F rating will have their accountability rating changed to Not Rated. You can read the full announcement here.

 


ATPE educator and Round Rock ISD fourth grade teacher Stephanie Stoebe testifying at the Texas Capitol June 7, 2018.

Lawmakers on the House Committee on Public Education Subcommittee on Educator Quality and the House Committee on Higher Education combined forces on Thursday to discuss educator preparation programs (EPPs). The differences between alternative certification or “alt-cert” programs and traditional EPPs was examined during the hearing. The combined committees also heard from ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe, who spoke about her efforts to identify what marks a quality EPP. Stoebe’s recommendations for the committees included creating a dashboard to share EPP information and setting high standards relevant to student achievement. Teacher pay and attrition were also among the topics discussed at the hearing. The combined committees also heard from Stephen F. Austin University, College of Education Dean, Dr. Judy Abbott about partnerships between colleges, universities, and local districts. A detailed breakdown of the hearing can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


On Wednesday, June 6, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released guidelines to all administrators relating to services for students with dyslexia and other disorders. The provisions come after a final monitoring report from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) disclosed that TEA failed to comply requirements in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The provision of services outlines the appropriate responses educators should have if a student is showing early signs of dyslexia, the need for special education, or other services. Read the full correspondence here.

Expenditures group takes hard look at textbooks

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met Wednesday morning to listen to a final round of witnesses invited to discuss issues related to school spending.

At the beginning of the meeting, group leader state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) announced plans to solicit formal recommendations from all witnesses who’ve testified before the working group. The group’s five members will meet again July 11, the day after a scheduled July 10 meeting of the full commission, and vote on which recommendations to endorse.

School finance commission working group on expenditures meeting June 6, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff opened Wednesday’s testimony with a review of the instructional materials allotment (IMA), and members of the group expressed interest in increasing the flexibility of IMA funds. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) suggested consulting teachers as to how much physical textbooks are currently used in the classroom, and hypothesized that use is declining. Members seemed to unanimously support the idea of encouraging more reliance on technology and cheaper or free online resources, while freeing up IMA funds for other purposes.

Members also expressed frustration with textbook makers over the ongoing costs of keeping physical textbooks, while many educators are supplementing their instruction with materials found online at no charge. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) suggested instructing TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to develop a working relationship and establish a timetable wherein the legislature mandates universities to develop open-source materials aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which school districts would be required to use for classroom instruction. Sen. West contended this would address both textbook costs and complaints by higher education institutions that Texas high school graduates are not college-ready.

The discussion then turned to bilingual education and dual language. Witnesses testified that dual language programs are more effective than traditional English as a second language programs, but carry higher start-up costs. This includes textbooks in both English and Spanish, for example. Rep. Huberty noted that costs would necessarily be compounded with each additional language, such as programs for students who speak Vietnamese. West and Bernal expressed interest in legislation ordering a study of the costs of implementing more dual language programs.

Members also heard about funding for gifted and talented (GT) and career and technical education (CTE) programs. Each carries additional costs, but achieves important outcomes. The working group also heard from TEA staff regarding the high school allotment, and discussed the idea of folding the high school allotment into the basic allotment. This was a component of House Bill 21, the school finance reform bill authored by House leadership during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

Additionally, members discussed the adjustments for sparsity, and for small and medium-sized districts. Commission Chair Scott Brister has repeatedly advocated consolidating school districts as a way to reduce costs, and TEA indicated that these adjustments total roughly $600 million annually. Staff explained the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA) and New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA), and representatives from fast-growth school districts testified to the importance of funding for new facilities.

Finally, a representative with out-of-state education reform think tank EdBuild suggested improving equity by decoupling school funding from average daily attendance (ADA) and instead using the number of students for whom a school is responsible. Rep. Huberty noted that ADA provides an incentive for districts to ensure that students are actually in the classroom. The EdBuild representative also suggested that by allocating some adjustments at the district level instead of per student, Texas’s school finance system creates unnecessary conflict and confusion between how charter schools and traditional ISDs are funded.

 

In last-minute meeting, revenue working group gets orders

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues met briefly Tuesday evening after the commission’s formal meeting adjourned. Unlike the other two working groups, the revenues group led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) did not post a public notice following Texas open meetings guidelines.

Texas’s open meetings law was passed to limit secret government meetings and ensure the public has access to deliberations of public interest. The law explicitly applies to the school finance commission as a whole, however its application to working groups of the commission is less clear. The only notice was posted the day of the meeting in an obscure portion of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. Because notice was not provided according to guidelines laid out by the open meetings law, few people attended the revenues meeting and no audio or video of the meeting is available.

According to those inside the meeting, Sen. Bettencourt stated the working group will aim to score various spending and revenue proposals, including raising the state sales tax or gas tax, enacting the performance pay program proposed by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, limiting recapture, extending the Universal Service Fund (USF) tax on land telephone lines to cell phones, and the 2.5 percent tax cap proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott during the special session. Bettencourt requested members submit their ideas for study topics before the full commission meets again July 10.

A snapshot of the proceedings was posted on social media:

School finance group looks at costs of undereducation

The Texas Committee on Public School Finance working group on outcomes met Tuesday morning to take invited testimony on a number of subjects. The agenda for Tuesday’s meeting at the Texas Capitol included intersections of education, healthcare access, child and family well-being, and economic outcomes in Texas; strategic talent management and building systems to attract, retain, and develop highly qualified talent into Texas public schools; and teacher quality / certification.

School finance commission working group on outcomes meets May 29, 2018.

Anne Dunkelberg with the Center for Public Policy Priorities was the first to testify regarding the consequences of an undereducated workforce, including effects on poverty, uninsured and incarceration rates. Texas leads the nation in both the rate and number of uninsured. Meanwhile, as healthcare premiums continue to rise, employees are paying a larger share each year from their own paychecks. Texas is also among the states with the highest poverty rates.

Texas’s high rate of uninsured translates to a heavier uncompensated care burden on local hospitals, which often try and recoup that cost through local property taxes. Underscoring the link between educational attainment and better pay, Dunkelberg warned that Texas must invest in education “to minimize massive public expenditures on undesirable outcomes.”

Dunkelberg concluded by acknowledging that, like businesses, the Texas Legislature is often under pressure to reduce costs now rather than down the line. Yet if the state is to ever see long-term savings, it must invest on the front end with education.

Next, Martin Winchester with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) testified with regard to teacher recruiting and retention.

“We do not believe by any means it is all about the pay,” said Winchester. Rather, Winchester suggested working conditions, such as adequate classroom support and opportunities to grow and advance in the profession, are the top factors.

Working group leader Todd Williams pondered why starting teachers in Texas are paid the same salary, regardless of whether they received 1,500 hours of classroom training or 15 hours. Winchester indicated that TEA Commissioner Mike Morath would support allowing educators from more rigorous certification programs to “skip a level” on the pay scale, and noted that first-year teachers from alternative certification programs quit at a much higher rate due to a lack of preparation.

While lauding the ideas discussed by TEA, state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), who serves as vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, chided the agency for proposing policies at certain points while avoiding policy discussions at other points.

Kate Rogers with the Holdsworth Center was the last to testify, and spoke about strategic talent management. Rogers stressed the importance of coaching for both teachers and administrators, and emphasized that teachers need more non-instructional time in order to develop better lesson plans and participate in development activities such as coaching and mentoring. According to Rogers, teachers in the U.S. spend more of their time on direct classroom instruction than teachers in any other developed nation, which leaves them without enough time to do other critical activities needed to improve over time.

Williams concluded the meeting by laying out the next few steps for the working group, and proposed July or August as the target window for a preliminary report. No further meetings are currently scheduled.

House committee discusses teacher pensions, health care

The House Committee on Pensions met Thursday morning in Dallas to discuss items listed under the committee’s interim charges, including the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas.

The committee met in the chambers of the Dallas City Council, which oversees pensions for the city’s police and firefighters that have come under scrutiny as of late. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was the first witness to testify, thanking the committee for legislation dealing with issues pertaining to Dallas police and firefighter pensions and updating members on changes the city has put in place since the legislation’s passage.

House Pensions Committee meeting May 10, 2018 in Dallas.

Executive Director Brian Guthrie testified for TRS, laying out the basics of the $152 billion trust fund that serves 1.5 million active and retired members. The fund earned a return of 12.6 percent for fiscal year (FY) 2017, under an assumed rate of return of 8 percent. The fund carries $35.5 billion of unfunded liability and is 80.5 percent funded with an amortization period of 32.2 years, which Guthrie noted will change if the assumed rate of return is lowered. TRS manages two major healthcare programs: TRS-ActiveCare for active teachers and TRS-Care for retirees. Guthrie testified that TRS undertook a study in 2013 looking at the fund’s defined benefit structure, and will be producing an updated study this fall.

Turning to health care, Guthrie described TRS-Care as a “pay as you go plan.” The state’s contribution to the plan is 1.25 percent of active employee payroll, while school districts contribute .75 of active employee payroll and active employees contribute .65 percent of their paycheck. Retirees contribute to the plan through premiums. The plan faced a $1 billion projected budget shortfall heading into the last legislative session, and lawmakers of the 85th Texas Legislature put $700 million into the system in order to keep the fund from folding. While the infusion was able to prevent retirees from losing their health care, it wasn’t enough to avoid increases in costs and reductions in benefits.

Even with the changes, which included increasing premiums, the fund faces a $400-600 shortfall heading into the next biennium and ongoing shortfalls moving forward. Guthrie attributed the increase to legislation accompanying the added funding that directed the agency to ease cost increases. Guthrie indicated the primary problem is with the fundamental design of the funding formula, noting that healthcare costs are increasing far more quickly than revenue received from active employee payroll, which is the basis for the funding formula.

The largest cost increases are associated with plans that include coverage for dependents, and TRS initially offered retirees the option of permanently leaving TRS-Care for an insurance plan on the private market. Chairman Dan Flynn (R-Canton), members of the committee and legislators representing the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex pressed Guthrie to find a way to protect benefits, in particular prescription drug costs. Guthrie testified that the agency is studying all possible avenues, but the fund design presents the largest challenge.

Finally, Guthrie explained TRS-ActiveCare as a group insurance program for small to midsize school districts that would be otherwise unable to provide their own insurance programs. The state provides $75 per member, per month through the school finance formulas, districts contribute a minimum of $150 per month, and individual members are responsible for the remainder. Minimum state and district contribution levels have not changed since the plan’s inception in 2002, and employees’ share of the premiums has increased to 60 percent from 30 percent over the last 14 years. Because of rising healthcare costs, TRS board members voted at their most recent meeting to raise premiums for individual members between five and nine percent, or seven percent on average.

Because TRS-ActiveCare is funded through the school finance formulas, Guthrie suggested that any changes to TRS-ActiveCare would best be addressed as part of lawmakers’ broader efforts to reform the school finance system.

House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) sharply questioned Guthrie over the board’s anticipated July vote to lower the fund’s assumed rate of return to 7.5 percent from 8.0 percent, despite returning 12.6 percent for FY 2017. This would cost an additional $1.2 billion on top of the $400-600 extra needed for TRS-Care, for a total ask of $1.6 billion on top of the $3 billion in base funding already designated for TRS. Guthrie testified that the agency’s fiduciary responsibility requires staff to provide an accurate estimate of what the fund is anticipated to produce.

A representative from Arlington ISD asked the board to consider allowing school districts with more than 1,000 employees to opt out of TRS-ActiveCare and provide their own insurance programs, pointing out that family healthcare costs under the TRS-ActiveCare high-deductible plan could account for more than a third of a first-year teacher’s annual salary. Chairman Huberty noted that such an arrangement could adversely impact TRS funding by reducing the broader pool of active TRS members.

Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) Executive Director Tim Lee thanked the Texas Legislature for making the minimum changes necessary to keep TRS-Care from failing entirely. Lee suggested that 14 years may have been too long to go without increasing premiums, and pointed to the Employee Retirement System (ERS) as an appropriate benchmark for TRS. Going forward, Lee testified the only long-term solution is pre-funding the program, which would be even more costly than migrating TRS members to ERS. Lee indicated that retirees will be unable to countenance further cost increases, and noted that 36,400 people have decided to leave TRS-Care for the individual market.

Staff from the Pension Review Board (PRB) testified regarding the agency’s efforts to improve defined benefit programs. The board has ordered staff to develop an online dashboard of Texas public pension data, to study potential legislative recommendations regarding how systems whose funding is set by legislative statute can respond to changes in market systems, to study how systems of scale could be utilized to improve groups of smaller plans, and to conduct intensive actuarial reviews of systems with risk that threaten their long-term stability. PRB staff noted that ERS has already lowered its estimated rate of return to 7.5 percent from 8 percent, which TRS is currently contemplating.

The committee then opened the table to public testimony, and dozens of retired teachers voiced their concerns regarding healthcare and the defined benefit structure of the TRS pension program. Many shared heartbreaking stories of seeing fixed incomes virtually consumed by skyrocketing premiums even before paying the increased costs for services and medication. Retirees also expressed concerns regarding changes to the assumed rate of return.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 4, 2018

It’s been a busy week of school finance discussions in Austin. Here’s your wrap-up of this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Panelists discuss school finance at an event hosted by the Texas Tribune and co-sponsored by ATPE on May 4, 2018.

The Texas Commission of Public School Finance and its various subcommittees or “working groups” were busy this week. The commission’s working group on expenditures for the Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this morning to discuss education spending. The working group is chaired by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who also chairs the House Public Education Committee. Today’s meeting followed an appearance by Huberty and other commission members as part of a panel discussion on school finance hosted by the Texas Tribune. ATPE was a sponsor of that event.

At today’s expenditures working group meeting, several witnesses discuss funding formulas for special education and anticipated future funding needs for those programs. Learn more about today’s hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins who attended the meeting.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes meeting May 2, 2018.

The Commission’s working group on outcomes met Wednesday to discuss early childhood education and post-secondary education among other topics. The group, which is led by Todd Williams of Dallas’s Commit Partnership, also includes high school teacher and ATPE member Melissa Martin, Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and Superintendent of Pflugerville ISD Doug Killian.

The working group on Wednesday listened to testimony from TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn regarding the amount of money Texas spends per student on testing and whether or not more online testing is a viable option for the future. Schwinn also gave testimony on kindergarten readiness, stating that only 59 percent of Texas children are prepared when they enter kindergarten.

H.D. Chambers, Superintendent of Alief ISD, gave testimony about a “teacher crisis” currently facing Texas, noting that any meaningful change in education policy must be accompanied by a raise in teacher pay. Chambers also gave input on how improved professional development programs have raised the quality of pre-k in his district, the potential benefits of public-private partnerships for pre-k, and the difference between traditionally certified and alternatively certified teachers. Chambers questioned the STAAR test as an accurate measure of student progress.

Read more about the outcomes working group meeting here in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


The full School Finance Commission also met Thursday to discuss early childhood education, the weights and allotments under the states’ current budget, and the Permanent School Fund.

Testimony provided by Alexandra Hale of Good Reason Houston suggested that veteran teachers be placed in pre-k classrooms to maximize impact. Meanwhile, former U.S. Undersecretary of Education, Linus Wright suggested the elimination of grade 12 in order to provide more funding for early childhood education. TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez offered testimony regarding the six categories (special education, compensatory education, career and technical education, Public Education Grants, and the High School allotment) that receive weighted funding under the current school finance structure and account for 28% of the state’s Tier I education funds. Lastly, outgoing SBOE member David Bradley (R-Beaumont) updated the commission on the status of the Permanent School Fund (PSF).

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was on hand to cover the meeting described more in depth in this blog post.

 


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath announced Tuesday that six school districts are seeking “Turnaround Partnerships.” The partnerships were created with the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 during the 85th legislative session in 2017, and they allow for districts with campuses that fall into the Improvement Required (IR) status of the state’s accountability system to enter into partnerships with institutes of higher education, non-profits, government entities, or charter school in order to improve education outcomes. The six districts seeking partnerships are Austin ISD, Ector County ISD, Hearne ISD, San Antonio ISD, Victoria ISD, and Waco ISD. You can find more details here.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: Tomorrow, May 5th, marks the first of two important elections that will be happening this month. At stake in tomorrow’s election will be issues specific to your community like school board elections and school bond propositions. These are important elections that set the tone for the local policy decisions and funding of your community’s public schools. All registered voters are eligible to vote in tomorrow’s election, although not all voters have municipal races or proposals on their ballots. To find out what’s on your local ballot, visit your county election website, use VOTE411.org to generate your local election voter guide, or check out the resources available from your local League of Women Voters. As part of our commitment to supporting a culture of voting, ATPE encourages all Texas educators to find out about their local elections and vote in every election possible, starting tomorrow, May 5.

If you happen to live in House District 13, you’ve also got a special election happening tomorrow, May 5. Voters in that district will select a new state representative to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. Leighton Schubert, who recently resigned from office. The same candidates running in tomorrow’s special election are also on the ballot this election year for a full term of office to begin in January 2019. Learn more about the race in this article from the Texas Tribune.

For many Texas voters, there is a second opportunity to vote this month. The second round of primary elections, where many of the state’s elections will be decided, will take place on May 22nd with the Democratic and Republican party runoff elections. As we approach that date, ATPE is highlighting a few of the runoff contests where education has emerged as a preeminent topic. Find out more about the Republican candidates competing for the votes of House District (HD) 4 residents in this latest blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote blog next week for more runoff previews, and be sure to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.