Category Archives: Vouchers

Republican primary voters will face voucher question

Republican Party of Texas officials have placed a voucher question on the ballot that will go before GOP primary voters in 2018. The measure is among eleven ballot proposals announced this week by the 62-member State Republican Executive Committee (SREC) that will appear on the 2018 Republican primary ballot.

The question asks if “Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government constraints or intrusion.”

Despite several days of testimony during the 2017 legislative session by parents, teachers, and experts explaining the negative impacts of diverting taxpayer dollars from the public school system to subsidize unaccountable private institutions, SREC members chose to characterize vouchers as something that would empower families. This is language lifted from special interest groups aimed at defunding and privatizing constitutional public schools in Texas in order to make a profit.

In reality, vouchers would result in lower-income, rural families subsidizing the tuition paid by well-off parents to private, big-city academies. Vouchers would also force disabled students to surrender their federal rights under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). By reducing the already scarce resources the state is constitutionally required to provide to Texas’ 5.4 million school children, vouchers would hurt children and increase the upward pressure on local property taxes.

Furthermore, the ballot question admits that taxpayer dollars would be transferred to private businesses without any state accountability. While constitutional public schools face rigorous academic and financial accountability requirements, private schools do not. Public schools are required to hire well-trained and certified educators who pass multiple layers of background checks. Because taxpayer money is involved, public schools are required to be open and accountable to voters. They are required to accept all children, regardless of background, and provide them with resources guaranteed under state and federal law. None of these requirements apply to private schools.

“The SREC deliberated and delivered eleven propositions to place on our Primary ballot,” Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey said in a statement on the RPT website. “We look forward to hearing from our voters on these issues and to sharing the results with lawmakers. Whatever the results, we will continue working towards making our principles a reality.”

Propositions that appear on party primary ballots in March are different from propositions that appear on the general election ballot in November in a number of ways. Unlike the propositions on the November ballot, the propositions on March primary ballots are nonbinding, which means they do not create laws. Instead, they act as a sort of opinion poll.

Another difference is that the language on party primary ballots is drafted by committees within each political party. These questions are not required to adhere to the same neutral language standards as questions that appear on the general election ballot. This sometimes results in voters being asked misleading questions, such as the voucher question stated above. Another example of this is when 2016 Republican primary voters were faced with a question regarding payroll deduction that mischaracterized the process and which was later used by politicians promoting legislation aimed at hurting teachers and educator associations.

ATPE members and their fellow educators, many of whom are loyal Republican voters, spoke loudly against attacks on educators during the 2017 legislative session. The State Republican Executive Committee did not place a payroll deduction question on the 2018 GOP primary ballot.

As a voter, you can help steer the Republican Party of Texas and members of the State Republican Executive Committee in the right direction by weighing in when you cast your primary vote.

Here is the full list of questions that will appear on the 2018 GOP primary ballot:

  1. Texas should replace the property tax system with an appropriate consumption tax equivalent. Yes/No
  2. No governmental entity should ever construct or fund construction of toll roads without voter approval. Yes/No
  3. Republicans in the Texas House should select their Speaker nominee by secret ballot in a binding caucus without Democrat influence. Yes/No
  4. Texas should require employers to screen new hires through the free E-Verify system to protect jobs for legal workers. Yes/No
  5. Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government constraints or intrusion. Yes/No
  6. Texas should protect the privacy and safety of women and children in spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, and showers in all Texas schools and government buildings. Yes/No
  7. I believe abortion should be abolished in Texas. Yes/No
  8. Vote fraud should be a felony in Texas to help ensure fair elections. Yes/No
  9. Texas demands that Congress completely repeal Obamacare. Yes/No
  10. To slow the growth of property taxes, yearly revenue increases should be capped at 4%, with increases in excess of 4% requiring voter approval. Yes/No
  11. Tax dollars should not be used to fund the building of stadiums for professional or semi-professional sports teams. Yes/No

Busy House tackles TRS, vouchers & merit pay

The Texas House of Representatives approved a pair of bills designed to aid retired teachers who have experienced sticker shock under new TRS-Care rates that resulted from the legislature’s underfunding of the health care program for retired public school employees. Inadequate funding formulas created a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the next biennium, which House lawmakers fought to close by contributing roughly $500 million to the program. Their efforts prevented TRS-Care from completely collapsing, but rate hikes were required to make up for the remaining deficit.

House Bill (HB) 20 by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) would make a one-time $212 million appropriation from the $11 billion economic stabilization fund (ESF) to lower premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for retired teachers. HB 80 by state Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) would provide for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) once TRS-Care is designated actuarially sound.

The House passed HB 20 by a vote of 130-10, with state Reps. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park), Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth), Mike Lang (R-Granbury), Jim Murphy (R-Houston), Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), Valoree Swanson (R-Spring) and Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) voting no. HB 80 was approved by a vote of 139-2, with state Reps. Yvonne Davis (D-Dallas) and Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) voting no.

“Based on the feedback we’ve heard back home, the House cast an overwhelming vote Tuesday to help retired teachers who are facing very steep increases in their monthly expenses,” House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) wrote after Tuesday’s vote.

“Helping retired teachers is one of the most significant and important things that we can do in this special session, and I’m proud that the House came together today to support these educators,” said Straus. “This vote was a smart and appropriate use of about 2 percent of the $11 billion that is projected to be in the state’s Rainy Day Fund in the next budget cycle. It will keep the Rainy Day Fund balance at a historically high level while helping Texans who have committed their lives to the education of our children.”

In committee news, House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) recommitted school finance HB 21 to the committee Monday afternoon. The committee then met briefly Monday evening to approve a committee substitute to HB 21 that removed the charter school funding added to the version filed at the beginning of the special session. The committee reconvened Tuesday to hear the following bills:

House Public Education Committee meeting August 1, 2017.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 1, 2017.

HB 54 by state Rep. Shawn Thierry (D-Houston) would require school districts to reimburse classroom teachers at or below the sixth grade level up to $600 per school year for the cost of classroom supplies. Reimbursement would be paid through state and federal funds identified by the commissioner of education. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 60 by state Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would exempt school buses from paying tolls. Similar legislation passed the Senate on the local and consent calendar during the regular session.

HB 130 by state Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano) would require school districts to annually report the expenses related to administering the STAAR test. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 132 by state Rep. Ron Reynolds (D-Missouri City) affects Fort Bend ISD, and would change the board of trustees from the current at-large system of representation to a hybrid system to include single-member districts.

HB 145 by state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston) would allow school districts to employ a social worker to provide “services specialized to assist students and families and designed to alleviate barriers to learning, connect the home, the community, and the school, advocate for the best interest and academic success of students, strengthen relationships, and assist with basic and psychosocial needs.” ATPE supports this bill.

HB 149 by state Rep. Cindy Burkett (R-Sunnyvale) would allow school districts to proportionally reduce the days of service required of an educator employed under a ten-month contract if the district anticipates providing less than 180 days of instruction, according to its academic calendar. This change would not affect an educator’s salary. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 157 by state Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) would expand eligibility requirements for admission to an educator preparation program to include a high school equivalency certificate and full-time wage-earning experience obtained while serving in the United States armed services. ATPE submitted testimony against HB 157, pointing out research that has correlated poor preparation with lower retention and higher attrition rates for classroom teachers. This makes selected the best qualified candidates all the more important. Furthermore, expedited preparation programs are untested in Texas, and standards should not be further degraded until more is known about program effectiveness.

HB 191 by state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) would create a commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system. The 13-member commission would include four members appointed by the governor, four appointed by the lieutenant governor, four appointed by the speaker of the House and would be chaired by a member of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Members would include legislators from each chamber, members of the business and civic communities, and a public school administrator or elected school board trustee. ATPE submitted neutral testimony on HB 191, pointing out that legislators have previously studied school finance as part of their interim charges. With school finance reform added to the expanded special session call, lawmakers should focus efforts toward substantive changes. Furthermore, any commission that studies school finance should incorporate educator input.

HB 198 by state Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) would order school districts to increase teacher pay and would create a system of teacher performance designations carrying additional pay for teachers who demonstrate high levels of student growth. HB 198 would order districts to raise the average teacher salary by $1,000 every other year, beginning with the 2021-2022 school year. Districts in which the average teacher pay is less than $51,000 per year would also be required to raise the average teacher salary by $1,000 for the 2019-2020 school year. School districts that received less state and local maintenance and operation (M&O) funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) or the same or less state and local funding per weighted average daily attendance (WADA) than the previous year would be exempt.

The bill would create a three-tiered program to designate accomplished, distinguished and master teachers. The “accomplished” designation would require a national board certification issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, for which districts would be eligible to receive a $1,900 advance from the FSP in order to cover the cost. To become “distinguished,” an accomplished teacher would need to show student growth in the top 25 percent of teachers in a similar certification field over the most recent three years. A master teacher must perform in the top five percent. Eligibility requirements and performance metrics would be established by the commissioner of education through negotiated rulemaking with educators and experts in the field of education. Applicants would be evaluated by a peer review panel consisting of a majority of master teachers.

Districts would receive an additional $4,000 in state funding for each accomplished, distinguished and master teacher employed. Alternately, rural and majority economically disadvantaged schools would be eligible to receive $8,000 for each distinguished teacher and $20,000 for each master teacher. Schools that receive alternate funding would be required to raise the average annual pay of teachers who receive additional funding to $68,000 within three years and $85,000 within five years.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on HB 198, pointing out that the devil is in the details of any merit pay system. While the bill has some promising components, there are concerns regarding the viability of funding and how to go about designing a system that works well in both small, rural schools and large, urban schools. It is also important to ensure that such a program does not become heavily reliant upon standardized test scores. ATPE applauds efforts to develop meaningful legislation, and encourages lawmakers to continue this conversation through the interim in pursuit of a plan that will achieve the critical grassroots buy-in necessary to be adopted statewide.

HB 200 by state Rep. Mary González (D-El Paso) would create an 18-member commission to recommend improvements to the public school finance system which would include the chairmen of each chamber’s committee overseeing public education. Appointed positions would be required to include a parent, an administrator, a classroom teacher, and specialists in special education, bilingual education and career and technology education (CTE). The committee would be required to broadcast meetings live via the Internet. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 204 by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) would require electrocardiograms for students participating in University Interscholastic League (UIL) sports.

HB 224 by state Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) would entitle districts purchasing attendance credits to retain M&O tax revenue sufficient so that funding would not drop below the average M&O costs for the preceding three school years.

HB 231 by state Rep. Tomas Uresti (D-San Antonio) would add teacher turnover information to the information required in the performance report of a public school district. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 232 by state Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) would include prekindergarten in the 22-student class size limit currently in effect for kindergarten through grade four. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 253 by state Rep. Ron Simmons (R-Carrollton) is the Senate’s voucher bill, and is identical to the filed version of Senate Bill (SB) 2. The bill includes a $10,000 voucher for special education students, continued ASATR funding for certain schools that say the funding is necessary, $60 million in facilities funding for fast growth school districts, $60 million for facilities funding for charter schools, and a limited grant program for public school special education students to access up to $500.

Parents of disabled children have raised numerous concerns, and ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified against HB 253. The voucher in HB 253 would not cover the full cost of private special education tuition in most cases, which can average around $30,000, and which some public school districts required to fully cover under existing federal laws. Admission to private institutions would not be guaranteed, transportation is not guaranteed, and participating students would be required to waive their federal rights and protections under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

HB 263 by state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth) would require charter schools to adjust their admissions policies to prioritize students who reside within the school’s attendance zone.

HB 264 by Rep. Hinojosa would prohibit charter schools from maintaining admissions policies that discriminate on the basis of discipline history. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 272 by state Rep. Linda Koop (R-Dallas) would create a state financing program administered by the Texas Public Finance Authority (TPFA) to assist school districts with certain expenses. The program would have the authority to issue up to $100 million in bonds or other obligations, which would be guaranteed by the Permanent School Fund.

HB 290 by state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) would modify the sparsity adjustment to increase funding for small school districts operating programs with fewer than 130 students.

HB 306 by Rep. González would order an annual increase in the basic allotment by the greater of the national inflation rate or one percent of the allotment for the preceding school year. ATPE supports this bill.

HB 320 by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) would create an education enhancement program for certain students with disabilities. The program would cover costs for transportation, private tutoring, educational therapies and related services for students with dyslexia, autism, speech disabilities, and learning disabilities. Program participants would continue to be public school students and would retain IDEA rights. The program would be funded at $10 million per year from the state’s general revenue fund. ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 320, while also pointing out room for improvement. Exter suggested agency oversight can and should play a role in ensuring children receive the correct services and is in a position to review disputes between parents and local school districts.

HB 324 by state Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) would require any district with a student enrollment that includes more than 1,000 African-American males to use only the academic achievement differentials among African-American males for accountability purposes under the first domain of the “A through F” school accountability system.

HB 325 by Rep. Dutton would include a student residing in the boundaries of a school district who is attending an open-enrollment charter school in calculating the district’s WADA.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 21, 2017

We’re entering a busy weekend at the Texas Capitol, and here’s what you need to know from the ATPE lobby team:


 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies in Senate Education Committee on July 21, 2017

The Texas Senate is speeding through more than a dozen hearings this weekend on bills pertaining to the governor’s newly expanded special session call. This morning, the Senate Education Committee convened a hearing on Senate Bill 2, providing in part for private school vouchers for students with special needs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against the bill along with numerous other education advocates, parents, and even students.

The committee plans this afternoon to hear a second bill to create a commission to study school finance between now and the next regular session of the legislature. Also today, the Senate Committee on State Affairs has been hearing bills that would restrict school district policies on usage of bathrooms.

Additional hearings are scheduled for tomorrow and Sunday at which ATPE will be testifying. These include a hearing tomorrow on teacher pay and a Sunday afternoon hearing on bills to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association membership dues.

Read more about the hearings and ways you can share your voice with legislators by checking out yesterday’s blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings and follow us on Twitter for the very latest news.

 


Rally attendeesMore than a thousand educators braved the Texas heat on Monday to attend a rally at the State Capitol hosted by Texans for Public Education and co-sponsored by ATPE. Read highlights and view pictures from the rally in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and also check out ATPE’s extended coverage on Facebook and YouTube.

Another Capitol rally is scheduled for tomorrow. The March for Public Education, an event taking place in states around the country, begins at 11:10 a.m. in downtown Austin.

If you’ve been unable to make it to Austin for these rallies, you can still exercise your voice and help influence the decisions being made inside the Capitol. Take it from ATPE’s Ginger Franks, a former special education teacher and past state president of our association, who urged fellow educators to call their legislators about the bills being considered right now. “Please make the calls,” said Franks. “The rallies are great but we must also make the calls. The calls are a must if you want your voice heard!!”

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ATPE members can easily call, email, or post messages to their elected officials using our tools at Advocacy Central.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced this week the launch of a new reading initiative called Texas Readers. The initiative offers professional development for teachers and additional tools for elementary schools to use in enhancing reading instruction for young students. “Reading will always be the foundation that determines success in the classroom for every child at every grade level,” wrote Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on his blog about the new project.

 


 

Texas Senate to hear multiple education bills this weekend. Call your senator!

Just after midnight, the Texas Senate approved its version of a sunset bill to keep the Texas Medical Board that licenses doctors from being shut down this year. As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins yesterday, the must-pass sunset legislation is what necessitated the current special session, during which Gov. Greg Abbott is asking lawmakers to pass a number of controversial measures that did not survive the regular session earlier this year. With his initial announcement of the special session starting July 18, the governor said he would not expand the special session call to include other topics until after the Senate had approved the medical board’s sunset legislation.

This morning, Gov. Abbott officially expanded the agenda for the special session immediately after the Senate’s overnight vote, adding his call for bills to increase teacher pay, fund private school vouchers, ban teachers from using payroll deduction for their association dues, and more. View the newly amended special session call in its entirety here.

One new addition to the governor’s agenda is a plea for additional funding for TRS-Care, which is integrated into the item relating to teacher pay and benefits. ATPE and other education advocates appreciated the addition, reflecting that legislators are hearing the complaints of retired educators about their healthcare plans becoming less and less affordable. We also appreciate the lawmakers who have filed bills this special session to address educators’ rising healthcare costs. Click here to read ATPE’s press statement about today’s development to expand the special session scope.

With an expanded call, the Senate is wasting no time in trying to pass several of the governor’s favored bills, including several that are unfavorable for public education. Senators will work throughout the weekend with the following public hearings now scheduled, among others:

Friday, July 21: Bathrooms, Vouchers, and School Finance

Starting at 9 a.m. Friday, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3 and SB 91, both by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst targeting bathroom usage policies by school districts.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersAt 10 a.m., the Senate Education Committee will consider Senate Bill (SB) 2 by Sen. Larry Taylor to fund private school vouchers for students with special needs. SB 2 also provides grants for public school districts losing money under the state’s school finance system, but only if legislators agree to allow harmful vouchers. ATPE is urging our members to contact members of the committee and express opposition to the vouchers proposed in this bill. Visit Advocacy Central to learn more and find contact information for the committee.

The Senate Education Committee will also hear SB 16 by Sen. Larry Taylor calling for the creation of a commission to study school finance over the next two years.

Saturday, July 22: Property Taxes, Teacher Pay, and TRS-Care

The Senate Finance Committee will meet Saturday at 1 p.m. to hear SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock to limit state spending, along with SB 19 by Sen. Jane Nelson pertaining to teacher salaries and retired educators’ healthcare costs. Nelson’s bill contains part of the lieutenant governor’s proposal to provide bonuses to experienced classroom teachers. SB 19 calls for deferring state payments to health care entities in 2018 in order to fund a one-time bonus for teachers who have at least six years of experience. The bill would also send an additional one-time payment of $212 million to TRS-Care, but there is no provision in the bill for long-term funding after this biennium. SB 19 also calls for school districts to increase their overall budgets for teacher pay by $1,000 per teacher, but the bill does not provide a funding source and does not ensure that all teachers will receive a pay raise as a result.

ATPE believes that educators deserve increased compensation and benefits, but we oppose unfunded mandates that will place additional burdens on school districts and force many of them to cut other areas of their budgets or lay off staff. We believe the legislature should spend more time developing plans for long-term investments to raise teacher pay beyond a one-time bonus, ways to shore up the TRS healthcare programs, and adequate state funding that will alleviate the pressure on school districts and local taxpayers.

Sunday, July 23: Payroll Deduction and Reallocating Lottery Money for Education

In a rare Sunday committee hearing set for 2 p.m., the Senate Committee on Business and Commerce will hear two bills by Sen. Bryan Hughes to eliminate educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues payments. Characterized misleadingly by the governor and others as “anti-union” legislation, SB 7 and SB 94 are actually anti-educator bills that would punish school employees while carving out an exemption for police officers, firefighters, and EMS workers to continue having their paychecks deducted for labor union dues. The bills are nearly identical to Sen. Joan Huffman’s SB 13 that was considered during the regular legislative session.

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopAttacksATPE is urging its members to contact the Senate Business and Commerce committee and express opposition to these two discriminatory, politically motivated, and completely unnecessary bills aimed at restricting how educators spend their own money. Visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central for additional information and quick contact tools.

The Senate Education Committee will also meet again Sunday at 4 p.m. to hear two bills relating to use of the state lottery proceeds. SB 97 by Sen. Charles Perry and SJR 1 by Sen. Konni Burton call for a constitutional amendment to force a portion of the lottery money that already goes to public education to be dedicated for teacher salary increases and bonuses.


The above hearings on education-related bills are only a fraction of the committee meetings taking place this weekend. Senators are also expediting hearings this weekend on bills pertaining to abortion, voter fraud, local regulations, and other items on the governor’s wish list for the special session. It will be a busy weekend with Senate floor action anticipated early next week. Democrats in the Senate who oppose many of the controversial issues on the governor’s call have tried in vain to prevent the Republican majority from speeding these bills through the process by the suspension of rules. Senators such as Sen. Jose Rodriguez have argued that they and members of the public are not being given sufficient notice of hearings and time to review the proposed legislation, but their arguments have been ignored.

Meanwhile, the House has also been working its medical board sunset bills through the legislative process and referring other bills to committees. The House Public Education Committee is expected to meet next week to discuss school finance legislation. The governor’s current call for the special session only prescribes legislation to study school finance before the next legislative session, but allows for other bills related to school finance, including those dealing with Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR). House leaders remain hopeful that some meaningful school finance reform and assistance for struggling school districts will come out of this special session.

Please be sure to visit Advocacy Central to stay in touch with your legislators during these critical hearings, and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments from the ATPE lobby team.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 12, 2017

While you were STAAR testing, here are stories from the Texas Capitol this busy week:

 


NO VOUCHERSThis week’s major legislative news included a new voucher alert, courtesy of the Senate Education Committee. The committee announced on short notice a hearing of a major school finance bill, House Bill 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. ATPE was one of numerous education groups signed up to testify in support of the bill, but we were forced to change our position with the surprise announcement from Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) that a private school voucher was being added to the bill.

Witnesses including ATPE testified against HB 21 Thursday based on the addition of the educational savings account (ESA) voucher for students with special needs. The addition of the voucher language is disappointing for many hoping to see progress on school finance reform this session. Earlier this week, we republished a blog post from the Center for Public Policy Priorities about the status of school finance legislation this session. Chairman Huberty has described his bill as a start to work that could take two or three sessions to overhaul the state’s school funding system. He and other House leaders have made it clear that the lower chamber has no interest in accepting a voucher bill this session.

The Senate’s substitute version of HB 21 was voted out by the Senate Education Committee on Thursday evening by a vote of 7 to 1. It is expected to be placed on a calendar soon for consideration by the full Senate, which is likely to pass the voucher measure.

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ATPE is urging members to contact their senators with messages opposing HB 21 in its current form, and ask their state representatives to reject the Senate’s version and strip out the voucher provision from the school finance bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for sample messages and rapid communication tools.

For more on the voucher plan that was added to HB 21, check out this Teach the Vote blog post from Thursday. Also, read the latest blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with a rundown of all the major activity in the Texas Senate this week.

 


Texas House of Representatives stands adjourned as committees meet, May 4, 2017.

This was a week of dramatic late-session deadlines in the Texas House, which prompted more than a few verbal skirmishes on the House floor. Last night at midnight was the deadline for most House bills to be considered on second reading, while today was the corresponding deadline for passing those bills on third reading. Yesterday’s lively and lengthy floor session was punctuated by emotional pleas from some members to pass bills of personal interest, as a handful of the House’s most conservative members employed various tactics to stall the debate and force dozens of bills off the calendar, including a bill relating to school lunches. One very significant bill that barely missed the pivotal midnight deadline was a sunset measure for the Texas Department of Transportation; if no such sunset bill passes this session, the governor would be forced to call a special session to avoid the automatic dissolution of the state agency. Fortunately, the TxDOT sunset bill has a Senate companion that remains alive at this stage.

Relatively few education bills were on the House calendars for yesterday and today, but a few high-profile bills did pass the House this week. Today, the House gave final approval to Senate Bill 179, known as David’s Law. The ATPE-supported bill by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and sponsored in the House by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) aims to prevent teen suicides and curb cyberbullying. Earlier in the week, the House unanimously passed Senate Bill 7 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, dealing with educator misconduct. Read more about the bill in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

With the passage of the deadlines for House bills to make it out of their chamber of origin, the House Public Education Committee is turning its full attention now to Senate bills. Its next hearing on Tuesday features an agenda with two dozen bills. For more on the bills that were considered this week in the House, view the recent blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here, here, and here.

 


 

Inclusive consultation, educator preparation, and a last ditch effort at vouchers

This week was the third to last week of the 85th legislative session. In the Texas Senate, the week marked a significant increase in the number of House measures considered by the chamber and the Senate Education Committee, which included HB 21, or a Senate version of the bill that now includes a special education voucher. The week also included passage of a handful of education related Senate bills out of the full Senate, including the ATPE supported inclusive consultation bill and an educator preparation bill strongly opposed by ATPE.

Senate Education Committee hears House school finance bill, advances A-F fix

The Senate Education Committee heard mostly House bills this week when it met to consider its Tuesday and Thursday agendas. The House version of a fix to school finance, HB 21 by Rep. Huberty (R-Humble), was the most high profile bill heard and got bigger as Chairman Taylor made a last ditch effort to pass vouchers by adding a special education educational savings account (ESA) to the bill. The bill was originally supported by ATPE, but we joined the slew of advocates changing our position to against in light of the voucher addition.

Witness after witness, which included special education parents, teachers, administrators, districts, former educators, and more, spoke against the committee substitute and, more specifically, the eleventh hour addition of vouchers to the important bill. View more on the committee substitute and the hearing here. The committee voted yesterday evening to advance their version of HB 21 to the full Senate by a vote of 7-1; Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio) was the lone “no” vote on the committee.

The committee also advanced SB 2051, Chairman Taylor’s (R-Friendswood) approach to fixing issues that surfaced after last session when the legislature passed major changes to the state’s public school accountability system. That law also changed the state’s school rating system to one that labels schools with an A through an F, which ATPE opposed. SB 2051 is now eligible for debate on the Senate floor. The House version, HB 22, has made its way to the Senate, but hasn’t moved. Find more ore on SB 2051 here.

ATPE reiterated support in committee for a handful of House bills now moving through the Senate:

  • HB 3563 by Rep. Koop (R-Dallas) would align parental notification requirements regarding public school teacher qualifications with the new federal education law.
  • HB 1569 by Rep. Ashby (R-Lufkin) would require the sharing of certain student records with a school providing educational services if a student resides in a residential treatment facility.
  • HB 1645 by Rep. Lozano (R-Kingsville) would require schools to offer a letter to students who participate in a Special Olympics event.
  • HB 2130 by Rep. Roberts (R-Houston) would require a study on the impact state standardized tests have on special education students.
  • HB 657 by Rep. Bernal (D-San Antonio) would allow an ARD committee to promote a special education student who failed an exam but met the goals of an individualized education plan.

These bills must still get through the Senate to make it through the legislative process.

Inclusive consultation bill, other ATPE-supported measures get approval from Senate   

SB 1294 by Sen. Buckingham (R-Lakeway) was sent to the House this week after it passed the Senate on a vote of 21-10. The bill would prohibit districts from limiting professional staff eligibility to members of one professional organization when developing certain school district planning and decision-making committees. ATPE is in strong support of the bill, which aligns with our collaborative approach tenet, among others. SB 1294 will foster an approach to planning committees where educators, regardless of their professional association affiliation or lack of affiliation, are at the table working together – an approach that ATPE members believe result in the best policies for schoolchildren.

The full Senate also advanced the following measures supported by ATPE:

  • SB 195 by Sen. Garcia (D-Houston) was filed in response to a local tragedy and seeks to improve school transportation safety for certain students by allowing districts to use transportation funding to provide transportation and protections to students residing in or forced to walk through high violence neighborhoods.
  • SB 2039 by Sen. Zaffirini (D-Laredo) would create a sexual abuse and sex trafficking prevention program that districts could add to their curriculum if they choose.
  • SB 436 by Sen. Rodriguez (D-El Paso) and SB 748 by Sen. Zaffirini (D-Laredo), which would address needs for special education students. (The Senate also advanced SB 529 by Sen. Lucio (D-Brownsville). The bill addresses training and professional development on the “universal design for learning” framework, which aims to prepare educators to teach all students, including those with disabilities, special needs, or behavioral issues.)

These bills now go to the House where they await approval from the lower chamber.

Bill rolling back educator preparation standards gets green light from Senate

An educator certification bill opposed by ATPE and most of the remainder of the public education community, which includes administrators, teachers, university deans, districts, educator quality groups, and more, passed the Senate this week with 20 senators supporting the measure. ATPE opposes the measure because we know that all kids deserve access to a well-trained educator, and we can’t expect educators to achieve excellence in the classroom if they aren’t excellently prepared in the first place. SB 1278 would roll back several standards recently raised at the State Board for Educator Certification, a board of education professionals. The bill is now sent to the House where it must get approval from the body; the bill had a House companion, but it died in committee when it failed to garner the votes necessary prior to the deadline.

House gives approval to ATPE-supported Senate bills

The House powered through their last day to pass House bills on second reading yesterday, and while the calendar included mostly House bills, the occasional Senate bill was substituted and considered. Among the Senate bills passed were three bills supported by ATPE: SB 7, the educator misconduct bill; SB 179, the anti-bullying and cyber-bullying measure referred to as David’s Law; and SB 160, which prohibits the Texas Education Agency from monitoring school performance based on the percentage of students receiving special education services. The latter seeks to fix the 8.5% cap on special education services uncovered last year. An update on SB 7 can be found here.

Senate adds voucher to House school finance bill, jeopardizing needed funding

NO VOUCHERSSenate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) added a special education educational savings account (ESA), the newest fad in voucher legislation, to the House’s school finance bill, HB 21 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). After adding the bill to today’s Senate Education Committee agenda late yesterday, Chairman Taylor dropped another surprise when he announced this morning that his substitute version of HB 21 would include the special education voucher.

Having originally planned to support the school finance bill in today’s hearing, ATPE joined a slew of education advocates who lined up to change their position on HB 21 from “for” to “against” in light of the new development. ATPE will be testifying before the committee after it reconvenes later today following the Senate’s floor session. This morning, the committee heard from a handful of witnesses before recessing. View video from this morning’s portion of the hearing here; the discussion of HB 21 begins 40 minutes into the archived video file.

Testimony on HB 21 during the morning hearing included remarks from representatives of school districts that now oppose the school finance bill that would otherwise alleviate many problems with recapture and funding. For ATPE and so many others invested in supporting our public schools, vouchers in any form are a bridge too far. The committee also heard compelling testimony from the parent of a student with special needs who said, “I am not okay with ESAs,” citing concerns about giving up protections in federal law and parents being unable to afford the high additional costs of sending their children to specialized private programs that are few and far between in Texas. (Check out her testimony at the 1:30:27 mark on the archived video file.)

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on ATPE’s testimony later today against HB 21, as well as any action taken by the committee to advance the bill. In the meantime, ATPE urges educators and supporters of public education to contact their legislators and urge them to reject vouchers in any form! What is bad for kids is bad for all kids, and calling vouchers a different name doesn’t change that. ATPE members may visit Advocacy Central to call, tweet, email, and send Facebook messages to representatives and senators on this issue.

Related: View ATPE’s press release on the Senate’s move today to add vouchers to the school finance bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 7, 2017

It was another big week at the Texas Capitol. Here’s the latest news from ATPE:


The Texas House passed its version of the general state budget bill in the early morning hours of April 7 after nearly 16 hours of lively debate. Senate Bill (SB) 1 provides for appropriations for state needs over the next two fiscal years. It also sends a strong message about attitudes in the House toward private school vouchers.

As approved unanimously by the Senate on March 28, the $106.3 billion bill provided for school enrollment growth and needs of the Foundation School Program, but did little to address the looming funding crisis for TRS-Care or add any additional support for public education to offset cuts from recent years. The House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), substituted its own language into the bill during a March 29 committee hearing, and then the House considered hundreds of additional amendments in yesterday’s floor debate.

Lobbyists at budget debate

ATPE Lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann, Mark Wiggins, and Monty Exter awaited the House’s budget vote Thursday night.

As finally passed, the House’s version of SB 1 creates a $218.2 billion budget, which includes tapping into the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund (rainy day fund) to the tune of $2.5 billion to help address critical needs like an extra $500 million for retired educators’ rising healthcare costs. The final House vote on the bill was 131-16, well above the two-thirds threshold needed for accessing the rainy day funds.

Leading into yesterday’s floor debate, the House Calendars Committee had already adopted a “put and take” rule requiring that any amendment to the budget that proposed spending more money in one area must cut an equal or greater amount of spending from another area of the budget. That rule resulted in several heated arguments among House members as representatives looked to raid each other’s favored programs for funding sources.

Voucher vote boardWithout question, though, the most dramatic votes of the night included multiple votes taken to prohibit the funding of private school vouchers. The House first considered Amendment #8 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) to prohibit the use of certain state funds provided to the Comptroller for private school vouchers. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) filed Amendment #9, an amendment to Herrero’s amendment, to ensure that the legislature could not spend any public funds on private school vouchers. ATPE supported both of these amendments, which the House passed overwhelmingly. Freshman Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) offered another amendment #10 to try to carve out an exception that would allow the legislature to fund vouchers for low-income families, but the House similarly rejected that measure by tabling the Cain amendment. View the unofficial vote breakdown for these amendments here. ATPE thanks all the legislators who voted to prevent the legislature from wasting taxpayer dollars on unregulated private and home schools and appreciates all the educators who took time to contact their legislators about these important votes.

The House budget votes this week spell disaster for the voucher legislation heavily favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott. The primary voucher bill, SB 3 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), passed the Senate on March 30 by an 18 to 13 vote. Leaders in the House including House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty had already expressed doubt that the voucher bill would survive after being sent to the lower chamber. Yesterday’s budget votes punctuate that sentiment, evidencing a clear lack of support for vouchers this session in the Texas House. For more on the significance of yesterday’s voucher-related budget votes, read this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our blog.

 


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills dealing with special education and also approved a bill aimed at improving the state’s much-criticized A-through-F accountability system for school campuses. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, the committee unanimously passed Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) House Bill 22 on Tuesday.

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 11, with a lengthy agenda. Its Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, April 10, to consider several bills pertaining to educator preparation and certification. ATPE will be there to weigh in on bills of interest, of course. Stay tuned for more details next week on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


TRS logoThe Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met this week. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the April 6 meeting and provided this report.

First, TRS investment managers shared news that the overall pension fund is performing considerably well despite economic uncertainty leading up to the 2016 elections. The fund is actuarially sound and has enough money to pay for its retirement benefit obligations until 2048.

The board meeting also addressed cyberattack prevention and defense measures being undertaken by the TRS staff. With cybersecurity threats dominating the news lately, TRS has been taking the necessary steps to secure members’ information by implementing safeguards that would prevent any cyberattackers from gaining access to the TRS system. Hackers are becoming bolder and using every method to gain access to vital information such as Social Security and bank information, but TRS staff along with security vendors are working to keep one step ahead of cyber criminals.

Finally, TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie provided the board with a legislative update. Mr. Guthrie explained that he and his staff are tracking various bills and working closely with certain legislative offices on specific pieces of legislation that are of concern. One such bill is Senate Bill (SB) 788 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) that would reform TRS-Care. The bill sparked some discussion at Thursday’s board meeting because of sweeping changes it proposes, including the elimination of TRS-Care 1, 2, and 3. As it’s currently written, SB 788 would require a high-deductible plan for participants under the age of 65 and a Medicare Advantage plan for anyone eligible for Medicare.  Mr. Guthrie indicated that he would continue to work with the stakeholders to ensure that retirees feel a minimal impact, but agreed that something needed to be done this session because of the increasing healthcare costs.

ATPE members can find additional information about TRS bills being considered this session by logging into Advocacy Central.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided a blog update on this week’s work by the Senate Education Committee. Its deliberations included some controversial bills relating to home school students and charter school partnerships. Read more in Kate’s post here.

Also this week, the Senate Committee on State Affairs heard SB 179 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) to address the growing problem of cyberbullying. ATPE supports the bill, which has been named David’s Law in memory of San Antonio teenager David Molak who tragically took his own life after being cyberbullied. The bill calls for tougher civil and criminal penalties for those who use electronic messaging to urge victims to commit suicide, and provides for prompt response and notifications when school officials learn about cyberbullying incidents.

 


 

From The Texas Tribune: Dan Patrick asked for a House vote on school choice. He got it.

Top House education official Dan Huberty has said private school choice is dead in the House. Representatives showed they overwhelmingly support that sentiment, in a 103-44 budget amendment vote.
Tribune_Dan_Patrick_School_Choice_LS_TT_jpg_800x1000_q100

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick speaks during a rally at the Capitol for school choice January 24, 2017. Both Gov. Greg Abbott and Patrick spoke in favor of expanding school choice options. Students, educators, activists and parents marched on the south lawn to show their support for expanding school choice options during National School Choice Week. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has challenged the House to at least take a vote on the Senate’s “private school choice” bill, one of his priorities for the Texas legislative session.

Early on during Thursday’s marathon budget discussion, House representatives showed him that vote would probably emerge as an overwhelming “no.”

They voted 103-44 to prevent state money from being spent to subsidize private school tuition, in an amendment to the Senate budget. In offering the amendment, with support from state Rep. Gary VanDeaver, R-New Boston, Rep. Abel Herrero, D-Robstown, said it was “in support of our public schools and our neighborhood schools.”

The amendment is not the last word. The House and Senate will need to reconcile their budgets before sending a final version to the governor for approval. And separate legislation that would create a public subsidy for private education has yet to be heard in the House. Patrick’s office did not immediately return requests for comment on Thursday’s vote.

The House’s vote came a week after the Senate, led by Patrick, voted out Sen. Larry Taylor‘s Senate Bill 3, which would create two public programs subsidizing private school tuition.

In a statement, Taylor said it was unfortunate that House members didn’t hear the details of SB 3 before Thursday’s vote.

“Our bill saved money, gave more students opportunities to get an education better suited for their specific needs, and left more money in public education as a whole and even in individual schools,” Taylor said in a statement. “I would hope that we would still have an opportunity to have those discussions.”

Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, said no changes to the bill would persuade him to vote for it.

“If we allow vouchers to start in any form or fashion, they can grow and advance and affect our public education,” he said. “What they’re calling ‘choice,’ this voucher situation, is erroneous.”

The floor substitute the Senate approved was dramatically different than the original, intended in part to appease skeptical rural legislators by carving out rural counties from participating in the programs. Rural constituents consistently oppose using public money to subsidize private education because they do not have access to many private schools.

That tactic worked to get the bill through the Senate. But House members demonstrated Thursday that it wouldn’t be as straightforward in the lower chamber.

Rep. Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, a “private school choice” supporter, tried to change Herrero’s amendment Thursday to allow subsidies for students with household incomes below a given baseline. He took language from SB 3 indicating that a family of three with an income below $75,078 would be able to use the tuition subsidy programs.

“A lot of opponents of school choice say, ‘This is only for the rich.’ This amendment allows poor families to have a choice,” Cain said. His proposal failed 117-27.

House Public Education Chairman Dan Huberty, R-Houston, has said a private school choice bill would not make it through his committee, drawing criticism from SB 3 supporters. Asked if it was dead to him as an issue, Huberty said, “I believe so, yes.” He voted for the amendment blocking money to the tuition subsidy programs.

“Quote unquote absolutely not,” said Rep. J.D. Sheffield, R-Gatesville, when asked whether the changes to SB 3 carving out his counties from participating would change his vote on the bill. “Just because they sweetened the deal to pull in some people doesn’t mean it’s a good deal.”

In late March, lobbying group Texans for Education Opportunity used an online campaign to generate thousands of letters to 29 state representatives lobbying them to back education savings accounts, one of the subsidy programs in SB 3. Though the group claimed the letters were credible, the letters stirred up suspicion after no representative could find a constituent who remembered adding their name to that correspondence.

Of the 29 representatives targeted in the campaign, 26 voted Thursday to block money from funding “private school choice” programs.

Read related Tribune coverage here:

  • The Senate voted 18-13 Thursday to pass a major private school choice bill, creating two public programs that would subsidize private school tuition.
  • Legislative staffers Tuesday received a one-page report detailing changes to Senate Bill 3, which would exclude rural counties from participating in the private school subsidy programs and limit overall participation.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/04/06/texas-lt-gov-dan-patrick-asked-house-vote-school-choice-he-got-it/.

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas House prepares for lengthy budget debate

Dollar fanThe Texas House of Representatives will debate the budget on Thursday, April 6, which will determine the state’s investment in priorities such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure for the next two years.

The Senate approved its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), unanimously on March 28. The House Appropriations committee, chaired by Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), made a number of changes to the bill that would result in greater funding for public education. Now the full House is set to debate the budget bill tomorrow, and more than 400 floor amendments have been pre-filed for additional consideration.

ATPE has supported the House version of SB 1 over the Senate’s plan. In this bill, we believe the House leadership has demonstrated a stronger commitment to prioritizing the needs of public education, including a willingness to conservatively use the state’s rainy day fund to help address current shortfalls, such as the need for funding retired educators’ healthcare, while still maintaining a healthy balance in that savings account for future needs.

Among the floor amendments likely to be considered tomorrow, ATPE is urging support for amendments that would provide even more funding for TRS-Care and other public education needs. We are also asking legislators to reject any amendments that would divert taxpayer funds for any type of voucher program for unregulated private and home schools. A list of major budget amendments that ATPE supports and opposes can be found here.

The House version of SB 1 was approved unanimously by the bipartisan House Appropriations Committee, but it still faces a long road ahead. ATPE hopes that the House will send a strong message tomorrow by supporting the additional investments in public education and responsible use of the state’s Economic Stabilization Fund.

For updates on the budget debate, be sure to follow the ATPE Governmental Relations team on Twitter:

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Related: ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send their state representatives a message about SB 1 and the funding needs of public education.