Category Archives: TEA

SBOE vetoes three proposed charter chains

The State Board of Education (SBOE) formally vetoed three applications to operate new charter school chains in Texas on Friday. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had recommended eight new charter chains for approval at this week’s SBOE meeting.

The board has veto authority over new charter school operators. Members voted to veto Heritage Classical Academy in Houston and Rocketship Public Schools in Fort Worth. The board tentatively approved CLEAR Public Charter School in San Marcos at Thursday’s meeting, but reversed course and voted to formally veto the application Friday morning.

The board narrowly approved five of the eight charter chains recommended by TEA: Brillante Academy in McAllen, Doral Academy of Texas in Buda, Learn4Life Austin, Prelude Preparatory Charter School in San Antonio, and Royal Public Schools in San Antonio.

ATPE joined with numerous public education organizations this week in asking the board to veto all of the proposed new charter chains while Texas faces a $4.6 billion budget shortfall due to the economic recession driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and the volatile oil and gas market. This echoes a request ATPE and public education organizations made earlier this year to the commissioner of education to place a moratorium on charter chain expansions, which do not have to be approved by the SBOE.

SBOE tentatively approves 6 new charter chains

The State Board of Education (SBOE) narrowly voted to give tentative approval to six of the eight new charter school chains the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has recommended for approval this year.

A sharply divided board advanced Brillante Academy in McAllen, CLEAR Public Charter School in San Marcos, Doral Academy of Texas in Buda, Learn4Life Austin, Prelude Preparatory Charter School in San Antonio, and Royal Public Schools in San Antonio by a preliminary vote Thursday evening.

Members voted to veto Heritage Classical Academy in Houston and Rocketship Public Schools in Fort Worth. The board will take a final vote on the charter applicants in Friday’s formal meeting.

ATPE joined multiple education organizations in asking the board to consider whether spending tax dollars on new charters is the right thing to do at this moment. The board has the authority to veto new charter applicants.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar has warned Texas is facing a $4.58 billion shortfall heading into the next budget cycle due to the economic recession driven by the COVID-19 pandemic and volatile oil market. The eight charter chains up for approval at this week’s meeting are projected to cost the state an additional $12 million per year.

On Wednesday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath downplayed the idea that $12 million a year is a significant sum, but $12 million could cover the salaries of more than 200 educators at risk of being laid off due to the economic recession caused by COVID-19.

Once initially approved, charter chains are able to expand exponentially without need for approval from the SBOE, or any other elected official. More than 90 expansion amendments have been filed this year which could cost the state an additional $90 million annually. TEA has already approved at least 62 expansion amendments so far this year.

Among the eight charter chains up for approval this week are operators based in New York, Florida, and California. These states would be the recipients of Texas taxpayers’ dollars if these charter chains are approved.

ATPE joined with other education organizations earlier this year in calling for a moratorium on charter expansions. The same rationale applies to ATPE’s recommendation that the board deny the eight charter applications at this time.

Morath pitches new charters to skeptical SBOE

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is meeting in person this week to tackle a packed scheduled that includes discussion of Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards for science, physical education, and health. The board is also discussing whether to approve and spend state tax dollars on eight new charter school systems recommended by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

The board spent Tuesday hearing from hundreds of people voicing their opinions about the TEKS up for discussion. After a 13-hour day of testimony, the board resumed business Wednesday with its regularly scheduled update from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

Commissioner Morath began Wednesday with a status report on reading academies, which all kindergarten through third grade teachers must complete by the 2022-23 school year. There are 20,000 teachers in more than 500 cohorts currently participating in the academies through 38 authorized providers.

The commissioner focused the majority of his presentation on a preemptive defense of the eight new charter schools he is recommending the SBOE approve this week. The board holds veto authority over all new proposed charter organizations, but that veto does not apply to individual campuses or expansions once an initial charter organization is approved. A bipartisan collection of members sharply questioned Morath over charter policy and the numbers used in his sales pitch Wednesday.

In response to a question by Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), the commissioner said the total number of charter schools has grown from 484 in 2017 to 553 in 2019. The commissioner downplayed the total cost of charter schools, which Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) pointed out are completely funded by state dollars through the Foundation School Program (FSP). This makes charter schools significantly more expensive to the state than traditional independent school districts (ISD), which are funded by a combination of state, local, and other funds.

The eight new charters the commissioner is proposing are estimated to cost the state $12 million per year once they are operating at capacity. This does not include the additional cost once they expand to additional campuses. Charter schools have submitted more than 90 expansion applications to TEA this year alone, which could cost the state an additional $90 million per year. At least 62 have been approved so far.

Member Robinson also noted that Texas faces an $11 billion decline in state revenue as a result of the economic recession driven by COVID-19. This has placed unprecedented stress on the state budget, prompting state leaders to call for 5% across-the-board cuts at state agencies. Robinson pointed out that despite this fiscal crisis, Commissioner Morath has increased the number of new charter schools he is proposing to open at the state’s expense from five last year to eight this year.

Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) added that some of the charters currently up for approval are based in California and New York. Member Hardy asked the commissioner, “How do we talk to taxpayers about sending tax dollars out of state?” Morath replied that the economy is globally interconnected. Member Hardy also asked whether only the top-performing schools are approved for expansion, leading the commissioner to state that while D- and F-rated charters were allowed to expand in the past, he believes they are no longer being allowed to grow.

“Is this the right year to be playing Shark Tank?” asked Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville), comparing the proposed spending of state dollars on additional charter school experiments to the well-known TV show where inventors of new products pitch their ideas to investors.

Many of the board members’ concerns about spending state dollars on new charter schools at a time when Texas school districts are needing additional resources to combat the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic mirror those of ATPE and other organizations. Back in April, ATPE joined a coalition of 18 organizations that wrote to Commissioner Morath asking for a moratorium on charter expansions this year.

During today’s discussion, Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) echoed previous concerns about the higher state cost of funding charter schools, which the commissioner’s presentation to the board omitted. Perez added, “There’s a lot of good information you could be sharing, but this just isn’t it.”

Member Pam Little (R-Fairview) raised the issue of charters schools sending students with disciplinary issues back to their local ISD, while money stays with the charter. Commissioner Morath disputed Little’s characterization of the process.

Finally, Member Lawrence Allen (D-Houston) asked the commissioner a separate series of questions relating to educators. Asked by Member Allen whether TEA is collecting data on teacher retention under the threat of returning to school during the pandemic, Morath answered that the agency will not have that info until next September or October of 2021. Asked about resignations outside of the no-fault window, Morath suggested there are “a variety of exceptions” that will be handled on a case-by-case basis through the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC).

Following the commissioner’s comments, the board turned its attention to the Permanent School Fund (PSF). The board approved a $300 million one-time payment to the Available School Fund (ASF) via the real estate special fund account (RESFA) in order to support districts and cover the state’s obligations under last year’s House Bill (HB) 3. The board also tentatively approved a 4.0% distribution rate to the ASF for the 2022-23 biennium.

Members then spent the remainder of the day debating changes to the TEKS that were up for discussion on Tuesday. Any unfinished business from Wednesday’s meeting will be taken up following a public hearing scheduled for Thursday morning over the new charter applicants. Stay tuned to ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog for updates on the board’s actions this week.

Senate task force includes ATPE recommendations in letter to education commissioner

The Texas Senate Democratic Caucus issued a letter signed by all 12 caucus members to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath last week with recommendations to assist Texas schools as the fall semester begins amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The recommendations came from a task force comprised of education organizations and stakeholders that included ATPE. Several of ATPE’s suggestions, such as including “meaningful input from parents, staff and other stakeholders” and using “objective criteria” in making back-to-school operational decisions, as well as, “seek[ing] the appropriate federal waivers to pause the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR),” were included in the senators’ final letter to Commissioner Morath.

The senators also called on the commissioner to provide districts with adequate and reliable funding, plus sufficient flexibility to enable them to meet students’ needs while also protecting health and safety. The full text of the recommendations approved by the task force can be found here. The senators also included a document with detailed rationales for each of the recommendations.

ATPE submitted our own set of recommendations earlier this summer to Morath and other state leaders. View our original July 2 recommendations for the state and school districts here, and our updated July 14 recommendations here. In August, ATPE also sent recommendations on accommodations for staff concerns related to COVID-19, which were sent to all Texas superintendents. Find more COVID-19 resources from ATPE here on our resources page.

TEA adds “Project Restore” trauma training to COVID-19 resources

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has launched a trauma-informed training webinar series called “Project Restore.” The series of videos, only the first of which is posted for now, is meant to help teachers learn about trauma and apply the training in practice with their own students, as well as to combat their own stress. The second video in the series, set to be released September 10, is specifically about helping educators reflect and work through the effects of the pandemic on their lives. The trainings offer Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credits and count for the trauma-informed training requirements of Senate Bill 11 passed by the 86th Texas Legislature in 2019.

Other significant updates to TEA’s COVID-19 Support and Guidance web page this week include minor updates to the agency’s public health guidance document to more clearly define the phrase “on-campus” for purposes of reporting cases; presence on a school bus is included in the definition. The agency also made its regular and continual updates to the Texas Home Learning website. Updates were also made to TEA’s remote instruction guidance and attendance and enrollment FAQ to clarify how asynchronous instruction works for students who do not have access to Internet or devices. Lastly, the federal funding and grants FAQ on the agency’s website newly explains that school districts are allowed to keep migrant students enrolled throughout the year.

As always, please visit ATPE’s frequently-updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources web page for Texas educators for additional, up-to-date information.

SBOE holds abbreviated virtual meeting this week

SBOE virtual meeting, Sept. 1, 2020

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the State Board of Education (SBOE) met for the first of two virtual meetings this week in order to clear a handful of less controversial items from the board’s agenda before all 15 members meet in person next week. The board discussed the next round of requirements for instructional materials and held separate meetings in their various committees.

The board’s Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) received a report on management of the PSF by investment consulting firm RVK. The report is a result of House Bill (HB) 4388 which required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a study regarding PSF distributions.

The PSF provides the state’s share of funding for public schools in Texas. The majority of the PSF is managed by the SBOE, but a portion of the fund consisting of real estate investments is managed by the School Land Board (SLB) under the General Land Office (GLO). The 86th Texas Legislature in 2019 examined the split management structure of the fund after a dispute arose between the SBOE and SLB over changes the SLB made to the way it has typically distributed funds.

The consultants determined that the sustainable distribution rate from the total PSF is between 3.26% and 3.46% based on current market conditions, current capital markets forecasts, current investment strategies, and a review of other key variables. That breaks down into 3.2% from the portion of the fund managed by the SBOE and between 5.28% and 5.70% from the portion of the fund managed by the SLB.

Since 2003, the PSF has grown at an annual rate of 3.1% on average, while assets per student have increased by 1.3%. Distributions per student on a real basis have fallen 1.4% since 2003 but have grown 3.8% over last 10 years. Total distributions from both the SBOE and SLB have remained largely constant over the last 10 years, at around 3.3%.

The PSF’s stated goal is to achieve intergenerational equity, but the consultants noted, “There is a distinct lack of clarity in precisely how intergenerational equity is to be defined.” The report also concluded that distributions will likely vary year to year because of the unpredictability of distributions from the SLB’s portion of the fund, and suggested the state consider a rules-based methodology for distributing funds, which is common practice in other states.

Agency staff in charge of overseeing the PSF said the fund is recovering from the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. BNY Mellon Asset Servicing presented members a with the fund’s second quarter report, which concurred that markets are improving. That said, the fund underperformed against the PSF benchmark and ranked in the 43rd percentile among peer funds greater than $1 billion for the quarter.

After TEA staff assured members that the fund has met the performance requirements established in law in order to protect the fund’s long-term health, the committee voted to make a distribution of $1.1 billion that will be available to schools for fiscal year 2021.

The board will meet again on Wednesday to discuss and approve items considered in today’s committee meetings. Members are scheduled to meet in person for a more extensive agenda next week.

COVID case reporting in schools and more updates from TEA

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released official correspondence today detailing COVID-19 case reporting in schools.

As we reported here on Teach the Vote last week, TEA is coordinating with the Department of Health State Services (DSHS) to collect and disseminate weekly case information on test-confirmed COVID-19 infections in students, teachers, and staff who participate in on-campus activities. School districts will be expected to report data on confirmed cases beginning with the first day of instruction and will begin their weekly submissions September 8. DSHS will report weekly positive case numbers at the district level starting at the end of September.

Districts will be required to provide information such as what campus reported the infection and whether it was a student, teacher, or staff member. Districts must also report what action was taken in response to the infection. In addition to COVID cases, TEA is asking districts to report enrollment data for the first and fourth weeks of school. This data is meant to give TEA an idea how many students are on campus in order to provide context to the case reporting.

TEA also updated several other resources on their COVID-19 webpage this week, including minor changes to COVID-19 public health orders. the term “lab-confirmed” was revised to “test-confirmed” to acknowledge the increased use of on-sight rapid testing, which does not always require a test to be sent off to a lab in order to get a result. The agency also updated resources for special education and special populations, including resources for highly mobile and at-risk students, English learners, and G/T students. Texas Home Learning resources were also updated.

Also of note, the deadline for school districts to apply for Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) is quickly approaching (September 30). The CRF, established through the CARES Act and administered by the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM), provides up to 75% reimbursement for allowable expenses from March 1 through March 20, 2020. TDEM has advised that in order to complete the application process by September 30, districts will likely need to have completed the first step of registering an account by September 7.

As always, the ATPE Coronavirus FAQ and Resources are frequently updated and available for public use. Recent updates include an interactive timeline of COVID-19 developments and webcasts with ATPE’s legal services team.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 21, 2020

For many of you, it’s the end of back-to-school week. While this week may not have been normal or ideal, we know the bumpy road ahead will be navigated by the best experts in the land – educators! Read this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) made news this week with a long-awaited announcement yesterday that there will be some data collection and reporting on COVID-19 cases in schools. TEA also updated its COVID-19 resource page to include guidance (also long-awaited) on promoting educator well-being. Read ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter’s blog post on these developments for more detail.

This week, ATPE hosted its second free legal webcast on COVID-19 issues facing school employees. In the presentation ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp gives an overview of available accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, paid and unpaid leave options, and more. Find the latest webcast here. To watch our first legal webinar on educators’ rights and COVID-19, click here.

As always, we encourage you to check out ATPE’s comprehensive COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page for recent answers to common questions from educators and links to other helpful information. Also read ATPE’s tips on getting ready for the new school year here on the main ATPE blog. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues. Finally, we invite both educators and parents to take our survey on parent-teacher collaboration.


ELECTION UPDATE: U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy announced this week that policy changes to the U.S. Postal Service will not be implemented before the November election. The Democratic National Convention also took place this week, resulting in the final nomination of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris to the November presidential ticket. The Republican National Convention takes place next week. Read more about these developments in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Public comment is now open on proposed State Board for Educator Certification rules that will provide a fix for Master Teacher certificate holders who are facing the expiration of their certificate, potentially putting their teaching assignments in jeopardy. The proposed rules would eliminate the expiration date on non-renewable “Legacy Master Teacher” certificates. Read more about the issue and ATPE’s months-long advocacy efforts on behalf of master teachers in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The Texas House Public Education Committee posted five formal requests for information this week. Several House committees are issuing the public requests for information in lieu of holding in-person hearings on their interim charges. Anyone can submit information, due by September 30. Get more detail on the requests in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


On Tuesday, our country observed the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, securing women’s right to vote. Read more about the history of the amendment and the role teachers played in its passage in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


TEA updates its COVID-19 resources to include case reporting instructions and educator wellness guidance

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced yesterday two new resources that educators and parents have been requesting: guidance on promoting educator well-being that actually emphasizes educator input and information about reporting on the number of COVID-19 cases in Texas public schools.

First, TEA has posted a guide promoting staff support and well-being in a COVID-19 environment, entitled “SY 20-21 Educator Wellness: Equipping Staff to Return to School.” The introductory paragraph of the new guide has this to say:

“Throughout this tool you will find practical guidance, suggestions, and key action steps for the topics addressed in the chart below to promote staff wellness, resiliency, and overall well-being. The first step in preparing for the reentry of staff is to plan. Campus leaders should convene a team of mental health and well-being champions. It is vital that this team is supported by the senior leadership team in a district, school, or open-enrollment charter school. This team should be charged with developing a multi-tiered system of support (MTSS) plan using reputable resources that are trauma-informed for school mental and behavioral health, starting with a focus on promoting staff wellness. Next, assessing the well-being of staff is an essential step for prescriptive planning. After initiating the assessment and evaluating the results from the adaptable assessment options sample below, it will be important to build a school culture that promotes wellness and resiliency throughout the school year. Finally, equipping staff with the most relevant professional development and training will lead to a strong and safe start for the 2020-2021 school year.”

Of course, this guidance would have been more helpful six to eight weeks ago when districts still had ample time for planning and convening new committees, and when organizations such as ATPE were imploring the agency and state leaders to pay attention to the largely-ignored concerns of our state’s educators. Thankfully, the new guidance is pro-educator and finally recognizes that supporting students requires first supporting those adults who teach them. On that basis, this thoughtful guidance can be filed under the category of better late than never.

The agency is still working out final details on the public reporting of lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Texas public school students and staff. The new reporting requirement will be in addition to long-standing required reporting to local health agencies for infectious diseases. Through a joint effort between TEA and the state health agency, data will be reported out by the Department of State Health Services on at least a district-by-district basis. Districts are expected to start submitting data in early September, with a group of pilot districts beginning to submit data this week.

Other updates to TEA’s COVID-19 site since last Thursday include the following:

BREAKING: Schools receive updated TEA guidance on closures, reflecting new advice from attorney general

Earlier today, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton issued a press release sharing a letter he penned to Stephenville Mayor Doug Svien about local authorities’ power (or lack thereof) to restrict schools from reopening for on-campus instruction. Though non-binding, Paxton’s letter cautions that local health authorities cannot issue closure orders or other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic that would conflict with either state law or Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive orders already in effect. Paxton then argues that orders recently issued by some local health authorities conflict with both.

The AG’s letter notes that a handful of cities and counties — mostly located in urban areas more acutely affected by rising numbers of COVID-19 infections — have recently issued orders to restrict area schools from opening their doors prior to a particular date. Paxton counters with advice that such “blanket quarantine orders” issued as a prophylactic measure are prohibited. Only actual infection on the campus, according to the AG’s reasoning, would warrant the issuance of a local order to close the school to on-campus instruction. “To the extent a local health authority seeks to employ section 81.085 to order closure of a school, the authority would need to demonstrate reasonable cause to believe the school, or persons within the school, are actually contaminated by or infected with a communicable disease,” writes Paxton in the letter.

On the heels of the AG’s letter, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated its “SY 20-21 Public Health Planning Guidance” document that was issued July 17, 2020, with a newer version today, along with an “Attendance and Enrollment FAQ” document that is similarly revised.

In the latest guidance, TEA explains that because of the AG’s interpretation, “a blanket order closing schools does not constitute a legally issued closure order for purposes of funding solely remote instruction.” This differs from prior TEA guidance which assured schools they would continue to receive funding if they were forced to close by a local order. Now those closure orders would have to meet the additional hurdles outlined by AG Paxton, including a vague requirement of being based on “reasonable cause to believe the school, or persons within the school, are actually contaminated by or infected with a communicable disease.” Notwithstanding the AG’s letter, TEA also clarifies in the newest documents out today that schools may still be funded while operating remotely if they are doing so under other permissible conditions, such as during the allowed four-week transition period that was announced in the earlier TEA guidance.

Many Texas public schools have already announced plans to operate virtually for the first few weeks of their school year while preparing for a return to on-campus instruction. School districts may also request a one-time extension of the state-sanctioned four-week transition period if voted upon by their board of trustees. It is believed that most of the existing local health orders restricting a return to campus would overlap with the four-to-eight-week transition period already authorized by TEA, making it unlikely that a school district would have to risk a loss of funding because of a delay in returning to campus at the beginning of the school year. Once the transition period expires, however, school districts may find themselves in a precarious position if their local health officials’ recommendations conflict with state orders in effect at the time. TEA also points out that school districts have their power to set their own calendars, which some may find a need to revise.

TEA’s new resources shared today also include a “Guidebook for Public Health Operations,” which includes protocols schools may use in responding to an lab-confirmed case of COVID-19 and recommendations for collaborating with local health officials to discuss and conduct planning exercises ahead of the new school year:

“School systems, local health departments and local health authorities should make contact prior to the start of school and conduct a tabletop exercise (detailed at the end of this document) to determine how they will work together. …  As part of the exercise, these parties will determine how to best work together in the instance of a positive case.”

While ATPE is pleased to see the suggestions for collaborative planning to respond to the COVID-19 infections within a local school community that are likely to occur in the near future, it would have been more helpful for schools to have received this guidance from the state earlier in the summer rather than within days or weeks of starting the new school year. The new TEA guidebook also adds a somewhat perfunctory statement that local “planning efforts should also engage parents and teachers,” which ATPE has urged for months now in our recommendations to local and state officials.

We are aware that many school district leaders are grappling with a maze of differing and even contradictory orders and advice on how to begin the new school year. This is especially true for districts located within the boundaries of multiple city or county jurisdictions that may not agree on how to respond to the pandemic. As noted in a statement issued today, ATPE urges the state to provide clearer direction and leadership to help schools decipher these orders and guidelines.

“ATPE recognizes that COVID-19 has created fluid situations that demand frequent updates and revisions to plans. However, with multiple directives and guidance being issued by different branches and levels of government, it is no surprise that school leaders and educators are frustrated. The state should do everything in its power to protect the lives of Texans and support a safe and productive learning environment, not create needless confusion.”

As additional developments occur and guidance from government officials continues to change, ATPE encourages educators to visit our COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for answers to frequently asked questions, which we will continue to update.