Commissioner: School fund management needs structural change

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday morning to begin the second day of its November meeting.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

Commissioner Morath began by congratulating Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) for his work as the board’s sole representative on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and called the recommendations put forward thus far by commission working groups “powerful.”

The commissioner praised the board for its handling of a funding dispute with the General Land Office (GLO) over the Permanent School Fund (PSF), formal oversight of which is split between the SBOE and the GLO’s School Land Board (SLB). Morath suggested legislators should address oversight of the PSF in its entirety. The commissioner pointed out that the PSF portion under the SLB’s stewardship has accumulated a $4 billion cash balance, which is creating a “significant drag” in terms of fund performance. Morath suggested legislators should consider structural changes, which could be worth an additional $150 million per year.

Commissioner Morath recapped the agency’s budget and priority initiatives, and disputed reports that the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR) calls for a reduction in state aid. The LAR is a formal budget request each agency prepares for legislators before each legislative session, and TEA’s LAR for the upcoming session seeks less state aid from general revenue (GR). The commissioner explained that this is required by the funding formulas, which have led to the burden shifting from state GR to local property tax revenues.

Member Ruben Cortez (R-San Antonio) pressed the commissioner as to whether that trend will continue. The commissioner repeated that the agency is complying with statute, and suggested this is the central question being addressed by the school finance commission.

Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) asked the commissioner to provide agency guidance for districts participating in or considering merging with charters under Senate Bill (SB) 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. Perez-Diaz noted that there are questions regarding who is formally in charge of schools at the local level after a contract with a charter is executed, and pointed out it seems districts are “building the plane while it’s in the air.” The commissioner said SB 1882 contracts now include 13 districts and 609 campuses.

In response to a question by Member Ellis regarding a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a $33 million penalty for failing to properly fund special education, Commissioner Morath indicated that the agency is actively trying to figure out its response moving forward.

The commissioner also fielded a question from Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) regarding the instructional materials portal, which legislators in 2017 ordered the commissioner to create as an online resource for educators. Perez noted there is concern how the portal will interact with the SBOE’s statutory authority to review instructional materials and the potential for creating duplicative processes. Commissioner Morath suggested the portal will evaluate a different set of factors than the SBOE.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-Conroe) also raised concern about transparency with regard to how portal material is evaluated, and clarifying that the board’s process will continue forward unchanged. The commissioner replied the agency is engaged in stakeholder outreach. Member Cargill suggested creating a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document.

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Finance commission group meets to discuss revenues

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues, led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to hear testimony. Sen. Bettencourt began the meeting by stating the state must “wean” itself off of the “Robin Hood” system of wealth equalization through recapture.

School finance commission working group on revenues meeting November 13, 2018.

Bettencourt set a target date of November 27 for a vote on recommendations and anticipated sharing those recommendations with the full commission in December. The commission’s report is due to the legislature by the end of December.

Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson followed up Bettencourt’s remarks by stating a separate goal of identifying $6 billion in additional funding for public schools. Johnson and Bettencourt have stood on opposite sides of most school funding discussions.

Dale Craymer, president of the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA), was the first witness invited to testify. Craymer testified that the recapture system is likely required based upon school finance court rulings, and noted that reducing recapture and reducing property taxes are not one in the same. Craymer suggested property taxpayers could be provided relief by using value growth to reduce the compression percentage downward, yet offered no direction with regard to relief for schools. Craymer suggested legislators must first determine what outcomes are desired before determine how much funding is needed.

Chandra Villanueva with the Center for Public Policy Priorities testified that recapture is necessary to level the playing field between school districts with vastly unequal property wealth. Instead, Villanueva testified that the overall system has failed and suffers from underfunding. Villanueva suggested instead updating the costs of education, adjusting for inflation, and slowing the growth of charter schools, which are pushing some districts into recapture.

Scott Brister, who chairs the commission, challenged the notion of inadequate funding. Villanueva responded that adequacy targets are an appropriate goal, and waiting to invest more resources only deepens the deficit lawmakers must eventually address. Johnson launched into an impassioned explanation of the fiscal challenges facing schools, which have seen funding decline while being asked to do more.

Vance Ginn with the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a think tank funded by supporters of school privatization, offered a number of discredited claims regarding school funding, and argued for eliminating school district property taxes in favor of reduced state funding.

David Thompson testified that the shift from the state toward local property taxpayers is being driven by value growth, and urged legislators should commit at least a portion of value growth to increasing the basic allotment every session. Thompson also recommended closing a number of tax loopholes, such as for online retailers, and increasing the gas tax.

Speaking on behalf of Gov. Greg Abbott, former state Sen. Tommy Williams testified that the state should pay teachers more and reduce the burden of property taxes, which will require additional state funding. Notwithstanding this, Williams said funding should not be increased without accompaniment by school finance reform. The governor’s plan contains three essential elements: Rebalancing the state share of funding, paired with compression of local school property taxes rates; slowing the growth of local property tax bills; and treating all students equally, based on individual student needs as opposed to school district property values, which will require reducing the growth of recapture.

Williams then proceeded to outline the governor’s plan, which can be found here. In it, the governor’s office suggests capping school district Tier 1 maintenance and operations (M&O) tax revenue growth at 2.5 percent and replacing the lost funding with state dollars. The plan does not specify a funding mechanism or source. The plan also proposes outcome-based bonuses, awarding charter school attendance credits, and paying stipends to teachers who teach in more difficult classrooms, along the lines of Dallas ISD’s ACE program. This marked the first time the plan has been presented in public.

Asked by Sen. Bettencourt what the governor’s idea of additional state aid looks like, Williams suggested he would rather lawmakers not “back into that number” from available revenue, but rather to try and put a price tag on the recommendations from the commission’s working group on expenditures. Johnson followed up with a question regarding how much it would cost to buy down the tax rates as suggested by the governor. Williams did not offer an estimate.

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 9, 2018

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


This past Tuesday was Election Day. All across the country registered voters lined up at polling places (some with hours-long waits) to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. There were a number of impressive wins and historical elections across the country and Texas was no exception. Turnout for this midterm election was nearly double what it was in 2014.

While Texas’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz were all able to secure reelection, the margins by which they won were closer than usual. Democrats in the Texas House were able to flip 12 seats, a gain that has implications for the impending race for a new House Speaker, while the minority party in the Senate also gained two seats. Senate Democrats will most likely still face a vacancy for at least the first part of the 2019 legislative session; Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) announced her resignation today following her election to a U.S. Congressional seat on Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott must now call a special election to fill the state senate seat within the next couple of months. Additionally, the seat flipping in the state legislature might not be complete at this point as a number of candidates who seemingly lost their elections Tuesday by narrow margins are waiting for provisional and mail-in absentee ballots to be counted. Margins that remain slim following the completion of the vote counting could trigger recounts in a few races.

What we know for sure at this point is that Texans made a statement with this election by electing a myriad of pro-public education candidates to office. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the math of this week’s election results in this blog post.

 


A 2012 decision by the state of Texas to spend less money on students with disabilities is coming back to haunt it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled to uphold a penalty levied by the U.S. Department of Education that withholds $33.3 million dollars in federal funding from Texas’s special education grants. The penalty was imposed after Texas was found to have withheld the same amount of money in funding for special education programs. While the state argued that its special education programs had helped students overcome their disabilities and hence fewer special education services were needed following the 2012 funding decrease, the federal education ageny contended that states can not reduce funding levels from year to year.

You can read more about the ruling and the history behind it in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


 

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From the Texas Tribune: 5th Circuit upholds feds’ $33 million penalty for Texas decrease in special education funding

5th Circuit upholds feds’ $33 million penalty for Texas decrease in special education funding” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Texas’ decision to spend $33.3 million less on students with disabilities in 2012 will likely cost it millions in future federal funding after a Wednesday afternoon 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

According to the New Orleans-based court, the U.S. Department of Education was within its rights to try to withhold the same amount from Texas’ special education grants, since a 1997 federal statute prohibits states from reducing their funding for kids with disabilities from year to year. Texas had appealed the department’s decision, arguing that statute was vague and unenforceable.

A little more than a month after hearing both sides, and the day after a momentous midterm election, the three-judge panel effectively upheld the education department’s decision to financially penalize Texas in an opinion that called the state’s argument “unpersuasive.” The 13-page opinion questions Texas’ current system for funding special education, saying it could give the state reason to minimize the needs of kids with disabilities in order to save money.

The court also ruled that Texas must pay the federal government’s appeal costs. Texas has not publicly indicated whether it will try to appeal the ruling.

Since 1995, Texas has weighted funding for kids with disabilities, paying schools more to educate kids who have more severe disabilities or need more personalized attention in order to learn. It argued it spent $33.3 million less in 2012 because its special education programs successfully got students to “overcome their disabilities,” decreasing their need. School districts reported students in need of less expensive services that year and so the state allocated less money, lawyers argued.

The federal government’s argument is simple: States cannot decrease their funding from year to year, a provision that ensures they use the additional federal money to enhance services, instead of cutting their budgets.

Texas’ weighted funding system “poses the potential for future abuse” of that statute, the panel said in an opinion written by Judge Jerry Smith, who had expressed skepticism towards the state’s argument in October.

“Though Texas law requires the state to allocate funding based on the needs of disabled children, it is the state itself that assesses what those needs are,” Smith wrote. “Hence, the weighted-student model creates a perverse incentive for a state to escape its financial obligations merely by minimizing the special education needs of it students.”

At a Texas House Appropriations Committee hearing last month, state education officials prepared lawmakers for a potential loss at the 5th Circuit, saying the penalty — which amounts to 3 percent of Texas’ annual federal special education grant — would have minimal impact on their special education programs.

Texas is separately working to overhaul its special education programs after a U.S. Department of Education investigation concluded earlier this year that the state had effectively denied services to thousands of students with disabilities who needed them. Officials estimate spending $3 billion more on kids with disabilities over the next three years, since more students are likely to be eligible for services.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/11/07/texas-special-education-funding/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

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Educators gain friendly statehouse seats in midterms

After more than a year of voter mobilization efforts aimed at making an impact on the Texas Legislature, educators sprinted across the finish line Tuesday with plenty to be proud of.

Pro-public education candidates for the Texas House of Representatives, both Democrats and Republicans, had a great night. When the dust settled, 74 percent of candidates supported by ATPE-PAC won their races. Conversely, many candidates backed by the infamous group Empower Texans lost their races last night. Forty-two candidates endorsed by the pro-public education entity Texas Parent PAC were victorious, including these new representatives-elect:

  • HD 4—Keith Bell, R-Forney
  • HD 8—Cody Harris, R-Palestine
  • HD 46—Sheryl Cole, D-Austin
  • HD 47—Vikki Goodwin, D-Austin
  • HD 52—James Talarico, D-Round Rock
  • HD 62—Reggie Smith, R-Van Alstyne
  • HD 105—Terry Meza, D-Irving
  • HD 113—Rhetta Bowers, D-Garland
  • HD 114—John Turner, D-Dallas
  • HD 115—Julie Johnson, D-Addison
  • HD 118—Leo Pacheco, D-San Antonio
  • HD 121—Steve Allison, R-San Antonio
  • HD 126—Sam Harless, R-Houston
  • HD 136—John H Bucy III, D-Round Rock

Democrats gained 12 seats in the Texas House, which lowers the mathematical advantage for Republicans to 83-67 from the more lopsided 95-55. This shouldn’t matter on most issues, but it could be extremely significant when it comes to dealing with highly partisan legislation such as vouchers or another anti-teacher payroll deduction bill, which the Republican Party of Texas has declared a top legislative priority despite resistance from within the Republican caucus. This new math could also influence the selection of a new House speaker to replace retiring pro-public education Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio).

Over to the Texas Senate, the addition of two pro-public education members marks a slight improvement over the last legislative session. Beverly Powell defeated incumbent state Sen. Konni Burton (R-Colleyville) 52-48%, and Nathan Johnson defeated incumbent Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) 54-46%.  Their election helps offset the loss of a Democrat-held seat won by Republican state Senator-elect Pete Flores during a summer special election for Senate District 19.

The GOP majority in the Texas Senate now changes to 19-12 from 21-10, however Republicans will hold a 19-11 advantage for the majority of session due to U.S. Representative-elect Sylvia Garcia’s (D-Houston) refusal to resign her state senate seat on time to hold a replacement election before the legislative session begins.

Under the Senate’s 3/5 rule, 19 votes are needed to pass most major legislation, and just 18 votes will be needed until Garcia’s seat is filled. This is very significant math in the Senate, where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) was able to push through multiple anti-public education bills, including voucher legislation, along largely party-line votes last session. However, there is reason to be optimistic that the results of this election cycle may embolden some pro-public education Republicans in the Senate to stand up to the lieutenant governor on these divisive issues.

Speaking of the lieutenant governor, Texas voters awarded him four more years Tuesday night. Despite his extremely anti-public education policies, Dan Patrick won reelection with a 51-46% victory over Democratic businessman Mike Collier. Patrick’s support roughly tracked with his GOP colleagues on the statewide ballot. Patrick, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton each received about 4.2 million votes. Gov. Greg Abbott received the most votes at 4.6 million.

The results up and down the statewide ballot were fairly consistent despite vast differences in the amount spent in each race. Cruz’s Democratic challenger, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, raised a staggering $70 million. His performance at the polls was largely mirrored by his statewide Democratic colleagues who raised a fraction of that amount. Democrats dominated the state’s largest urban areas and were thereby able to flip several local seats, but their numbers were not sufficient to overcome rural Republicans’ advantage in statewide races.

Now begins the process of dissecting the polling data to try and derive additional insights. At a general level, the Democratic strategy relied in part on mobilizing Democratic voters to achieve presidential election-level turnout while hoping Republicans turned out at typical midterm election levels. What happened instead was both Democrats and Republicans turned out at levels approaching a presidential election.

A total of 8.3 million Texas voters turned out for the 2018 midterm elections, compared to just 4.6 million voters for the 2014 midterms. Tuesday marked the highest turnout for a midterm election in Texas history, overall second only to the 2016 presidential election in which just shy of 9.0 million Texans voted. Looking deeper, about 400,000 fewer people voted for Cruz in 2018 than voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Conversely, O’Rourke received roughly 400,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton.

Registration of eligible voters increased to 79.40 percent in 2018 from 74.15 percent in 2014. This year’s turnout of 52.70 percent marked a 59 percent increase in turnout from 33.70 percent who participated in 2014. Turnout for the 2016 presidential election was 59.39 percent. In raw numbers, turnout compared to the last midterm election was nearly double.

So what does this all mean? It means that overall, educators did a great job electing local candidates who will stand up for public education. Through your hard work, you’ve made a positive difference on the political math within the Texas Legislature. Notwithstanding this success, arguably the largest challenge facing educators will be the retention of statewide leaders who have not taken the most education-friendly stances in the past. Will close calls during this election and the increase in voter turnout and enthusiasm among the education community this year provide an incentive for state leaders to become more responsive to and accountable for the needs of public schools? With the elections over, the battle now moves from the ballot box to the statehouse. Educators will need to harness the same enthusiasm to help make the 2019 legislative session a success for our students and classrooms.

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Election Day is here!

Have you voted yet?

The ATPE lobby team has voted and we hope you are doing the same!

Registered voters in Texas have until 7 pm tonight to cast their votes. As long as you are in line at your polling place by 7:00 tonight, you will be allowed to vote.

Don’t forget to bring your photo ID and find out where you are able to vote in your county.

Do you need more help deciding who deserves your votes? ATPE provides profiles of all the candidates running for the Texas legislature, State Board of Education, governor, or lieutenant governor right here on TeachtheVote.org. Profiles include their legislative voting records, answers to our candidate survey, links to their campaign websites, and much more.

You can also generate a personalized ballot at Vote411.org. Don’t forget to print out your sample ballot before heading to the polls, because cell phone use is not permitted once you’re inside the voting booth.

Follow us on Twitter and check out our blog here at Teach the Vote tomorrow for election results.

Get out and vote today!

 

 

 

 

 

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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 2, 2018

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


Carl Garner

In the weeks prior to the upcoming midterm elections, many people across the state have been bombarded with a slew of campaign ads featuring members of both parties vying for the votes of the general public. One such ad features Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick discussing a $10,000 raise that he alleges he championed for educators. But there’s a problem: no such thing ever happened. ATPE Past State President Carl Garner quashes  that claim and explains why such rhetoric is offensive in this guest post.

 

 

 

 

 


Over the past two weeks of early voting we’ve been highlighting what’s at stake for educators in the 2018 midterm elections. This past week we’ve examined a myriad of issues like why it’s important to elect pro-public education candidates to the State Board of Education and why vouchers are a threat to public schools. Over the years, teachers have had to deal with a barrage of attacks: attempts to limit their ability to join professional associations, school funding cuts, and exorbitant increases in health care costs, to name a few. That has made an already demanding job that much more difficult. With Nov. 6 a few days away, it’s time for educators to asses the hand they’ve been dealt and whether the legislature is holding up its end of the bargain; then vote accordingly.

Read more from the 12 Days of Voting series:

 


Governor Abbott showcased his plan to patch up the state’s school finance system to business leaders and educators earlier this week. Without having received the recommendations of the Commission on Public School Finance, which has not yet concluded its work (although it is expected to report its findings by the end of this year), Abbott has proposed a plan that would limit the amount of property tax revenue school districts can raise and would give school districts financial rewards for improving student performance. The proposal gave pause to Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee. Bernal had this to say with regards to the proposal:

“It would be a shame if school finance was merely a Trojan horse for his property tax agenda,” he said. “What that means is that it’s not about the students at all.”

Read more about the proposal and see the text of the document in this article by the Texas Tribune. 

 

 


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12 Days of Voting: State Board of Education

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at the State Board of Education (SBOE).


The SBOE doesn’t usually make the news unless it’s because of a political fight over textbooks or controversial changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) dealing with subjects like the Alamo or evolution.

Not that these things aren’t important, but they overshadow other significant work that the board undertakes at its quarterly meetings in Austin.

Here’s a great example:

In its most recent meeting, SBOE members unveiled their long-awaited Long-Range Plan for Public Education, the result of more than a year of soliciting stakeholder feedback and holding community meetings to chart a course for the next 30 years of public education in Texas.

Some of the plan’s recommendations include boosting mentorship programs, tightening up the standards for educator preparation programs (EPPs), and improving wraparound supports for children facing a variety of challenging home situations. The board has listened to educators at every step of the way, and the result is a plan that aims to lift up the education profession.

At the very same meeting, the board spiked a dangerous certification rule proposal opposed by ATPE that would have created a backdoor for underqualified teacher candidates. The board also unanimously acted to restore nearly a half billion dollars in school funding being held back by the General Land Office (GLO).

Oh, and about those TEKS discussions: SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich (R-The Woodlands) recently led the board in a redesign of the TEKS review process intended to allow more educators to participate in the process. So if you are an expert in the field and would like to be involved in crafting and streamlining the curriculum, your chances of getting the opportunity are greater than ever.

None of these positive outcomes would have been possible if SBOE members were not willing to listen to what educators have to say. That’s why electing pro-public education candidates to the SBOE is important to guide this important institution going forward.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

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12 Days of Voting: “A through F” Accountability

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at the “A through F” accountability system.


When lawmakers were debating the idea of moving Texas schools from an accountability system in which schools either “met standard” or were designated “improvement required” to one that would great districts and campuses on an A through F scale, ATPE warned that they may not get the outcomes they were hoping for.

Now that the first round of A through F grades have come out for school districts, it’s hard not to say “we told you so.”

Consider this lede from the Beaumont Enterprise‘s editorial board:

“It could be time for a re-test. A recent review of Texas public schools by Hearst Newspapers revealed serious discrepancies between the rankings given to state schools and the actual performance of their students in college.”

What Hearst found is that a majority of students from A-rated and B-rated districts were likely to need remedial classes once they got to the college level. The article summarized:

“The study suggests that public school districts are placing too much emphasis on things like improving their scores on the STAAR test (the state’s standardized exam) and high school graduation rates. Under the state’s A through F ratings system, schools that do well on those criteria will get higher rankings.

Those categories are important, but the bottom line should always be the same: How much are the students actually learning? Do they truly have the skills needed for their next stage in life, or are school districts simply passing them along the assembly line to get regulators and parents off their backs?”

It’s exactly the argument teachers have been making for years. Furthermore, teachers warned that giving F labels to struggling schools — mostly those with high levels of economically disadvantaged children — would unfairly stigmatize the students themselves as “failures.” Sure enough, the Texas Tribune noted that districts with high numbers of poor kids received the brunt of F labels in the accountability system’s first year.

It all plays into the narrative pushed by those who want to defund and privatize our schools: That our neighborhood schools are failures, and the money should be handed over to private contractors who promise to educate our kids on the cheap.

The truth is Texas schools are doing well. In most Texas towns, the local high school is the heart of the community. Yet there is certainly room for improvement. Our schools are becoming overcrowded at the same time lawmakers are underfunding them.

The bottom line: There are better ways to hold schools accountable. Educators must be a part of crafting that process, but they will only be invited to the table if Texans send pro-public education legislators to Austin.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

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12 Days of Voting: Intimidation

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at voter intimidation efforts targeting educators.


You may not be shocked to find out that some public officials who support defunding and privatizing our public schools do not like the idea of hundreds of thousands of educators voting their profession.

What you may find shocking, however, is how some public officials are using the power of their elective office to deliberately intimidate teachers from voting!

It’s no secret that educators are mobilizing like never before, and many school districts are enthusiastically exercising their legal obligation to encourage voting and civic engagement among both staff and eligible students. As a member of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, ATPE has worked alongside other education and civic groups to increase voter turnout among educators and share nonpartisan election resources with school employees. These efforts came under attack earlier this year when state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) engaged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a naked attempt to chill these efforts.

Soon after, the state’s most notorious privately funded special interest group staged its own voter intimidation campaign directed at teachers. The campaign backfired spectacularly, with the internet uniting behind the social media hashtag #BlowingTheWhistle to highlight the impactful stories of dedicated educators making a difference. ATPE wrote about the Twitter backlash on our Teach the Vote blog.

The whole debacle didn’t escape the notice of retiring House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who sided squarely with educators encouraging a culture of voting.

“Put me down as supporting a culture of voting, among teachers and all eligible Texans,” Straus said in a newsletter dated February 23.

In his letter, the Speaker explicitly called out voter intimidation efforts aimed at educators. Straus wrote:

“I’ve often said that we need more Texans voting in primaries so that candidates are responsive and accountable to a broader set of Texans and their concerns. Unfortunately, some elected leaders in Austin and their allies have been trying to discourage voting among one important group of Texans: School teachers.

Some members of our community have received a letter from an Austin special interest group criticizing local school leaders for promoting a ‘culture of voting.’ This group apparently feels threatened by the fact that education leaders are encouraging civic participation.

It’s easy to understand why educators and others who support public schools want to vote. Those of us who have prioritized public education have been met with resistance from other elected leaders. As a result, our school finance system still desperately needs reform, and the lack of state dollars going into public education is driving local property taxes higher and higher.”

Speaker Straus is not running for reelection, which means those who vote in the elections underway now will determine what type of leader takes his place and will oversee the actions taken by the Texas House during the 2019 legislative session that begins less than three months from now..

At the same time, Paxton continues his efforts to intimidate educators and discourage them from going to the polls, perhaps fearful that educators will vote for his opponent in the contested AG’s race happening now. Paxton’s office has sent threatening letters full of dubious legal warnings to multiple school districts throughout the year. Yet ATPE has pointed out that educators, including administrators, not only have a right to encourage voting — Texas law encourages doing so!

The law is simple: School district resources can’t be used to support a specific candidate, party, or ballot initiative. That means don’t use your school e-mail to share a candidate’s campaign e-mail. Easy enough, right? Other than that, you are perfectly fine encouraging colleagues, students, and staff to do their own research to find out where candidates stand and to make sure they vote in this week’s elections.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

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