Category Archives: School Finance

State leaders announce deal on school finance, property tax relief, and TRS legislation

At a press conference held this afternoon, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Rep. Dennis Bonnen announced that a deal has been reached on legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Flanked by members of the conference committees that worked on the bills, the “big three” shared highlights of the final negotiated versions of House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12 and thanked those who worked on the compromise.

A flyer was shared with reporters touting major components of the agreement, including increasing the basic allotment for schools; providing $5 billion in property tax relief; funding full-day pre-K for low-income students and increasing the funding to serve other students with special needs; calling for outcomes-based funding tied to college, career, and military readiness; reducing recapture by 47% in the next two years; and offering $2 billion in various forms to assist with “dynamic teacher compensation.”

Specific details on the educator compensation piece are unknown at this point, but the new version of HB 3 has been characterized as including both a merit pay program and funding to increase salaries for veteran teachers (those with at least five years of experience), librarians, counselors, and school nurses. Immediately following the press conference, HB 3 author and House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty told reporters that the merit pay program would not be test-focused but would use T-TESS to help determine which teachers are eligible to become recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. Chairman Huberty added that Texas Tech University would be tapped to act as a “referee” for the program.

The deal announced today also provides for increased funding into the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound. Also, it is believed that the state would substantially raise its contributions for active educators’ healthcare premiums under this agreement.

Actual bill language has not yet been released, but ATPE will update our Teach the Vote blog with additional details as soon as our lobbyists have a chance to see and analyze the new bills.

With the legislative session clock ticking, major education bills remain pending

Four days remain in the regular session of the 86th Texas Legislature, and significant deadlines for bills attach to each day that passes.

On Tuesday night, the House worked actively until the midnight hour, which was the deadline for Senate bills to be passed on second reading in order to stay alive. (The deadlines for House bills to make it out of the lower chamber and be sent over to the Senate already passed earlier this month.) This week’s related deadline for passing Senate bills on third reading and final passage on Wednesday night was less dramatic, with House members wrapping up their business by about 7 pm. Over on the other side of the capitol, the Senate worked late into the night last night to catch up and get a number of House bills passed on second and third reading.

Among the bills that survived this week’s deadlines was the ATPE-supported Senate Bill 11, containing a number of school safety and mental health initiatives that were a top priority for the governor this session. Read more about that bill’s curious journey through the legislative process here.

The deadlines hitting this week signal that the overwhelming majority of the thousands of bills filed this session are dead (for the most part), leaving only those bills that have been approved in some form by both the House and Senate. If both chambers have approved a bill in the same form, then the bill is enrolled and sent to the governor. The process is trickier for bills that get amended in different ways by the House or Senate. Each chamber will spend the next couple of days examining their bills that have come over from the other chamber with amendments and deciding what to do with them. The author of each bill can move to concur with the changes made by the other chamber, or can request the appointment of a conference committee to negotiate a final version of the bill. Friday, May 24, is the last day for House members to make such decisions.

Some of this session’s most important bills, especially relating to public education and ATPE’s legislative priorities, remain pending in conference committees at this point. These include the budget, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), and a major school finance and reform bill that has dominated the conversations this session.

  • For House Bill 3, the school finance bill, senators and state representatives have taken very different approaches on how to tackle the issue of educator pay. With Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen repeatedly proclaiming “the time is now” for school finance reform, the House approved HB 3 with an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. Under the leadership of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate has favored a larger pay raise for teachers and librarians only, and senators also included in their version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that has been pushed hard by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. The conference committee for HB 3 also must grapple with differing views on how to help school districts generate sufficient funds for their operations while also facilitating property tax relief to homeowners.
  • The TRS bill, Senate Bill 12, is designed to increase state funding for the educators’ pension fund and give current retirees a 13th check, but its final language largely depends on how much money is available to achieve those goals. That decision hinges on what happens with HB 3 to address the state’s larger school finance needs.

A press conference scheduled for this afternoon by the governor, lieutenant governor, and house speaker may provide insight on the progress of these conference committees.

Sunday, May 26, is the very last day that lawmakers can vote on conference committee reports, which contain the negotiated versions of those bills. The pressure is on those legislators appointed to conference committees to work out agreements between the House and Senate language of these bills. In some cases, conference committees may add entirely new language to the bill and can ask the House and Senate to approve a motion to go “outside the bounds” of the original legislation. Even for the bills that make it all the way through the legislative process, there is another waiting period in which the governor can decide whether to exercise his veto authority. June 16 is the deadline for the governor to act.

The takeaway is that we still have a few days left to wait and see what, if any, compromises are struck on major bills like House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 12. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow us on Twitter for major developments in these final days of the session.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 17, 2019

With major session deadlines hitting this weekend, here’s a look at this week’s legislative developments, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified in the House Public Education Committee, May 14, 2019.

  The House Public Education Committee met once again on Tuesday to continue hearing bills already passed by the Senate. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier in this blog post, much of the focus of Tuesday’s hearing centered on the  Accelerated Campus Excellence (ACE) turnaround programs proposed by Senate Bill 1412. While the bill contains some measures that ATPE supports, we testified against the bill due to its provisions for the forced ranking of teachers in a school district (which could possibly be based on student performance on standardized tests) and requiring districts to contract with third-party vendors to implement their ACE programs. Similar legislation has been moving through the Senate Education Committee, and related language is being considered as part of House Bill 3, the school finance bill that is pending in conference committee. Read more about that bill below.

Under mandatory session deadlines, this week marked the last week for bills to be heard by House committees in order for them to have a chance of reaching the House floor. The House Public Education Committee also met Thursday to vote out more of the pending bills.


Senate Education Committee meeting, May 14, 2019.

Like its counterpart in the lower chamber, the Senate Education Committee met twice this week on Tuesday and Thursday to hear its final bills of the session. Although the committee can still meet to vote out pending bills that have already been heard, the committee will not hear any additional bills or take testimony from this point forward. One such formal meeting is taking place this afternoon, where the committee is expected to vote on additional pending bills.

During this week’s earlier meetings, the Senate Education Committee voted to advance a number of bills supported by ATPE, including House Bill 165 enabling high school students in special education programs to receive endorsements and House Bill 2424 requiring the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to establish and issue new micro-credentials for educators. The committee also approved HB 4205, which as amended is another of the ATPE-opposed bills pertaining to ACE campuses and the criteria under which teachers would be eligible to work on those campuses.

More on these Senate Education Committee hearings can be found in this week’s blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here and here.


The most high-profile bills of the 86th legislative session pertaining to public education are being negotiated by conference committees appointed for the purpose of resolving differences between House and Senate versions of the same bill. Among those bills is the state budget in HB 1, which is the only bill required to be passed before time runs out. Fortunately, the conference committee for HB 1 is holding its last meeting this afternoon, signaling that a final budget deal is near.

This week the conference committee for HB 3 also continued its meetings on the school finance legislation, aiming to release a compromise bill next week. As negotiations progress, ATPE is hopeful that the bill’s final version will include an across-the-board raise for educators, although it is unclear what amount will be attached to that raise and how it will be structured. While the final bill will most likely contain some form of merit pay, there seems to be a desire among legislators to limit the use of STAAR test data in determining such pay. Additionally, we are optimistic that a final compromise on HB 3 will no longer include many of the controversial outcomes-based funding proposals and additional testing that the Senate included in its version. Even as these rumors are promising, ATPE urges our members to continue to contact your legislators to share your voice on HB 3 using our quick and easy tools on Advocacy Central.

Another bill that has been referred to a conference committee is SB 12, containing language to increase state contributions to TRS and provide retired educators with a 13th check. Since both bills deal with a substantial amount of state funding, a compromise proposal for the TRS bill is likely to be shared only once an agreement has been reached on the larger HB 3. For the latest updates on these bills, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


Educators’ right to a political voice continues to be a subject of interest in the final rush of session, and bills that could have a negative impact on the education community remain active at various stages in the legislative process.

Unlike last session, this year no legislator filed a bill to limit the ability of educators to pay their voluntary membership dues to organizations such as ATPE through the convenience of payroll deduction. However, there are some legislators still hoping to pass a ban on payroll deduction as an amendment to another bill in these last few days of the session. One failed attempt came earlier this week when Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) floated a trial balloon during a House floor debate on a bill pertaining to the comptroller’s electronic funds transfer system. Recognizing that it was unlikely to succeed, Rep. King withdrew his amendment that was aimed at limiting payroll deduction options for certain public employees who receive payments electronically from the comptroller’s office, such as retirees’ annuities.

There is still a possibility that a similar payroll deduction amendment could be added to Senate Bill (SB) 29 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), which is a high-profile First Amendment-related bill that could come to the House floor this weekend. SB 29 has been described by its supporters as banning “taxpayer-funded lobbying,” but opponents say the bill is actually aimed at weakening the ability of locally-elected school boards, county leaders, and city governments to petition the state on matters of concern to local voters. In its current form, SB 29 proposes to prohibit such governmental entities from paying dues with taxpayer funds to organizations that lobby the legislature on certain issues. Notably, the bill’s anti-lobbying provisions would not apply to charter schools. The interest groups responsible for promoting SB 29 have a long history of fighting against public education and pushing bills aimed at weakening public schools.

Meanwhile, the clock is running out on other bills more directly aimed at educators. SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would outlaw certain political conversations between public school employees while on school grounds. This ATPE-opposed bill was left pending in the House Elections Committee, which has no further plans to meet this session. However this same committee did vote to advance SB 9 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would increase the penalties associated with various prohibited election-related activities. While pitched as a way to protect the integrity of local elections, many of the provisions are written so broadly that they threaten to have a chilling effect and depress voter turnout in many cases. SB 9 also could be heard on the House floor as soon as this weekend.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 10, 2019

It was another busy week at the Texas State Capitol for ATPE’s Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at the latest headlines:


Members of the HB 3 conference committee began their deliberations on a final school finance bill, May 10, 2019

This week the House and Senate appointed members to a conference committee for the session’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3. The conferees are state Reps. Dan Huberty (R-Humble), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin), Ken King (R-Canadian), and Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint); and state Sens. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), Jane Nelson (R-Flower  Mound), Royce West (D-Dallas), Kirk Watson (D-Austin), and Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels).

As the conferees work through the differences between the House and Senate versions of HB 3, ATPE is opposing the inclusion of merit pay and monitoring the final bill’s mechanism for raising teacher pay. Additional information on the bill can be found in this article shared from the Texas Tribune.

With the conference committee beginning its hard work to reach a compromise on the bill, ATPE urges members to keep pressure on their legislators to demand a final version of HB 3 that meets students’ needs without increasing testing or using student performance to determine how schools are funded and how teachers are paid. Visit Advocacy Central (member login required) to send a quick message to your legislator about HB 3.


On Monday, May 13, the House Elections Committee is scheduled to consider Senate Bill (SB) 1569, which would have a tremendous chilling effect on educators’ freedom of speech under the First Amendment and hamper the ability to teach students about legislative processes.

Authored by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), SB 1569 would prohibit educators from communicating about politics with their colleagues, even if they are on break and in a non-classroom setting. Violators would face a criminal penalty. The Texas Senate approved SB 1569 despite ATPE’s raising these concerns, and added an amendment that would also have the effect of preventing educators from promoting civic engagement as required by the TEKS by encouraging students to communicate with their elected officials.

There is a very high likelihood that the House Elections Committee will vote to advance SB 1569 one step closer to becoming law, which makes it imperative that educators contact their state representatives TODAY and urge them to oppose this bill in any way possible. For more information on SB 1569, read this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. ATPE members can use our tools on Advocacy Central to easily call or write to their representatives about this harmful bill set to be heard on Monday.


The House took a recorded vote on HB 1133, relating to class-size limits on May 9, 2019.

The Texas House delivered a major victory Thursday night in defense of current class-size limits. Members worked until the midnight deadline Thursday, May 9, which marked the last chance to pass bills that originated in the House on second reading. One of the bills on the cusp of passage was HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which would have changed the current hard cap of 22 students in a single elementary grade classroom to an average, having the effect of allowing class sizes to dramatically expand. A vote on the bill was delayed several times yesterday as amendments were considered and the author attempted to drum up support for the measure among his House colleagues.

ATPE joined with other education groups in opposing the bill, and thanks to the many phone calls and letters from teachers all over Texas, legislators scuttled HB 1133 by a vote of 97 nays to 44 ayes on the House floor last night. You can see how your legislator voted by clicking here. If your state representative is listed among the nays, we urge you to write, e-mail, call, or tag them on social media today expressing your THANKS for voting to protect class size restrictions in Texas!


Senate Education Committee meeting, May 9, 2019

Members of the Senate continued hearing bills sent over from the House this week. During a meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, May 7, committee members turned their attention to bills focusing on mental health.

Among the bills heard by the committee on Tuesday, HB 18 would compel districts to use evidence-based practices in counseling and encourage positive behavior interventions. HB 906 would form a “collaborative task force on public school mental health services” to study current practices and their impact. ATPE supported a number of bills, including HB 111, which would create training for educators that equips them with the skills to recognize abuse and maltreatment of student. Despite opposition by ATPE and other education groups, the Senate Education Committee also voted to advance SB 947, which would expand full-time virtual schools. This bill was then approved by the full Senate on Friday by a vote of 29-2. For more on the bills heard during Tuesday’s committee meeting, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The Senate Education Committee reconvened on Thursday, May 9, to hear even more bills from the House, including HB 455, a bill supported by ATPE that would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. The committee passed nine bills during its Thursday meeting, including HB 18, the omnibus mental health bill heard earlier in the week. For a rundown of Thursday’s hearing, check out this additional blog post.


The House Public Education committee also met on Tuesday, May 7. ATPE supported several of the bills heard during this meeting, including SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which contains several provisions to improve school safety standards. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter also gave neutral oral testimony on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455. The original version of the bill would have greatly expanded virtual schools in the state of Texas; however, a committee substitute laid out by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) reins in some of the objections ATPE had voiced about the bill. For more on this hearing of the House Public Education Committee, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

From The Texas Tribune: Texas Senate approves school finance reform bill, but opts not to fund it with a sales tax hike

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks from the dais in the Senate chamber last month. Photo by Juan Figueroa/The Texas Tribune

Texas Senate approves school finance reform bill, but opts not to fund it with a sales tax hike” 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.

The Texas Senate on Monday approved a bill to massively overhaul public school finance, but did so while backing away from a proposal to use an increased sales tax to lower school district property taxes.

After an hours-long debate on dozens of proposed changes, the Senate voted 26-2 on House Bill 3, which under the version passed by the upper chamber would increase student funding, give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise, fund full-day pre-K for low-income students, and lower tax bills.

The House and Senate will have to negotiate their significant differences over the bill — including how to offer teacher pay raises and property tax relief — in a conference committee before it can be signed into law.

“When you’re doing something as complex as this, there’s going to be something you don’t like,” said state Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, the bill’s author, anticipating tension throughout the day’s debate.

Since school districts levy the majority of property taxes in Texas, many lawmakers have been seeking ways to help reduce those portions of Texans’ tax bills. But since the state is required to ensure school districts have enough money to educate students, any tax relief effort would have a significant cost — requiring the state to reimburse schools, if they’re unable to collect enough from local property taxes.

Taylor had originally included several provisions that would provide ongoing tax relief, paid for by an increase in the sales tax by one percentage point.

Republican leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott, had thrown their support behind that sales tax swap, arguing it would help Texans who are currently being taxed out of their homes. But the proposal has serious detractors in lawmakers from both parties in both chambers who are opposed to a higher sales tax.

So Taylor stripped the increase from HB 3 and offloaded some of the more expensive property tax relief provisions in the bill. The bill no longer includes an expansion in the homestead exemption from school district taxes. It lowers property tax rates by 10 cents per $100 valuation, instead of 15 cents, saving the owner of a $250,000 home $250 instead of $375.

The legislation would still limit the growth in school districts’ revenue due to rising property values, a proposal pitched before session began by the governor. School districts that see their property values significantly increase would have their tax rates automatically reduced to keep tax revenue growth in line. That would now start next year, instead of in 2023.

“The bill before us today has no linkage to the sales tax and is not contingent upon a sales tax,” Taylor said.

Instead, the bill creates a separate “Tax Reduction and Excellence in Education Fund” to fund school district tax relief. State Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said a working group came up with a plan to get $3 billion from several sources, including the severance tax on oil and gas extraction and an online sales tax.

“This does not increase any taxes of any kind,” he said.

A few senators didn’t vote yes on HB 3 because they didn’t know the cost of the bill or how their school districts would be affected by it.

“The lack of a fiscal note delineating the total cost of the bill was unacceptable,” said state Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, who voted against the bill along with state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe.

Creighton echoed those concerns about not knowing the legislation’s price tag, though he said he agreed with its policy.

“Before the session ends, I will have another chance to vote on the final bill, and I look forward to supporting it once I have a clear understanding of the impacts on school districts in Senate District 4, and the true cost of the legislation, which will have implications for all Texas taxpayers,” he said in a statement after the vote.

State Sens. Angela Paxton, R-McKinney, Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, and Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, marked themselves “present, not voting.”

The House and Senate have passed versions of HB 3 that are similar in some ways: Both would raise the base funding per student — a number that hasn’t budged in four years — and would provide about $780 million for free, full-day pre-K for eligible students.

Among the disagreements: how to make sure school employees get much-needed raises. The Senate has prioritized $5,000 pay raises for all full-time teachers and librarians. The House has directed districts to give all school employees about $1,388 in raises on average statewide and designated extra money for raises to be given at districts’ discretion.

Senate Democrats’ efforts to extend those $5,000 raises to full-time counselors and other employees failed along party lines Monday.

Also controversially for some, the Senate includes money providing bonuses to schools based on third-grade test scores and funding districts that want to provide merit pay for their top-rated teachers. Many teacher groups have opposed both, arguing it would put more emphasis on a flawed state standardized test.

State Sen. Beverly Powell, D-Burleson, failed to get an amendment to the bill approved that would strike tying any funding to third-grade test scores.

Teachers, parents and advocates following on social media had paid attention to Powell’s amendment, mobilizing in support through a Twitter hashtag “#NoSTAARonHB3.”

Taylor pointed out that the bill also allows school districts to use assessments other than the state’s STAAR standardized test, which has lately come under renewed scrutiny, with researchers and advocates arguing it doesn’t adequately measure students’ reading abilities. He approved an amendment requiring the state to pay for school districts to use those alternative tests, which he estimated would cost about $4 million.

Emma Platoff contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/05/06/texas-senate-school-finance-sales-tax/.

 

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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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 3, 2019

We’re wrapping up another week of legislative action at the Texas State Capitol. Here’s the latest news from your ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


The session’s major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, is set for a debate on the floor of the Senate on Monday, May 6, 2019. While the Senate’s version of the bill contains several positive changes that would improve funding for public education, ATPE and other education groups have grave concerns about certain aspects of the bill that tie funding and compensation to student performance.

The Senate Education Committee called a meeting inside the Senate chamber to vote on House Bill 3, May 1, 2019.

The Senate floor debate on HB 3 was originally planned for today, but postponed in response to complaints that senators needed more time to prepare floor amendments. The Senate Education Committee accelerated its schedule this week for the school finance bill, asking members to vote HB 3 out of committee during a hurriedly called meeting on Wednesday. Chairman Larry Taylor apologized for the rapid pace, which he attributed to House deadlines for passing related legislation to fund the school finance bill.

Several committee members complained about being forced to vote on a new substitute version of the bill that they only received hours before the meeting. Three senators asked to be marked as “present not voting,” while others said they would vote for HB 3 in committee, despite having objections to parts of it, only to keep the process moving and with the understanding that they would have more time for consideration of floor amendments and a robust debate. Read more about the committee’s vote on HB 3 here.

ATPE urges educators to contact their senators and ask them to remove bad language from the bill, including a merit pay program that would replace existing evaluation laws with a new system, largely controlled by the appointed commissioner of education. ATPE opposes the plan, which dictates new evaluation criteria including student surveys of teachers and calls for a statewide competitive ranking of all teachers that will depend heavily on their students’ STAAR test results. ATPE members can log into Advocacy Central to learn more about the bill and send a quick message to senators.


While most of the attention has been on the school finance legislation, the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee turned their attention this week to other bills sent over from the opposite chamber. On Tuesday, the House committee heard bills on student discipline and school safety. The Senate committee also heard bills pertaining to student health and safety and voted to advance some pending bills that would require school districts to share more financial information on their websites. For a full recap of Tuesday’s hearings from our ATPE lobbyists, check out Andrea Chevalier’s blog post on the House Public Education Committee and Mark Wiggins’s blog post on the Senate Education Committee hearing. Both committees will meet again on Tuesday, May 7.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: Tomorrow is uniform election day and an opportunity for many voters to cast ballots on local elections for bonds, school board trustees, and other local matters. Find more election information at VoteTexas.gov or contact your county clerk to find out what might be on your ballot locally. Let’s help reinforce the message that Texas educators care enough to vote in every election!


Last week we reported briefly on the April 26 meeting of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended the meeting and provided a full summary of the board’s deliberations, which included hearing mixed testimony on a plan to replace certain certification exams. Learn more about last Friday’s SBEC meeting here.


As we roll into the last month of the legislative session, here’s a look at where some other bills of interest to public education stakeholders currently stand.

ATPE has supported legislation to increase state funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension fund, making it possible for future cost of living adjustments. Senate Bill (SB) 12 would accomplish those goals and provide retirees with a 13th check. The House and Senate have passed different versions of the bill with near unanimous support, and we expect the bill to be referred soon to a conference committee. Learn more about ATPE’s push for pension improvements at PayTheBillTX.org.

The 86th legislature has been considering numerous bills related to school safety, declared an emergency issue this session by Gov. Greg Abbott. One of the most high-profile bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s SB 11. The ATPE-supported bill passed the full Senate this week by a vote of 29-2 and has been sent to the House, where it will be heard on Tuesday by the House Public Education Committee.

The House Public Education Committee will also hear another bill by Chairman Taylor next week that ATPE does not support. It’s SB 1455 aimed at expanding virtual schools in Texas despite their questionable performance record. ATPE provided oral and written testimony against the bill when it was heard on the Senate side. The House committee hearing on this one is set for Tuesday.

ATPE has been closely watching a couple of bills aimed at expanding the statutory definition of “political advertising” for the purpose of limiting educators’ ability to communicate about political matters during the school day. SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon has passed the full Senate and been referred to the House Elections Committee. The extremely broad bill restricts educators from using “any form of communication” to support or oppose candidates or measures, and it even adds criminal penalties for educators who “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes is still on the Senate Intent Calendar awaiting a floor debate by the upper chamber. That bill also extends restrictions on political advertising to school district WiFi networks in a way that would criminalize educators’ reading or communicating about politics even using their own personal smartphones. SB 904 also punishes third-party organizations that send political messages to public email addresses, such as those used by school districts. ATPE members can find additional resources on these bills on Advocacy Central.

Other bills of interest to educators are HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall that would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying activities. The House bill has not yet been heard by the full House. The related Senate bill was passed by the full Senate on a vote of 18-13 and has been referred to the House Committee on State Affairs.

For the latest updates on education bills being considered this legislative session, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our team of lobbyists on Twitter.


 

Senate Education Committee advances school finance bill

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday morning inside the Senate chamber to advance a new version of the school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3. Eight members of the committee voted for the bill. Sens. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked to be recorded as present, not voting. Sen. Bettencourt warned the bill contains a number of errors, and complained that the funding mechanism for it remains “totally unknown.”

The vote followed an emotional plea from committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who acknowledged members’ reservations in holding a vote on short notice while many parts of the bill are still being drafted and debated. Chairman Taylor announced that the bill is expected to be considered by the full Senate on Friday, and members will be able to offer amendments on the floor.

Senate Education Committee meeting May 1, 2019, to vote out school finance bill.

Chairman Taylor had previously said the bill would be voted on no sooner than Thursday, and more likely not until next week. But the chairman notified members yesterday evening that the committee would meet this morning to vote on the bill. Sen. Taylor made the announcement Tuesday as the House was preparing to pass the Senate’s property tax bill, Senate Bill (SB) 2, the passage of which is contingent upon the passage of HB 3. Since they have been linked together, HB 3 and SB 2 have been moving in tandem through the legislative process.

In voting for the bill, Democrats on the committee explained that they continue to have grave concerns over the bill that they hope can be addressed at the next stage of the legislative process. Sen. Kirk Watson, for example, indicated that while he supports moving the bill forward, he would like to see several issues addressed through floor amendments on Friday.

Several members from both parties raised concerns over the speed at which leadership is moving the bill, and pointed out that members received a new committee substitute with more than 300 pages late Tuesday night and are still awaiting fiscal analyses of the bill. Sen. Taylor apologized for the speed, and told members that haste was needed in order to allow the House time to pass enabling legislation to provide a funding source for the school finance bill. The Senate made HB 3 contingent upon legislation to increase the statewide sales tax, which is currently pending in the House and running up against deadlines for its passage.

The new committee substitute for HB 3 makes largely clerical changes, and leaves the portions of concern to educators essentially unchanged. No changes were made to improve the section that provides a one-time salary increase for current full-time teachers and librarians. The new substitute also left intact the sections of the bill that create a merit pay program with significant changes to how teachers are evaluated and outcomes-based funding tied to student performance.

With a Senate floor debate on HB 3 now planned for Friday, May 3, ATPE continues to urge educators to contact their senators and share their feedback on the bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for communication tools that make it quick and easy to reach out to their legislators.

***UPDATE: The Senate has postponed its floor debate on HB 3 to Monday, May 6, 2019.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 26, 2019

We’re down to the last 30 days of the legislative session, and the action is heating up. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from ATPE Governmental Relations:


After a couple weeks of anticipation and delays, the Senate Education Committee held a public hearing Thursday on the major school finance legislation being considered this session.

Sen. Larry Taylor explains his school finance proposal to the Senate Education Committee on April 25, 2019.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) jointly heard both his version of Senate Bill (SB) 4 and House Bill (HB) 3 by House Public Education Committee Chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), taking testimony on the two bills together. Sen. Taylor shared newly proposed Senate substitute language for the bill, which differs from the ATPE-supported version of the bill that the full House passed almost unanimously. We expect the committee to add the new Senate language into HB 3 as a committee substitute and move it on to the full Senate. For now, HB 3 was left pending and may be put for a committee vote later next week, according to Chairman Taylor.

ATPE Member Stephanie Stoebe testifying before the Senate Education Committee, April 25, 2019

The Senate’s version of the school finance bill calls for a pay raise for classroom teachers and librarians, similar to SB 3, and includes several positive programs that would increase funding for students with the greatest needs. Unfortunately, the Senate bill also includes a controversial merit pay plan and would require school districts to share teacher evaluations with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for purposes of a statewide ranking of teachers by the commissioner of education. ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell testified neutrally on the bill raising asking the merit pay proposal to be removed and suggesting that the money could be used instead for programs in high-needs campuses or for locally developed differentiated pay programs that offer more flexibility for school districts. ATPE member and former Texas Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe also testified during the hearing.

Read more about Thursday’s HB 3/SB 4 hearing and the other bills heard during this hearing can be found and here and here, including ATPE’s written testimony on the bill.

ATPE is urging educators to keep contacting their senators about HB 3, urging them to keep problematic merit pay language out of the bill and approve additional funding for public schools. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send a message to their senators.

The Senate Education Committee also met on Tuesday of this week, hearing 16 bills and voting to advance several more to the full Senate. One of the bills heard was SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), which ATPE supports. In the wake of the federal government’s finding that the state of Texas had denied special education services to students, SB 139 deals with letting parents know about the right to have their children evaluated for special education. The bill also calls for using federal funds to reimburse school districts for any increases in the number of evaluations.

Read more about the bills heard during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


House Public Education Committee hearing, April 23, 2019

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to hear a plethora of bills as end-of-session deadlines are nearing. May 6, 2019, is the last day that House committees can report out House bills to keep them alive in the legislative process.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier was on hand at Tuesday’s hearing to register support for many of those bills, including House Bill (HB) 1763 by Rep. Cesar Blanco (D-El Paso) that would make the children of educators eligible for that district’s free pre-kindergarten program. A similar provision has been included in the Senate’s school finance bill discussed above. ATPE also supported HB 4030 by Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) that would provide funding for school districts to have a least one ability inclusive playground in their district.

ATPE provided written testimony against HB 3623 by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), which would require that teachers on continuing contracts meet a “growth standard” in order to keep their jobs. The committee also heard several other bills that have not yet been voted out. For more information on Tuesday’s hearing, check out this blog post.

On Wednesday, the committee met briefly for the purpose of taking votes on another two dozen bills. The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 30, to begin hearing Senate bills.


ELECTION UPDATE: The deadline for early voting in the May 4th election is Tuesday, April 30.

This uniform election day is reserved for municipalities and local political subdivisions like school districts to place measures such as bonds on the ballot or to fill vacancies in local offices. Contact your county clerk to find more information on what measures, if any, will be on your ballot locally.

ATPE encourages educators to vote in every election! Find more election information at VoteTexas.gov.


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin to consider several important items. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier is attending the meeting and provided the following update.

Today’s SBEC agenda includes a vote to begin the pilot phase of a replacement pedagogy test called EdTPA. Educator preparation programs including those at the University of Texas at Austin, Baylor University, Texas Women’s University, Sam Houston State University and alternative and post-baccalaureate programs overwhelmingly opposed EdTPA, citing concerns with the increased cost to candidates ($281) and data and validity concerns with the two-year pilot. Those who support EdTPA testified that teachers must be better prepared and that using a more authentic assessment to spur change in EPPs is a viable route for accomplishing this.

The board also voted to finalize details for the new “Principal as Instructional Leader” certificate and discussed changes to special education certification, which would break the certification into three to four more focused certifications based on student age and disability level.

Watch for a more detailed report on today’s SBEC meeting later on our Teach the Vote blog.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board voted this week to approve next year’s premiums for TRS-ActiveCare. Rates will be increasing by 3.9 percent on average. Read more details on the rate change in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended the board’s meetings this week.


This week the full House voted almost unanimously to approve a bill to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund. SB 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), received final House approval on Thursday. The House substituted its own language – taken from Rep. Bonnen’s HB 9 – into SB 12 before approving it. The House floor vote was 145 to 1, with Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) casting the only vote against the bill. The bill will now head back to the Senate where it most likely will be referred to a conference committee.

The House proposal raises the rate of the state’s contribution into TRS without raising rates for individual educators or school districts. It also offers retirees with a larger 13th check, capped at $2,400, compared to the Senate’s original version of SB 12 called for capping the payment at $500.


ATPE testifies neutrally on Senate’s school finance legislation

The Senate Education Committee resumed testimony on the upper chamber’s school finance reform legislation Thursday afternoon, April 25, after meeting earlier to discuss the plan and differences between the House and Senate versions.

Much of the testimony Thursday afternoon came from school administrators, many of whom praised differentiated pay programs. One in particular that received high praise from members of the committee is a program utilized by Richardson ISD, after which the SB 1412 campus turnaround section of the committee substitute for Senate Bill (SB) 4 and House Bill (HB) 3 was modeled.

It’s important to point out that Richardson ISD’s campus turnaround program is a more straightforward differentiated pay program in which teachers are recruited to poorly performing campuses based upon fit and receive additional compensation for voluntarily taking on the challenge of working there. The program uses a multi-measure evaluation system that does not depend heavily on student test scores. Wraparound services for the students are a significant element of the program.

Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) raised a question about the broader merit pay program currently in the Senate’s version of the bill that would allow a small percentage of Texas teachers to earn recognized, exemplary, and master designations that carry additional pay. Sen. Watson asked how the state will be able to make statewide comparisons of teacher performance in order to place teachers into percentiles for the purposes of assigning teacher designations. This goes to the core of the concerns with the merit pay program contained within SB 4/HB 3. While the language establishing eligibility for the merit pay program does offer some local flexibility, it implicitly requires using student test scores to compare teachers across the state. The bill also gives broad authority over the program to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) commissioner, and TEA staff confirmed that the evaluation system would include student assessments.

In response to testimony from a classroom teacher who warned against creating a merit pay program that incentivizes teaching to the test, Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) noted that it may be worth considering setting an upper limit on the percentage that an evaluation under this system may be tied to test scores. Currently, the commissioner has that discretion. A number of teachers, including some from Dallas ISD, asked committee members not to use test scores to determine teacher pay. They explained that student test results have not been scientifically validated for the purposes of determining teacher effectiveness and warned about the negative campus environment that can result from basing teacher pay on test scores.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell testifying in the Senate Education Committee on April 25, 2019.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell testified neutrally on SB 4/HB 3 and provided written input comparing the bills. Mitchell thanked the committee for including a teacher pay raise in the bill, and she offered suggestions for repurposing the money proposed to be spent on merit pay. Mitchell pointed out that the merit pay program in the Senate’s legislation would pressure districts to use STAAR results for evaluations, and suggested legislators put the funding provided in the merit pay program toward the campus turnaround plan or to provide wraparound services.

ATPE member and 2012 Texas Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe also testified, stressing the importance of full-day pre-K. Stoebe warned members against merit pay and basing evaluations on test scores or student surveys.

The committee also voted out the following bills on Thursday:

  • SB 232, which would require a school district to notify parents that Algebra II is not required to graduate, as well as the consequences of not completing Algebra II with regard to eligibility for automatic college admission and financial aid.
  • SB 293, which would improve educator preparation and training to better prepare teachers to serve students with disabilities. Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 451, which would allow the bilingual education allotment to be used for staff salaries, not just salary supplements. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 869, which would update the guidelines on food allergies and require school boards and governing bodies of charters to update their policies on caring for students with food allergies who are at risk of anaphylaxis. Sen. Hall voted against the bill.
  • SB 1016, which would require TEA to audit teacher professional development requirements every four years, as opposed to “periodically.” The bill would ask the agency, with input from stakeholders, to seek to eliminate any unnecessary topic-specific training requirements.
  • SB 1045 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would allow a district or charter school that operates a virtual school to have students served by the brick-and-mortar school and those served by full-time online programs evaluated separately under the accountability system.
  • SB 1182, which would add charter language to the approval section of the Texas Public Finance Authority’s bond issuance authority. Sen. Campbell explained this would transfer authority to approve charter bonds from local governments to the state attorney general. Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) voted against the bill, and Sen. West asked to be shown as “present and not voting.”
  • SB 1374, which would allow concurrent enrollment in Algebra I and geometry.
  • SB 2283, which would make a felony conviction render a person ineligible to serve as a member of a school board of trustees. Current law only prohibits a person who has been convicted of paying for prostitution from serving as a school board trustee.
  • SB 1284, which would create a competitive grant program largely for medical providers to promote early literacy. Sens. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and Hall voted against the bill.
  • SB 784, which would add Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversight of human sexuality instruction and require that parents receive notification in advance of when instruction is to be provided, along with a detailed description of the content. Sens. Watson, Powell, and West voted against the bill.

Senate Education Committee takes up school finance bills

After a long wait and repeated delays, the Senate Education Committee is hearing school finance reform legislation today, Thursday, April 25. Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) laid out committee substitutes for the Senate’s school finance bill, Senate Bill (SB) 4, and the school finance finance bill passed by the House, House Bill (HB) 3 this morning. The Senate’s proposed substitute language is the same for each bill, and the committee is hearing testimony on both simultaneously.

Below are highlights of some of the main points of the Senate’s version of HB 3/SB 4:

EDUCATION

  • Would expand free pre-K eligibility to teachers’ children.
  • Would grant full-time teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise for the 2019-20 school year, and create an allotment to provide related funding to school districts for salaries of teachers and librarians.
  • Would institute a merit pay program by creating recognized, exemplary, and master teacher designations. The program would require districts to adopt new teacher evaluation criteria to be approved by the commissioner of education for purposes of ranking all teachers and determining which ones might qualify for additional incentive pay. The bill states that districts and the commissioner may not rely “solely” on students’ standardized test results in making those determinations. However, ATPE believes that criteria for the distinctions and awards would still be based largely upon STAAR test results in order to facilitate statewide comparisons of teachers. School districts would be required to share all their teachers’ evaluations with the Texas Education Agency.
  • Would create outcomes-based funding by which districts may receive additional funding based upon third grade reading STAAR test results and college, career, or military readiness indicators. This could increase the high-stakes emphasis on student testing and adversely affect funding for struggling schools that are in the greatest need of additional resources.
  • Would call for a study of education cost drivers and geographic differences in education costs.
  • Would create early reading funding for grades K-3 or full-day pre-K.
  • Would create additional funding for dyslexia, dual language, and blended learning programs.
  • Would require that high school students complete a free application for federal student aid (FAFSA) in order to graduate.
  • Would break the STAAR test into smaller tests and prohibit testing on a Monday.
  • Would create a campus turnaround plan as proposed in SB 1412, which includes incentive pay. Under this plan, teachers would be incentivized to work at campuses with higher needs, although there would likely be a student testing component. The plan also requires contracting with a third-party vendor.

SCHOOL FUNDING

  • Would increase the basic allotment to $5,880 from $5,140, but eliminates the adjusted basic alloment.
  • Would increase compensatory education funding and would fund based upon a spectrum that acknowledges students’ varying degrees of economic disadvantage.
  • Would switch to tax collections based on current year property values.
  • Would repeal certain formulas, such as the cost of education index (CEI) and high school allotment, and roll them into the basic allotment.
  • Would attempt to ensure that recapture does not reduce school district budgets.
  • Would base transportation funding on mileage, but without setting a minimum rate.
  • Would require charter schools to pay into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

PROPERTY TAX

  • Would increase the homestead exemption by $15k to $40k contingent upon voter approval of a one cent sales tax increase, bringing the overall sales tax to the nation’s highest at 9.25 percent.

During this morning’s explanation of the bill and early testimony by Commissioner Mike Morath and other TEA staff, Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) voiced “grave concerns” with the portion of the bill that makes property tax relief through an increase in the homestead exemption contingent upon Texas voters approving a sales tax increase. Sen. Bettencourt, who chairs the Senate Property Tax Relief Committee, argued that such a tax swap would not be neutral, and he suggested alternatives such as expanding the tax base to online sales.

SENATE VS. HOUSE

Senate Education Committee meeting April 25, 2019.

The version of the school finance bill discussed Thursday differs from the version of HB 3 that the House passed by a nearly unanimous vote. The new Senate version brings back outcomes-based funding and the merit pay provisions that ATPE  opposed and House members wisely stripped out of HB 3. The Senate version increases the basic allotment to $5,880 versus $6,030 in the House version. The Senate version of HB 3/SB 4 includes a $5,000 pay raise for teachers and librarians, but the Senate proposal currently includes no language to ensure that the educators receive those raises in future years (unlike SB 3 that the Senate passed earlier this session). The property tax relief proposed in the Senate school finance bill includes an increase to the homestead exemption that is contingent upon a sales tax swap, while the House version does not offer an increase to the homestead exemption.

Both the Senate and House versions include additional funding for dyslexia, dual language, and blended learning programs. Both would increase compensatory education funding and would fund based upon a spectrum that acknowledges varying degrees of economic disadvantage. Both versions would base transportation funding on mileage and repeal outdated formulas, such as the cost of education index (CEI) and high school allotment, and roll them into the basic allotment.

The Senate Education Committee will be hearing public testimony on the bill throughout the day. Chairman Taylor indicated that the committee most likely will vote on the bill later next week. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates as the school finance hearing continues today and additional witnesses provide testimony, including ATPE.