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Meet the candidates in TX House District 66

Election Day is Tuesday, November 3, 2020.

Find out where the candidates stand on public education issues. Click the links below to view their profiles, featuring responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available), voting records of incumbent legislators, additional information, and links to the candidates’ own websites.

Texas House District 66

TEA shares remote learning guidance for fall 2020

Despite announcements last week that schools wound be able to safely open in the fall, Texas policy makers have been quietly saying for months that as many as 20% (or maybe even more) of Texas’ 5.4 million students may not return to their neighborhood school when it reopens for the 2020-21 school year due to continued concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic. With this in mind, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been working on a funding framework that encompasses distance learning options within existing law, as opposed to simply waiving requirements as the state did out of necessity at the end of the 2019-20 school year.

The agency’s Remote Instruction Guidance and accompanying 2020-21 Attendance and Enrollment FAQ released yesterday, June 23, include two remote learning options for school districts, along with funding assurances and methods for gathering attendance. These changes will only be in effect for the 2020-21 school year and are only possible under TEA’s waiver authority.

Several aspects of the provided options are promising, while others are concerning. The agency’s focus on tying student-to-teacher contact to funding will help ensure that students interact with schools and teachers on a daily basis. On the other hand, the agency does not provide guidelines for ensuring student-to-student interaction, which could hinder important social and emotional development. TEA does take a step in the right direction by refraining from simply expanding full-time virtual programs, as some legislators have recommended, under the Texas Virtual School Network, which has not proven to be an effective learning model for students in the past.

There remain some gaps in TEA’s guidance with regard to funding and resources. As many have said throughout this pandemic, districts are being asked to build a plane while flying it, and without any new resources to boot. TEA’s proposed “hold harmless” approach to calculating Average Daily Attendance (ADA) for the first 12 weeks of the new school year will help districts that experience a significant enrollment drop, but many believe this accommodation should be extended to cover the entire fall semester or the full year. School attendance may not stabilize until well after a vaccine has been widely distributed, which Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci told lawmakers Tuesday could be at the end of 2020 or early in 2021.

Here is a summary of the remote learning options outlined by TEA in its most recent guidance:

Synchronous Instruction

In the remote synchronous learning model, students “sit” in virtual classes with their teachers and teachers take attendance much like they would in the physical school setting. This method generates funding based on a minimum number of daily minutes, which do not have to be consecutive. A defining feature is that PK-2 students are not eligible for funding through this model, as many agree that this type of real-time virtual classroom environment is not developmentally appropriate for young students who may have difficulty sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods of time. In order to offer this remote synchronous instruction method, districts must submit an attestation, complete a checklist of preparation items, and post the attestation on their website.

Asynchronous Instruction

In the asynchronous model, students will be expected to complete instruction and school work  independently, with intermittent teacher interaction. According to TEA, even the youngest grades can participate in this self-paced method, and attendance will be determined based on student “engagement.” Engagement will be specifically defined by each district, but TEA notes that it can be shown through progress in the Learning Management System (LMS), student/teacher interactions in the LMS, or turning in an assignment. Engagement must happen any day a student is marked present, which would then generate full-day funding.

The asynchronous model requires more work on the district’s end than the synchronous model. Districts will have to apply to TEA and submit a plan that details expectations for scheduling, curriculum, student progress, and educator support. For this reason, the agency is providing an attendance grace period or “hold harmless” through the end of the third six-week period while districts go through the approval process.

The Texas Virtual School Network (a not-so-new method)

TEA also reminds districts in its guidance that the Texas Virtual School Network (VSN) is available. Funding for this method is based on course completion, and districts can choose to enroll students in up to three VSN courses. As we have previously reported here on our blog, some state lawmakers have been advocating an expansion of the VSN. However, ATPE supports the limitations in statute that prevent the expansion of virtual schooling, as data have repeatedly shown that student performance in Texas virtual schools falls well below that of students in brick-and-mortar settings.

Funding with “Grace”

TEA will implement an ADA grace period or “hold harmless” provision for the first two six-week periods of the school year so that if a district experiences more than a 1% loss in enrollment compared to the first two six-week periods of the 2019-20 school year, those weeks won’t be counted in the overall ADA calculations that determine funding. As mentioned above, an additional grace period for the third six-week period will be applied for districts adopting the asynchronous model. This grace period does not apply to charter schools opening in 2020-21, as they do not have comparative ADA data from a previous year of operation. Additionally, district ADA numbers will be capped at the attendance rate of the 2018-19 school year, with some exceptions.

Rights to On-Campus Instruction

TEA’s plans reflect Commissioner of Education Mike Morath’s desire to make instruction in the 2020-21 school year similar to what instruction looked like before COVID-19, while keeping district offerings subject to parent wishes. In other words, whether parents request remote or on-campus instruction for their child, the district must meet the request. TEA’s guidance confirms limitations on schools converting to a virtual format. The agency’s FAQ document advises that schools will only be allowed to close for up to five days at a time if someone at the school is found to have been infected. The 90/10 attendance rule for students and truancy laws will remain in effect, and the agency does not plan to offer attendance waivers, instead directing districts to alter their calendars to build in flexibility.

ATPE is actively monitoring and analyzing all of TEA’s guidance, including the latest recommendations on remote instruction and urges educators to share their voices with district leaders and campus administrators as plans for remote learning are made locally. Educators can find more information on COVID-19 by visiting ATPE’s frequently-updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.

NOTE: TEA has been frequently updating its guidance on the website. We advise educators to check for the latest versions on TEA’s COVID-19 Support and Guidance Page.

Learn about Texas House candidates in this month’s special election runoffs

On Jan. 28, 2020, voters in three Texas House districts have an opportunity to elect a new state representative. Early voting begins today for the Jan. 28 runoff elections for House Districts 28, 100, and 148. These runoffs follow a special election last Nov. 5, 2019, to fill those three vacant House seats. Registered voters in those three districts may vote in the runoff regardless of whether they participate in the original election back in November.

With the field now narrowed to two final candidates in each race, here’s a closer look at the three runoffs:

  • The HD 28 contest in Ft. Bend County is a high-profile race that ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote about last fall for our blog. The race has gained widespread attention with heavy-hitters from both parties, including several 2020 presidential candidates, traveling to Texas to stump for the candidates in this swing district. The runoff candidates are Gary Gates, a Republican real estate investor from Rosenberg, and Eliz Markowitz, a Democratic educator from Katy. In November, almost 20 percent of this district’s registered voters turned out to vote in the original election, in which Markowitz was the frontrunner but did not earn enough votes to avoid a runoff. The winner of this month’s race assumes the House seat previously held by former Rep. John Zerwas (R) for the remainder of this year.

 

  • In Dallas County’s HD 100, both of the runoff candidates are Democrats. The seat was previously held by former Rep. Eric Johnson (D) who resigned after being elected Mayor of Dallas. Runoff candidate James Armstrong, III leads an affordable housing organization. His opponent Lorraine Birabil is an attorney with a background in public policy. Birabil and Armstrong finished first and second in the November election, in which less than 8 percent of that district’s registered voters weighed in.

 

  • HD 148 is a Houston race to fill the remainder of the term of former Rep. Jessica Farrar (D).  Democrat Anna Eastman is a social worker who previously served on the Houston ISD board of trustees. Republican Luis LaRotta is a Navy veteran now working in the energy industry. Eastman earned 20% of the vote in November, followed by LaRotta with 16% of the vote. Slightly more than a quarter of the district’s registered voters turned out to vote in this race in November.

 

ATPE invited all of the above runoff candidates to take our candidate survey on education issues. As of this date, only one of the candidates has responded, but you can view all of their profiles using the links above on the candidates’ names. It is worth noting that all six of these runoff candidates are also on the regular ballot in 2020, seeking to win the same House seat for a full two-year term starting in Jan. 2021.

This Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, is the last opportunity for early voting before the runoff election day on Tuesday, Jan. 28. For more information about where and when to vote in these three districts, check with your local registrar of voters or visit VoteTexas.gov.

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: Aug. 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.