Category Archives: Uncategorized

TRS board meeting in Austin this week

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board was in Austin for their regularly scheduled board meeting on Thursday and Friday of this week. The board kicked off its hearing with a resolution celebrating the life and service of Mike Lehr, former executive director of the Texas Retired Teachers Association with more than 50 years working as a public school educator or on behalf of active or retired public school educators.

Also of note, TRS executive director Brian Guthrie updated the board on interactions TRS has had with legislators as a part of the ongoing legislative session. TRS recently presented on its general outlook and budgetary requests before both House and Senate budget committees as well as the House Pensions Committee. The agency will still have one more general presentation to the Senate State Affairs Committee, and then the agency role will shift to assisting lawmakers more behind the scenes.

The remainder of the first day’s morning session covered topics such as internal staffing policy, customer service, and how the agency communicates with TRS members. Thursday afternoon the board underwent ethics training and had an in-depth discussion of healthcare and healthcare design related to the TRS-Care and TRS-ActiveCare insurance programs.

The board’s Friday agenda focused on the TRS investment program, including the agency’s emerging manger program, a view of national and global financial trends, and TRS’s own strategic asset allocation.

Those who are interested can watch an archive of the board’s Thursday meeting and Friday meeting.


SBOE committee rejects problematic SBEC rule

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday morning to discuss a variety of subjects prior to Friday’s meeting of the full board.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

The Committee on School Initiatives considered a rule change proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) regarding an abbreviated path for a certificate in trade and industrial workforce training.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the proposed SBEC rule, which proposed to add certificates in marketing and health sciences to an abbreviated pathway for earning a trade and industrial workforce training certificate created by House Bill (HB) 3349. Along with other concerns, the addition of the two certificates falls well outside the scope of the enacting legislation and carries negative consequences with regard to teacher quality.

This is important particularly because of the interaction with certification by examination, which would allow those who have obtained an abbreviated certificate in one of these subjects to test into additional teaching certifications without the baseline 300 hours of training, including in pedagogy, that is assumed by the certification by examination statute. This would likely have deleterious effects upon teacher quality, which is the most single most critical factor impacting student outcomes.

Several other educator organizations joined with ATPE in asking the committee to reject the rule in its current form and allow the SBEC to produce a rule that maintains high standards for certified teachers and is more in line with statute. While acknowledging the good intentions behind the rule, the committee voted unanimously to reject the rule change, citing concerns over the process and a desire to safeguard high teacher standards.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: August 10, 2018

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

On Monday, the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security published it’s interim report covering the charges assigned to it by the Lieutenant Governor in the wake of the Santa Fe High School shooting. Among the recommendations for each of the four charges were increased funding for enhanced school security, updating school building codes, funding school marshal programs, integrating counselor data into school records, and increasing the number of available counselors, among other things. For a more detailed report on the committee’s findings you can read this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlman. The full report is available here.


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, August 8, 2018.

Earlier this week the House Public Education Committee met to discuss the last of its interim charges. The hearing featured invited testimony from TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, who discussed the state’s accountability system and “A through F” ratings as well as T-TESS, the state’s teacher appraisal system, and ways in which the state could address the issue of teacher pay. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was on hand to provide testimony suggesting that the state take a more holistic approach to the matter by improving the career pipeline and pay structure. Afterwards the interim charge on charter schools was discussed by members of the committee and TEA staff. It was noted that charter school teachers are not required to be paid according to the minimum salary schedule and contributions to TRS (which are calculated according to the salary schedule) have not risen along with inflation for that group of educators. ATPE Lobbyists Mark Wiggins discusses the hearing in depth in this blog post.


The Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met this week to discuss its recommendations. Included in the recommendations were suggestions to repeal allotments like the high school allotment or the Public Education Grant (PEG) allotment; this would be done to move more funding into the basic allotment, giving districts more discretionary spending power. The group also examined how to adjust formula weights and funding tiers in order to best fund districts. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provides a detailed recap of the hearing in this blog post.

TEA announced two new ventures this week that are aimed at keeping parents informed. The first, Answers….In About A Minute, is an online video library that will inform the public about TEA programs and initiatives. The initial series of videos will focus on the “A through F” rating system. The second venture TEA announced this week is the new TEA Time podcast, which will focus on different topics in public education. The first episode is a conversation with TEA Commissioner Mike Morath. According to the TEA website, new content for the Answers video series we be produced as new topics arrive while new episodes of the podcast will be recorded weekly.



This weekend qualifying school supplies and clothing items will be tax free. Happy back to school shopping!








Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 22, 2018

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

A full meeting of the Texas Pension Review Board (PRB) was held on Monday, and the body voted to adopt voluntary guidelines designed to work as best practices for how retirement plans are funded. While the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) meets many of the PRB’s voluntary standards, it fails to meet standards in two critical areas that can be crippling to TRS members. Read more about the guidelines in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Earlier this month the State Board of Education voted unanimously to adopt curriculum standards for  a high school elective course entitled “Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies”. This comes after months of back and forth between members of the board and stakeholders over content and curriculum standards for the course as well as what it should be named. In this commentary, SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) reflects on how working together made this course a reality and how that gives her hope, both for the state of Texas and the nation.


School may be out, but the fight for Texas public schools is ongoing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the ways you can engage with the legislature and advocate for your profession during the summer in this blog post.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 1, 2018

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

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

The subject of teacher quality was the main focus of Tuesday’s meeting of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on outcomes. Members of the policy community from groups such as the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Holdsworth Center spoke about the effects of an undereducated workforce on the state’s high poverty rate, teacher recruiting and retention, and talent management, respectively. The full commission is scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, and the final report is expected some time in December. Read more about the working group’s meeting in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. 

After a series of three roundtable discussions with school shooting survivors, school administrators, and activists, Governor Gregg Abbott unveiled a 40-page school safety action plan on Wednesday. The action plan serves as a direct response to the tragic shooting at Santa Fe High School outside of Houston. According to the governor, those items include the following:

  • $120 million in funding ($70 million in federal funds + $40 million in state funds) that would not require a legislative appropriation
  • A crisis response team already deployed that’s comprised of counselors from the National Organization of Victim Assistance (NOVA)
  • A proposed $10,000 matching grant for schools using federal funds to pay for additional law enforcement
  • Increasing the number of “school marshals” — armed school personnel who have completed a specialized law enforcement training program – on public school campuses
  • Expanding the state’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training ( ALERRT), which provides active shooter training
  • “Hardening” schools by controlling campus access
  • Expanding Texas Tech University’s Telemedicine Wellness Intervention Triage and Referral (TWITR) program to identity potential threats to student well being
  • Expanding campus CrimeStopper programs and making it easier for students to report suspicious behavior through the iWatch Texas app

Gov. Abbott noted the need for local control in his address, remarking that “one size simply does not fit all”. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down more of the Governor’s proposed actions in this post. 


From the Teacher Retirement System (TRS):

TRS is now accepting nominations for eligible members to qualify as candidates for the election of the Public School District Employee position on the TRS Board of Trustees. The term begins as early as Sept. 1, 2019 and ends Aug. 31, 2025.

For the first time, TRS is offering two ways in which a nominee may collect the required 250 signatures of eligible members for nomination. An eligible member for this election is a current employee of a public school district, charter school, or regional education service center.

A nominee may collect the 250 signatures electronically by declaring their interest to be a nominee to the Secretary to the Board of Trustees. Once the member’s eligibility is validated, the member’s  name will be posted on the nomination site where the nominee may direct eligible members to sign the nominee’s electronic petition. The names of nominees will be listed on a first-come-first-listed basis. To sign the electronic petition,  eligible members will need to provide identifying information in order to verify their eligibility to sign the petition. The process is easy and only takes a few minutes. For an electronic petition, the nominee does not need to submit anything further to TRS but must have 250 eligible member signatures by Jan. 21, 2019 to be considered a candidate.

TRS will continue to allow nominees to collect 250 signatures of eligible members with paper petitions. TRS must receive the nominee’s paper petitions no later than Jan. 21, 2019. A member may download thepetition (pdf) or if a member does not have access to a printer, the member may contact the Secretary to the Board of Trustees to have a petition mailed to them.

Are you ready for the May 22 runoffs?

If you’re a frequent reader of our blog, you know that ATPE’s lobby team often writes about the importance of primary elections in Texas. In fact, most of our state’s elected officials are seated as a result of primary election results instead of the general election that occurs in November. This is a result of redistricting that happens every decade, when electoral maps are redrawn, often in a strategic manner that will allow the political party holding that seat at the time to have an advantage in keeping that seat in future elections. Some districts favor one political party so heavily that races to fill those seats may only attract candidates from a single political party, meaning that the entire contest is decided by the primary. Many of those races conclude in March, but sometimes a runoff is required if no candidate earns a majority of the vote in the initial primary.

Here in Texas, we’ve got an important primary runoff election scheduled for May 22, 2018. That’s why ATPE is encouraging you to read about the runoff elections coming up this month and find out if you’re eligible to vote in one or more of the runoffs. Those eligible to vote in this runoff election include certain registered voters who participated in March’s primary elections, as well as registered voters who did not vote in either of the previous party primaries.

Eligibility for voting in the primaries is as easy as matching apples to apples and oranges to oranges.  If you voted in a March primary, you must vote in the same party’s primary runoff election. For example, if you voted in the Republican primary in March, you may only vote in a Republican primary runoff election in May. If you voted in the Democratic primary in March, you may only vote in a Democratic primary runoff election. However, if you are a registered voter who did not participate in either of the party’s primaries back in March, then you are still eligible to participate in the runoff election, but you must choose which primary runoff to participate in. You cannot vote in both primary runoffs or vote in the runoff of the party opposite the primary you chose back in March.

Early voting for the runoffs will take place May 14 – 18, 2018. Runoff election day is May 22, 2018. Most polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on voting days, but you should check the times and locations locally to find information on your polling place.  Don’t forget to bring an acceptable form of identification with you when you vote, and print out any notes ahead of time, as cell phones must be turned off at the polls.

To help you learn about your choices at the polls, ATPE shares profiles here on Teach the Vote for all candidates running for the Texas House, Texas Senate, Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or State Board of Education. The profiles help educators and other voters find out more about the candidates’ stances on education issues, in particular. This month ATPE is also spotlighting on our Teach the Vote blog a few of the runoff races where education has emerged as a preeminent topic. Check out highlights of these races using the links below:

To view a list of all the runoff candidates whose profiles are featured on Teach the Vote, check out this related blog post. If you have additional questions about runoff voting or candidates please contact ATPE Governmental Relations or call 1-800-777-ATPE.

Finance commission working group talks expenditures

Members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance’s working group on expenditures met Tuesday morning at the Texas Capitol. The working group is lead by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. Other members of the working group are commission chair Justice Scott Brister, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), and state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas).

Texas Commission of Public School Finance working group on expenditures meeting March 20, 2018.

The working group met for the first time the day after all 13 members of the commission met Monday for the body’s first and likely only day of public testimony. At the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting, Justice Brister indicated the purpose of the working group is to make proposals for the full commission to consider. Huberty then began the commission by outlining a number of potential vehicles to increase school funding, such as increasing the basic allotment, creating a “silver penny” that deals with recapture issues, and adjusting the funding formulas.

Chairman Huberty drew the group’s attention to a reform bill proposed by former House Public Education Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock that would have represented a $3 billion funding boost through an increase to the basic allotment, elimination of the cost of education index (CEI), and addressing additional state aid for tax relief (ASATR). Huberty also noted that the House passed a $1.8 billion school finance reform bill last session. That legislation was killed by the Texas Senate under Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.

Representatives from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) and Texas Education Agency (TEA) led off Tuesday’s testimony with a high-level overview of the Foundation School Program (FSP), which is the state’s system for funding public schools. Chairman Huberty asked LBB staff directly what the state’s share of school formula funding is, according to the state’s accountants. Staff from LBB answered the state provides 38 percent of education funding – a number Sen. Taylor repeatedly tried to dispute on Monday. Huberty emphasized the importance of members agreeing upon a number from which to begin constructive conversations about the budget.

Huberty and Sen. West pointedly questioned LBB why it has failed to update the CEI since 1991. Staff from LBB explained they were unable to reproduce the methodology used in 1991, despite an attempt to do so in the 2000s. Dr. Ellis suggested the commission should consider what an updated CEI or similar index might look like before weighing whether to eliminate it. The working group also sought clarification regarding the functions of the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA), the high school allotment, and the transportation allotment. Sen. West suggested the working group add addressing the transportation allotment’s function in Chapter 41 districts, which are subject to “Robin Hood” recapture, to its to-do list. The group also asked about weights for special education and compensatory education, with a view to incorporating weighted funding for dyslexia and autism.

A representative from the Texas Association of School Business Officers (TASBO) suggested commissioning a working group comprised of veteran school district CFOs and their associated curriculum counterparts to assess whether the state’s various funding programs are accomplishing their intended objectives. A Texas Association of School Administrators (TASA) member testified that money matters, and funding levels make it increasingly difficult for districts to do their jobs. Members also heard from representatives from the Fast Growth School Coalition and the Equity Center, he latter of whom offered plan for simplifying the school finance formula. A charter school representative refuted the suggestion that schools could pay teachers higher salaries if they simply reprioritized their budgets. Huberty noted the claim that charter schools receive less funding than traditional public schools is “just not true,” and warned charter operators to change their talking points.

The working group’s next meeting is expected to be conducted via conference call, and a third meeting will be scheduled in person to follow up.

Finance commissioners get earful from public

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Monday for the fifth time, kicking off what is expected to be the only meeting during which members of the general public will be given the opportunity to speak to the 13-member body.

Roughly 50 invited witnesses were scheduled to speak before the commission opened up for public testimony Monday. Invited witnesses were allocated five minutes each, while members of the public were given three minutes each.

Former House Public Education Committee Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock was the first invited witness to testify, and called for eliminating the outdated cost of education index (CEI). Aycock also suggested funding charter schools based on the allotment given to their constituent feeder campuses as opposed to the current practice of allocating funding based upon the state average. Former House Public Education subcommittee chair Paul Colbert emphasized that money does indeed matter when it comes to funding public schools.

Chandra Villanueva, Senior Policy Analyst with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, urged the commission to study the actual cost of funding public education. Villanueva noted that the Perot Commission, which studied Texas school finance in the 1980s, considered how much it would cost to fund the ideal Texas school.

The majority of invited witnesses were comprised of traditional public education stakeholders, including representatives from educator organizations, administrators, school board members and business interests. By and large, these stakeholders pointed out that money is important in public education, and argued for the state to resume its fair share of the burden of funding local schools after years of gradually dumping the lion’s share of funding responsibility into the laps of local taxpayers. This view saw vigorous pushback from state Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Senate Education Committee.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on March 19, 2018.

When public testimony opened up Monday afternoon, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter pointed out new polling data that show Texans agree money is important in public education and that the state should pay its fair share. Exter testified there are multiple realistic pathways to get the state’s share up to 50 percent from the current 38 percent. It could do so through increases to the sales tax, expanding the tax base, eliminating some of the roughly $30 billion of “corporate welfare” built into the state tax system, or some combination thereof. To wit, Exter suggested lawmakers could get to fifty percent by adding one penny of sales tax, combined with a small expansion of the tax base and eliminating some corporate welfare.

During public testimony, parents and teachers expressed nearly uniform dissatisfaction with the current level of school funding – often delivering heated lectures to members of the commission. Many echoed the opinion that the state should spend more on public education in order to take pressure off of local taxpayers who are currently saddled with the majority of the burden of funding public schools. Public testimony is expected to last well into the night. The commission working group on expenditures, which is chaired by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), is scheduled to meet Tuesday morning at the Texas Capitol.

Poll: Texans support more school funding

Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) and public education advocates unveil new polling data.

On the same day members of the general public will be allowed to testify before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, education advocates unveiled new polling data indicating a broad, bipartisan majority of Texans believe the state should spend more money on public schools.

A study by a prominent GOP polling firm commissioned by the Texas Education Grantmakers Advocacy Consortium (TEGAC) surveyed 501 registered voters between January 20 and 23. It found:

  • Initially, 67 percent of Texans favor the state increasing its share of dollars going to education in order to provide property tax relief for local taxpayers. After hearing more about it, 71 percent favor increasing the state share in order to provide property tax relief.
  • 81 percent of Texans favor a requirement that local education tax dollars sent to the state must be used for public education, and not used to fill other budget shortfalls or fund other programs. After hearing more about the issue, 86 percent favor this requirement.
  • 54 percent of Texans favor increasing the state’s share of public education dollars from the current 38 percent to 50 percent. After hearing more about the issue, 68 percent favor increasing the state’s share.

Lewisville ISD school board member Kristi Hassett said, “The state’s financial contribution has declined significantly over most of the last six to eight years, leaving local taxpayers to should a disproportionate amount of the burden. It’s time for the state to step up and increase funding for public education.” More poll results can be found here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 30, 2017

Here’s your Independence Day weekend edition of ATPE’s weekly advocacy wrap-up:


ATPE members testified against anti-educator payroll deduction bills in Feb. 2017.

ATPE members testified against anti-educator payroll deduction bills in Feb. 2017.

With a special session slated to begin on July 18, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has been rounding up authors for his ambitious 20-item legislative agenda, which includes a number of high-profile education issues. Yesterday, the governor announced which pair of lawmakers will be carrying his preferred legislation to prohibit educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. They are freshman Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) and Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs), and Gov. Abbott thanked them in a press release yesterday for agreeing to carry the so-called “union dues” legislation.

Sen. Hughes said in the governor’s press release that “taxpayers shouldn’t be responsible for collecting their dues,” lending his voice to those in the Republican party who have tried to mislead voters into believing that taxpayer dollars are being spent as a result of educators’ payroll deduction choices. The governor and lieutenant governor have made repeated references to the notion of taxpayer resources being spent in order to process public employees’ payments to professional associations like ATPE, despite overwhelming evidence that the practice does not result in any additional costs to the state, school districts, or taxpayers. In fact, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), who carried the same anti-educator legislation during the recent regular session, openly debunked the myth about wasted taxpayer resources during her committee’s hearing of Senate Bill 13 back in February. Those facts haven’t kept Gov. Abbott and Lt. Gov. Patrick from repeating their well-rehearsed lines about taxpayer resources and trying desperately to gin up support for these anti-educator bills that they will once again push during the special session. Now, unfortunately, we can add Sen. Hughes and Rep. Isaac to the list of lawmakers jumping on that same fact-challenged bandwagon to try to silence the voices of educators. For his part, Rep. Isaac was similarly quoted in the governor’s press release yesterday as saying, “It’s long past time to end the outdated practice of using taxpayer-funded resources to collect dues for private organizations.”

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopAttacksATPE will continue to fight efforts to take away educators’ right to use payroll deduction in the manner they choose for spending their own hard-earned dollars. We encourage ATPE members to visit Advocacy Central and use our tools to send a message to state legislators about this needless attack on educators who choose to join professional organizations that advocate for them and for our public schools.

In similar session preparation news, it has also been reported this week that Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) and Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) will be the designated authors for private school voucher legislation during the special session. Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, was the author of Senate Bill 3 during the regular session, the signature voucher bill pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as one of his top three priorities. Simmons also carried voucher legislation during the regular session and tried unsuccessfully to get the House to consider including vouchers for students with special needs in its major school finance bill.

Related: For more coverage of the education topics that will be considered during the upcoming special session, check out two recent articles from The Texas Tribune republished with permission on our blog:


ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

As we reported on our blog last week, ATPE state officers and lobbyists traveled to Washington, DC to meet with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and others about improving educators’ Social Security benefits. Brady has spearheaded recent efforts to replace the Windfall Elimination Provision, an offset in federal law that causes many Texas educators and other public servants to see their retirement benefits reduced.

While those efforts to change the federal law are ongoing, we’ve got information about some new tools that can help educators better predict how their Social Security benefits could be affected by such offsets. Check out our blog post with details about the new Social Security benefit calculators from the federal government that will help you learn the extent to which your payments will be reduced by the WEP or the Government Pension Offset (GPO).

In other retirement news this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) is considering changing its eligibility rules for providers of certain financial products. The rules pertain to 403(b) investment products, which many educators use to supplement their savings for retirement in addition to receiving a TRS pension. TRS staff hosted an informal conference this week to gather feedback on the rules from interested stakeholders. For more on the potential 403(b) rule changes, read this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.



ATPE is joining with other education allies on Monday, July 17, to help sponsor a pro-public education rally at the Texas State Capitol. The event is slated to begin at 1:30 pm and will feature guest speakers and live entertainment. Educators, parents, students, and all backers of our public schools are encouraged to attend and show their support for public education on the eve of the special session that we know will feature many troubling bills to defund our public schools, take away educators’ benefits, and dilute local control. We’ll be providing additional details about the rally during the next two weeks. For additional information in the meantime, check out this post from the rally organizers on Facebook.


ATPE wishes you a safe and happy Fourth of July!

Boys Holding Sparklers