Texas election roundup: Endorsement news and more

Now that the filing deadline has passed, candidates are turning to the business of campaigning in earnest. This often begins with racking up endorsements from influential people or organizations in order to signal the strength of their candidacy.

A significant endorsement this week comes from the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which endorsed M.J. Hegar in the crowded Democratic primary for U.S. Senate here in Texas. Hegar’s primary opponents include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and former gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, among others. The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the general election.

Elsewhere, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner won reelection to another four-year term as leader of the state’s largest city. Turner previously served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee as a member of the Texas Legislature.

At this point, it appears much of the action in the 2020 primaries will be on the Democratic side of the ticket. In addition to the presidential primary, more than twice as many Democratic state legislators face primary opponents than Republicans this time around. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information on specific candidates running in your neighborhood coming soon!

As we wrap up the 2019 calendar year, we in the ATPE Governmental Relations Department and our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to thank you for your hard work advocating for your profession this year. The 2019 legislative session was a major turnaround from previous sessions, and it was entirely because Texas educators showed up at the polls in 2018 and elected pro-public education candidates. We will need to do the same thing in 2020 to improve upon our gains and keep from losing the incredible progress we’ve made. Congratulations on a successful year, and here’s to an even better 2020!

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More detail on the last TRS meeting of 2019

As we mentioned here on Teach the Vote last week, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees met last Thursday and Friday, Dec. 12-13, 2019. The board opened its final day of meetings for 2019 with public comments before taking up an agenda that included adoption of a new funding policy and considering where the TRS agency should be housed in the future. The TRS board heard testimony last week from ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) as well as some individual retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter addressed the association’s concerns with language in the proposed funding policy to be considered for adoption later in the meeting.

Senate Bill (SB) 2224, as passed during the last regular session of the legislature, requires the TRS board to adopt a written funding policy detailing its plan for achieving a funded ratio equal to or greater than 100 percent for the pension trust fund. The original language proposed to the board could have been interpreted as creating a policy that was more prescriptive than current law with respect to cost of living adjustments (COLAs), potentially putting the board at odds with mandates from future legislatures. The legislature, not the TRS board, determines whether or not TRS should grant a COLA to retirees.

After considering the concerns voiced, the board struck the objectionable language before adopting the remainder of the proposed policy. The new funding policy as adopted will require TRS staff to include additional requests for funding in the agency’s legislative funding requests anytime they determine that current funding is not sufficient to keep the pension fund on track toward paying off the balance of its unfunded liability in less than 30 years.

Currently, the $160 billion TRS trust fund is on track to pay off its unfunded liabilities in 29 years. This is largely due to this year’s passage of SB 12, which phases in higher contribution rates for school districts, educators, and the state over the next five years. Prior to SB 12, the fund’s payoff date was more than 87 years into the future, cutting off the possibility of benefit enhancements for retirees for nearly six decades.

With the state of the TRS pension fund significantly shored up after the 2019 legislative session, it is likely that lawmakers will return their focus to improving TRS health insurance. In fact, the Texas House of Representatives recently appointed a new special committee to study statewide healthcare to be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, a neurosurgeon from League City and the co-sponsor of SB 12. Chairman Bonnen was present at the TRS board meeting last Thursday  for a discussion by its Benefits Committee regarding primary care directed models and how to improve outcomes and costs associated with TRS-Care and TRS-Activecare. As the largest single insurer and one that covers members both during their working years and into retirement, TRS is in a unique position to influence a new round of early discussions on improving healthcare in Texas.

TRS has come a long way over the last 30 years. The fund has grown from less than $20 billion to just over $160 billion. Over that same time TRS staff has grown from around 300 employees to more than 700, at the same time that the number of TRS members has increased from around 500 thousand to more than 1.6 million. TRS has moved six times since 1937 before locating the agency in its current home in 1973. Growth in the number of members and exponential growth in the size of the trust fund has pushed TRS’s staffing needs beyond what its current physical location can accommodate.

As the TRS board and staff seek a new home for the agency, they are keeping certain priorities in mind. The space should be centrally located and user-friendly for the members; the new space should provide a long-term solution; and the move away from the current space to a new one should result in a net positive for the fund. These priorities translate into building a new space in central Texas, but outside the downtown Austin business district. Additionally, it means leasing the current TRS space in order to maximize profits for trust fund.

For more on last week’s TRS meeting, click here to view the board materials or watch archived footage.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 13, 2019

Gearing up for the holidays? Take a break from shopping to catch up on this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: The candidate filing period has ended, bringing us one step closer to the Texas primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, 2020! Check your voter registration status here. Read more of the latest election news in this week’s election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

If you live in House District 28, 100, or 148, don’t forget that you’ve also got a special election runoff coming up on Jan. 28, 2020. Early voting begins Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you are registered to vote in one of these districts, you may vote in the runoff regardless of whether you voted in the original special election in November. The deadline to register to vote in that special election runoff is Dec. 29, 2019.

Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for voting updates. Also, be sure to check out your state legislators’ profiles on our Teach the Vote website to find out how they voted on education bills in 2019. Read our recent blog posts to learn more about which education bills are featured and takeaways for using the record votes featured on our site. Teach the Vote will soon include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education.


Reps. Steve Allison and Ernest Bailes chat with ATPE’s Shannon Holmes on Dec. 12, 2019

A group of educators gathered near Austin this week at the Texas Association of Midsized Schools (TAMS) annual conference. Attendees heard from legislators and education advocates on a number of important topics including school funding, accountability, and educator retirement issues.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes moderated a conversation about teacher pay in the wake of this year’s passage of House Bill 3. The teacher compensation panel featured state representatives Steve Allison (R-Alamo Heights) and Ernest Bailes (R-Shepard). House Public Education Committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) also participated in a panel during the conference.


The preliminary results of ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey are starting to take shape. Our members are telling us that standardized testing is their number one policy priority. Want to chime in? You still have time to participate in this short, three-question survey, which is meant to gather ATPE members’ opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session. ATPE members are encouraged to take our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you need help logging into Advocacy Central.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin for the last time this year on Thursday and Friday of this week. The board contemplated space planning needs for the TRS agency, reviewed a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and discussed a funding policy. For more detail, check out this teaser post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter and check back on Teach the Vote next week for a full summary of this week’s TRS meetings.


Last Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its final meeting of the year. The board discussed several items, including new teacher and principal surveys, enabling high school students to become certified as educational aides, and other changes to implement bills from recent legislative sessions. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the meeting asking the board to help Master Reading Teachers retain their teaching assignments once their Legacy Master Teacher certificates expire under HB 3. Read a full meeting summary in this blog post and watch video of ATPE’s testimony here (located at the 41:00 mark on the archived broadcast).


A new report by the Center for American Progress describes the nationwide trend of declining enrollment and completion in educator preparation programs. The authors dive into Texas and California specifically to explain two different approaches to this issue. In Texas, enrollment has increased due to the proliferation of alternative certification programs, while completion has declined. Read an analysis of the report by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here.

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Texas election roundup: The field is set

Monday marked the deadline for candidates to file for a place on the ballot in 2020. We should technically know at this point who will be on the ballot for the March party primaries, however information from some counties has been somewhat slow to surface. As information trickles in, we should have a pretty clear idea of who is running by the end of the week.

What we know so far is that at least nine Republicans in the Texas House of Representatives will face primary opponents, as well as 17 House Democrats. State Sens. Eddie Lucio (D-Brownsville) and Borris Miles (D-Houston) also face primary challengers. Stay tuned to TeachTheVote.org as we begin to roll out candidate information ahead of the upcoming March 3 primaries.

State Rep. Bill Zedler (R-Arlington) announced Tuesday he will not seek reelection in 2020, citing health issues. This has resulted in the filing period period for House District (HD) 96 reopening until Dec. 16. Zedler won reelection in HD 96 by 3.6 percentage points in 2018, and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly defeated former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke by just 0.2 percentage points in the district.

It was also reported this week that state Rep. Mike Lang (R-Granbury) filed for the position of Hood County commissioner, which means he will not stand for reelection to the Texas House after all. The filing period for candidates in HD 60 will also reopen for one week as a result.

As we enter the thick of the holiday season, our partners at the Texas Educators Vote coalition urge you to give the gift of voting. In addition to being the single most impactful way to exercise your voice, did you know that studies show voting is good for your health? You can give the gift of voting this holiday season by taking a few minutes to make sure your friends and family are registered to vote. If they’re not, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for handy information about how to register.

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TRS is coming to town

The board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will convene in Austin for its last board meeting of the year starting Thursday morning, Dec. 12, 2019, and wrapping up Friday afternoon, Dec. 13.

The proceedings will begin at 8 a.m. Thursday with meetings of the following board committees: the Strategic Planning Committee; the Benefits Committee; the Budget Committee; the Investment Management Committee (IMD); the Policy Committee; and the Audit, Compliance, and Ethics Committee. Committee agendas can be found at the links above. After the committee meetings conclude, the full board will convene briefly before going into executive session for the rest of the afternoon. On Friday morning, the full board will reconvene and take up its public agenda.

After taking public comments and making some recognitions, the board will discuss TRS space planning needs, including where the agency may be housed in the future. Other items on the agenda include a review of the TRS Pension Trust Fund Actuarial Valuation for the fiscal year ending August 31, 2019, and consideration of adopting the funding policy for the TRS pension fund. The funding policy is a written plan that provides a road map for how TRS can get to 100 percent funding of its pension liabilities and includes consideration of how and when TRS might provide a cost of living adjustment (COLA) for retirees

It’s important to note that actuarial soundness and being 100% funded are not based on the same metric. The fund is considered actuarially sound under state law when its funding period is below 31 years, at which point TRS has typically been funded at around the 80 percent level. However, there is not an exact correlation between the number of years it takes to reach full funding and the percentage at which TRS is funded.

Click here to access links to the livestream of the Thursday and Friday TRS meetings.

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Texas enrollment in ed prep programs is up, completion is down

A new report released by the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan policy institute, provides an analysis of the enrollment and completion decline impacting educator preparation programs (EPPs) nationwide, as well as a special inside look at what California and Texas are doing to address this issue.

In Texas, more aspiring teachers are enrolling in EPPs but fewer candidates are completing them.

From 2010 to 2018, EPPs experienced a nationwide decline in enrollment and program completion. Despite this trend, Texas saw just under a 10 percent increase in enrollment from 2010 to 2018. This was due to massive gains in the non-IHE (institution of higher education) alternative certification industry, which grew by nearly 30,000 students.

Source: Center for American Progress.

Texas’s increase in enrollment was not met with a matched increase in completion. In fact, EPP completion in Texas declined more than 15 percent during the 2010-2018 time period. Furthermore, the percentage change from 2010 to 2018 in completion rates for non-IHE alternative programs is only slightly above 0%, which means that even though these programs enroll the most students, they are getting demonstrably worse at helping them reach the finish line.

The enrollment boom in Texas can be attributed to the largest non-IHE alternative certification program: Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, formerly known as A+ Texas Teachers. But enrollment and completion numbers simply don’t match up, according to the report. The authors point to the model of the for-profit Texas Teachers program, which requires a small fee upfront and then thousands of dollars from future paychecks. As noted in the report, the Texas Teachers program is entirely online and self-paced.

Source: Center for American Progress.

In contrast to Texas, California has experienced proportional declines in enrollment and completion across all program types. California has far fewer alternative certification programs and has implemented policies to improve teacher preparation and retention. These efforts include teaching residencies, a required state-approved induction program, stipends for teachers in high-needs schools, and university partnerships with STEM organizations and nonprofits to aid in the recruitment of math and science teachers.

These findings regarding educator preparation are crucial to keep in mind as we address teacher recruitment and retention in Texas, which has long been an ATPE legislative priority. Texas has incubated a pathway to teaching that despite its popularity may be associated with lower outcomes with respect to long-term employment opportunities, considering that teachers trained in alternative certification programs in Texas have a lower retention rate than those from traditional EPPs, at 65.8 percent compared to 75.2 percent according to the Texas Education Agency. The increased funding for teacher compensation in this year’s House Bill 3 was necessary for current teachers, but there is no pay raise that can turn an under-prepared teacher into an effective teacher. It remains important for Texas policymakers to ensure that new teachers are prepared to face the rigors of the classroom, whether they have chosen a traditional route to teaching or an alternative route in which so much of their training takes place online. Additionally, improving recruitment into traditional teacher training programs, which could start as early as high school, is a shift that must happen to generate a well-prepared, lasting educator workforce.

Here are some of the other highlights of the report regarding nationwide trends:

What is the extent of the 2010-2018 decline?

  • More than one-third fewer students enrolled in EPPs.
  • There was a 28 percent decline in program completion.

Is the decline consistent across race, gender, and academic discipline?

  • Male, and Black, Latinx, and indigenous teacher candidates experienced steeper enrollment declines.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and special education subjects experienced completion declines.

Were there any cases of increase in enrollment and/or completion, despite the overall decline?

  • Non-IHE alternative certification programs experienced an enrollment increase of 42 percent, which was driven mostly by Texas.
  • There was a 30 percent increase in completion for credentials relating to teaching English-language learners or bilingual education.

What policy recommendations can we take away from these findings?

  • The federal government should use Title II reporting to collect data that can be used to generate more specific information about the decline in order to target policy.
  • States should improve data collection and reporting on teacher supply and demand to develop specific solutions.
  • States should approach non-IHE alternative certification programs, and particularly those operating as for-profit programs, with a critical eye.
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Recap of the Dec. 2019 SBEC meeting

Certification board discusses educational aide certificates, teacher and principal survey data, and more at the fifth and final SBEC meeting of 2019.

Last Friday, Dec. 6, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met for the last time this year. The board discussed several agenda items, including reader teacher certifications, allowing high school students to obtain the educational aide certificate, an update on various educator certification statistics, and the latest on the EdTPA and T-TESS pilots. The board also elected a new Chairperson, Dr. Arturo Cavazos (Superintendent of Harlingen CISD), Vice-Chairperson, Rohanna Brooks-Sykes, a counselor in Klein ISD, and Secretary, Jose Rodriguez, an elementary school teacher in Leander ISD.

Master Reading Teachers

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified before SBEC on Dec. 6, 2019

The board is undertaking a standard, four-year rule review of 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates. These rules pertain to the school counselor, school librarian, educational diagnostician, and reading specialist certificates. Under House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature, the Master Reading Teacher (MRT) certification was repealed and replaced with a “Legacy Master Teacher” designation. For affected teachers, the Legacy designation will disappear when their existing Master Teacher certificate expires, leaving some teachers unable to maintain their current teaching assignments.

ATPE is urging SBEC to honor the work that MRT certificate holders have accomplished by allowing them to transition over to the Reading Specialist certificate, which has identical teaching assignments. ATPE previously submitted written testimony to the board on this topic at its October SBEC meeting. At Friday’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier again provided written and oral testimony (watch archived video here at the 41:00 mark) in support of MRTs who may be negatively affected by this aspect of HB 3 and the elimination of their certificate.

Potential changes to the language in these SBEC rules will be acted upon at a future meeting. The board will accept public comments on this topic from Jan. 3 to Feb. 3, 2020, through the Texas Register. Additionally, interested educators can testify or submit written comments to the board at its next meeting on Feb. 21, 2020. (Witnesses must submit comments or register to testify at least 48 hours before the meeting.)

Other action items on the agenda:

The board voted to amend disciplinary rules contained in 19 TAC Chapter 249, implementing several educator misconduct bills passed during the 2019 legislative session, including Senate Bill (SB) 1230, SB 1476, and HB 3, as well as SB 37, which eliminates student loan default as a ground for SBEC discipline. This agenda item originally included proposed rule changes to allow SBEC to deny certification to someone who had abandoned a contract within the preceding 12 months. The proposed amendment sought to address intern and probationary certificate holders who abandon their contracts before SBEC can take disciplinary action against them, since their certificates are only valid for one year. The board voted to postpone discussing the contract abandonment language until after a planned stakeholder meeting in January, which ATPE will attend.

The board also adopted the required four-year rule review for two more sets of SBEC rules: 9 TAC Chapter 232, General Certification Provisions, which regulates certificate renewal, continuing education, and criminal history records; and 19 TAC Chapter 230, Professional Educator Preparation and Certification, which deals with procedures for issuing certificates and permits, testing requirements and fees, and the types and classes of certificates issued by the board.

In a separate agenda item, the board amended 19 TAC Chapter 230 to implement SB 1839, HB 2039, and HB 3349 (85th Legislature), plus HB 3 (86th Legislature). The changes include reducing  the time for certification test retakes from 45 to 30 days, and requiring candidates to take the English as a Second Language Supplemental assessment for issuance of an intern certificate obtained through the intensive pre-service route. ATPE is pleased with a change in this chapter to allow the Educational Aide I certificate to be issued to high school students who have completed certain courses within the Education and Training career and technical education cluster. Other changes include the addition of the Early Childhood: Prekindergarten-Grade 3 certificate to the list of certificates that cannot be obtained via certification by exam.

The board also took several actions relating to EPPs, including the approval of the accreditation statuses of 10 programs. Additionally, the board approved a request by East Texas Baptist University to offer the School Counselor class of certificate. Two programs, South Texas Transition to Teaching Alternative Certification (STTT) Preparation Program and Teaching via E-Learning (TEACH) Alternative Certification, were approved to continue to operate with conditions following SBEC orders to improve their programs due to inadequate performance. The board also approved the continuing approval review and lifted the board orders from August 2015 for TeacherBuilder.com Alternative Certification Educator Preparation Program.

Discussion only agenda items (no action taken):

The board discussed several possible future revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 228, which covers requirements for EPPs. The revisions would simplify a table of requirements in the chapter; implement portions of HB 18 of the 86th Legislature; authorize teaching sites outside of Texas under certain situations such as military assignment; provide admittance policy guidance to EPPs that are closing or consolidating; restrict a summer-only practicum unless it is part of a year-round school or extended year program; add language for a dismissal policy for candidates who violate the code of ethics; provide concise reasons that an EPP would no longer support a candidate in an internship; and clarify the number (three) and spacing of the formal observations conducted during a practicum.

Later in the afternoon, the board discussed possible amendments to 19 TAC Chapter 235 on certificate standards, including a TEA-recommended split certification for special education, with separate certificates for EC-5 and 6-12. TEA staff also presented information on two supplemental certificate sets of standards: one for bilingual Spanish, grades EC-12 that focuses on bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism; and another for “DeafBlind” grades EC-12. The proposals reflect input from stakeholders in the bilingual and special education communities and from an April 2019 SBEC work group meeting.

TEA also updated the board on the EdTPA performance assessment pilot, which is almost halfway through its first year. In November, 34 candidates submitted their portfolios. Thirty-two applications have been submitted for the second year of the pilot, including 15 from alternative certification programs. Dr. Stacey Edmonson, Dean of the College of Education at Sam Houston State University, is directing an alternative pilot to the EdTPA pilot that is based on the T-TESS. The pilot attempts to use the T-TESS as a performance assessment tool.

Finally, the board discussed proposed revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 232 on general certification provisions and professional development, which would implement several bills passed by the 86th Legislature. These include continuing professional education instruction regarding mental health and substance abuse training (HB 18 and SB 11); training requirements for superintendents regarding sexual abuse and human trafficking (HB 403); and the removal of student loan default as grounds to deny the renewal of a certificate (SB 37). The chapter would also be simplified and reorganized as suggested by ATPE and other stakeholders.

Facts and figures:

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on Texas educator certification statistics from fiscal year (FY) 2018 (September 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018) to FY 2019 (September 1, 2018 to August 31, 2019). Of note, the number of standard certificates issued increased from 67,748 to 85,708. Nearly half (49%) of all initial teacher certificates issued are through alternative certification programs. The percentage of EPPs accredited as warned or on probation greatly increased, from 5.1% to 27.6% and 5.1% to 13.4%, respectively. This increase is due to additional ASEP standards becoming operational. As for educator leadership and quality, most legal cases opened were due to contract abandonment, the number of which increased by 124% from 111 up to 249 in FY 19.

TEA staff also updated the board on the results of the 2018-19 principal survey of first-year teachers and new teacher survey, which are part of the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP). The survey results show that principals find their first-year teachers from alternative certification programs to be the least prepared. Similarly, new teachers from alternative certification programs indicated they felt the least prepared. Forty-nine percent of new teachers in 2019 were prepared in alternative certification programs, compared to 32 percent from traditional, undergraduate programs.

Additionally, TEA updated the board at its request on educator testing data. The data show that pass rates even into the third test attempt can be quite low. A representative from an EPP suggested that programs be given more time to remediate candidates who cannot pass tests.

Future meetings:

Mark your calendars! The approved SBEC meeting dates for 2020 are:

  • Feb. 21, 2020
  • May 1, 2020
  • July 24, 2020
  • Oct. 9, 2020
  • Dec. 11, 2020
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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 6, 2019

We hope you had a great Thanksgiving break. Here is this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team!


ELECTION UPDATE: A runoff election date of Jan. 28, 2020, has been set for special elections in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. If you live in one of those districts, you may vote in the runoff election regardless of whether or not you voted in the original special election on Nov. 5. Check to see if you are registered to vote here as the deadline to register for the special election runoff is Dec. 29, 2019. Early voting in these three districts begins Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2020.

If you do not live in one of the House districts listed above, your next opportunity to vote will be the Texas primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, 2020! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for voting updates.

The candidate filing period for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020 opened last month and will end on Monday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote in the coming weeks as we update our website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Read more election news in this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Do you know how your state representative or senator voted on education bills this past legislative session? ATPE’s lobbyists have carefully hand-picked key education votes from the 86th legislative session and uploaded them to all state legislators’ profiles on our Teach the Vote website for your review.

This collection of recorded votes aims to help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities in 2019. Use our search page to gain insight into incumbents’ views on public education. Share the information with your friends and family, too, to help inform decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle. Also, read our recent blog posts to learn more about which education bills are featured and takeaways for using the information contained in our record votes compilation.


Do you have something to say about public education in Texas? Tell us about it in our short, three-question survey. This survey is meant to gather ATPE members’ opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session. Don’t worry if you didn’t follow the session too closely, as the ATPE lobby team still wants to hear from you so that we can best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol. Take our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password for logging into Advocacy Central.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released another video in its “HB 3 in 30” series explaining the many aspects of the 86th Legislature’s omnibus school finance bill House Bill (HB) 3.

This week’s video explains the new, optional, Mentor Program Allotment which provides funding for districts who have, or implement, a mentor program that meet certain programmatic requirements. ATPE has long advocated for state funded mentoring programs for all new teachers as a way to curb the high cost of teacher turnover as well as support and improve teachers and teaching practice.

Find all of the HB 3 in 30 videos here, along with related presentations.


On Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its final meeting of the year. The board discussed several items, including data from the new teacher and principal surveys, the addition of educational aide to the list of certificates high school students can obtain, and other changes to implement numerous bills from recent legislative sessions. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided testimony during the meeting asking the board to create a pathway for Master Reading Teachers to retain their teaching assignments once their Legacy Master Teacher certificates expire under HB 3. Look for a post by Andrea in the coming days about today’s SBEC meeting and watch video of her testimony here (located at the 41:00 mark on the archived broadcast).


Part one of the STAAR readability study mandated by House Bill 3 was released on Dec. 2, 2019. The study was conducted by the Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at the University of Texas at Austin. The 30-page report generally found that STAAR test passages are mostly at an appropriate level of readability, but was inconclusive regarding if individual questions were “readable” at grade-level or below. Additionally, the study leaves many questions unanswered regarding the measures used to determine readability. Read an analysis of the report by ATPE lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here.

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Texas election roundup: Filing deadline approaching

Monday, Dec. 9, marks the last day candidates can file to be on the ballot for the Texas elections to be held in 2020. That means after next Monday, we’ll know who will be on the ballot for the March primaries and who won’t.

Another incumbent has announced he will not be seeking reelection in 2020. State Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) quickly ended his reelection bid after making comments about the ethnicity of his primary opponents, two of whom are of Asian descent. The controversial comments prompted a rebuke by the Fort Bend County Republican Party and caused Gov. Abbott to withdraw his endorsement of Miller.

In the U.S. presidential race, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) ended her bid for the Democratic nomination earlier this week. That leaves former Vice President Joe Biden, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Steyer, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) as the six candidates who have qualified to appear in the next debate, to be held December 19 in Los Angeles. The deadline for other candidates to qualify for the debate is December 12.

Meanwhile, our partners at the Texas Educators Vote coalition have put together a handy calendar of the elections coming up in 2020. Here are some important dates:

January 28, 2020
Special Runoff Elections for House of Representatives Districts 28, 100, 148

February 3, 2020
Last day to register to vote in the March 3, 2020 Primary Elections

February 18-28, 2020
Early voting for the March 3, 2020 Primary Elections

March 3, 2020
Texas Primary Elections

April 2, 2020
Last day to register to vote in the May 2 local elections

April 20-28, 2020
Early voting for May 2 local elections

April 27, 2020
Last day to register to vote in the 2020 Primary Runoff Election

May 2, 2020
Uniform Election Date (Local political subdivisions)

May 18-22, 2020
Early voting for 2020 Primary Runoff Elections

May 26, 2020
Primary Runoff Elections

October 5, 2020
Last day to register to vote in the 2020 General Election

October 19-30, 2020
Early voting for the 2020 General Election

November 3, 2020
2020 General Election

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STAAR readability study, part one, released

Yesterday, the University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) readability study required by the 86th Legislature’s House Bill (HB) 3. The mandated study follows numerous reports that STAAR test items were above the reading level of students taking the test, such as this peer-reviewed study by Texas A&M University-Commerce researchers.

Here are the three main questions of the study and the answers gathered by its authors:

Question 1: Are the items on the 2019 STAAR tests (and the tests as a whole) aligned to grade-level Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)?

Answer: The TEKS that each test item is precoded to match are mostly in alignment. Across all 17 tests analyzed, eight questions were not in alignment, which means that the question did not adequately assess the standards it was meant to address. As for the test as a whole, all questions were found to be in alignment with grade-level TEKS.

Question 2: Are the items on the tests at a grade-appropriate readability level?

Answer: Due to a lack of research in the area, the authors used several different methods to try to measure the readability of each test item. For each method, the researchers obtained different results, which meant that none of the methods were reliable indicators of readability. Therefore, the study is inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items and provides no further insight in this area. Because parents and advocates have expressed concerns with the readability of mathematics test items, this lack of findings is rather unsatisfying.

Question 3: Are the passages on the reading and writing tests at a grade-appropriate readability level?

Answer: The authors developed their own “test” to determine if a passage was grade-level appropriate in readability. In order to pass the test, each passage had to meet two out of three measures: sentence length and difficulty, syntactic simplicity or “syntax,” and vocabulary load or “narrativity.” For syntax and narrativity, the authors used a measure called “Coh-Metrix” that can either be based on English/Language Arts (ELA) norms or social studies norms, depending on the genre of the text.

While many passages met grade-level for sentence length/difficulty and syntax, only 31% of passages fell within or below the specified grade band for narrativity when using the ELA norms. However, because each passage only had to meet two out of the three criteria, 86% of writing and reading passages were found to be grade-appropriate. Additionally, the authors stipulate that the passages are more of the informational genre and thus could be evaluated using the social studies norms, which produces higher readability results, yet still comparatively low in the narrativity index.

What’s next?

This study leaves many questions unanswered. Is it acceptable that some test items are not correctly aligned to the TEKS? Are the STAAR test items, such as those on the mathematics tests, at the appropriate readability level? Is the 2/3 criteria test valid when it allows for narrativity to slip through the cracks? Is it good practice to allow for the majority of a test to use vocabulary that is outside the scope of commonly used language for a particular grade level?

The second part of this legislatively mandated study should surface by February 1, 2020. Stay tuned to ATPE’s Teach the Vote as we track the implementation of this important provision in HB 3. Read more about changes to student testing that resulted from the 2019 legislative session here and here on our blog.

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