Tag Archives: 2020 texas primaries

Texas election roundup: Runoff results are in!

Numbers are in from Tuesday’s primary runoff elections across the state. On a day that raised serious questions about the state’s ability to hold an effective election during the COVID-19 pandemic, there were a few surprise wins and losses. Some mail ballots had yet to be counted early Wednesday morning. Because of this and issues with reporting by the Texas Secretary of State’s office, which documents election results, these results remain unofficial and subject to change.

U.S. Senate

In the marquee race on the Democratic runoff ballot, U.S. Air Force veteran MJ Hegar defeated state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) 52% to 48%. Hegar will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the November election. Sen. West will continue to serve out his term as a state senator.

State Board of Education (SBOE)

Two SBOE primary races resulted in a runoff that concluded last night. Both races are for open seats where the incumbent is not seeking re-election.

Michelle Palmer defeated Kimberly McCleod in the Democratic runoff for SBOE District 6, which represents Houston. Palmer will face Republican Will Hickman and Libertarian candidate Whitney Bilyeu in November. The seat is currently held by Donna Bahorich (R-Houston), who is not running for reelection.

Republican Lani Popp defeated controversial candidate Robert Morrow in the District 5 GOP runoff. Popp will face Democrat Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Libertarian candidate Stephanie Berlin in in November. Notably, Popp had been endorsed by all sitting Republican members of the board, including incumbent Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio). SBOE Chair Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) weighed in on the race Tuesday morning via Twitter with one of the day’s less subtle endorsements:

Texas House of Representatives

Several Texas House incumbents lost their primary runoff contests Tuesday, including several who had trailed their opponents by a substantial margin during the March primaries and a couple who had only held their House seats for a few short months.

State Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van), who served in the House since 2002 and previously chaired the House Pensions committee, lost to repeat challenger Bryan Slaton by a vote of 37% to 63% in the House District (HD) 2 Republican runoff. Flynn had been endorsed by Gov. Greg Abbott and by the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC. Slaton will go on to face Democrat Bill Brannon in November.

Republican Cody Vasut defeated Ro’Vin Garrett in HD 25, which is the open race for the seat currently held by outgoing House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Vasut will face Democrat Patrick Henry in November.

In a HD 26 double header, Republican Jacey Jetton beat Matt Morgan, while repeat candidate Sarah DeMerchant defeated Suleman Lalani in the Democratic runoffJetton and DeMerchant will now face each other in the fall for the seat held by outgoing state Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land) who is not seeking re-election. Voters in HD 26 have elected Republicans in the past, but the district has been trending Democratic. Beto O’Rourke won the district by 1.6% in 2018 after Donald Trump won by 4.9% in 2016. Greg Abbott won the district by more than 33% in 2014.

Republican candidate Carrie Isaac handily defeated Bud Wymore in HD 45. Isaac, the wife of former Rep. Jason Isaac, will face incumbent Democratic Rep.Erin Zwiener and Green Party candidate Dan Lyon in the November general election. This one is considered a very competitive swing district.

In another Republican match-up, Justin Berry defeated Jennifer Fleck in HD 47. Berry will go up against incumbent Democratic Rep. Vikki Goodwin along with with Libertarian candidate Michael Clark in the general election. HD 47 is yet another swing district deemed to be competitive for both major parties.

State Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) fell to challenger Shelby Slawson in the HD 59 Republican runoff, 38% to 62%. Like ousted incumbent Flynn, Sheffield had been visibly supported by the governor, and he was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC over the course of multiple elections. Slawson is unopposed in the general election, making this one a “winner-take-all” runoff.

In a stern rebuke of anti-public education provocateurs Empower Texans, Glenn Rogers defeated Jon Francis in the open HD 60 GOP runoff, 52% to 48%. Rogers was supported by Texas Parent PAC and Gov. Abbott, while Francis’s campaign was bankrolled almost entirely by his father-in-law, West Texas billionaire and Empower Texans megadonor Farris Wilks. Rogers faces third-party candidate Scott Coleman in the fall.

In another Democratic runoff, Lorenzo Sanchez will go on to face incumbent Republican Jeff Leach in the general after defeating Tom Adair in the HD 67 Democratic primary. Green Party candidate Kashif Riaz will also be on the November ballot.

State Rep. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas) appears to have narrowly lost to challenger Jasmine Crockett by less than 100 votes in the HD 100 Democratic runoff. Birabil, who was endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, won a special runoff election in January to fill the seat previously held by Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson. Crockett moves forward unopposed in the general election, making her the presumptive winner of this seat.

Democrat Liz Campos defeated Jennifer Ramos in the HD 119 runoff. She will face Republican George B. Garza in the November election, along with Green Party candidate Antonio Padron and Libertarian Arthur Thomas, IV. The seat is currently held by state Rep. Roland Gutierrez, who is running run for the Texas Senate.

Democrat Akilah Bacy soundly beat Jenifer Rene Pool in HD 138 for another open seat. Bacy, who has been endorsed by Texas Parent PAC, will face Republican Lacey Hull in November to replace outgoing state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) who is not seeking re-election.

State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) defeated his challenger Jerry Davis in the HD 142 Democratic primary, 52% to 48%. Dutton, the third longest serving member in the Texas House, will face Republican challenger Jason Rowe and an independent candidate Whitney Hatter in the fall.

In HD 148, Democratic challenger Penny Morales Shaw defeated another short-term incumbent, state Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) by 200 votes, 54% to 46%. Eastman won a special runoff election in January to fill the seat vacated by former state Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston). Shaw will face Republican Luis LaRotta in the general election.

Texas Senate

There were two Texas State Senate runoffs in play yesterday. First, state Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D-San Antonio) defeated Xochil Pena Rodriguez in the Democratic runoff for Senate District (SD) 19 to face Republican state Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton) in the general election. Libertarian candidate Jo-Anne Valdivia will also be on the ballot in November. Sen. Flores flipped this seat that was previously held by a Democrat in a surprising special election held in September 2018.

In SD 27, State Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) last night survived a primary challenge by Brownsville attorney Sara Stapleton-Barrera by a vote of 54% to 46%. Sen. Lucio, who has served as Vice Chairman of the Senate Education Committee, will face Republican Vanessa Tijerina in the general election; an independent candidate Javier Navarro also filed to run for this seat. Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick congratulated Lucio on his primary win.

Many Austin-area voters also participated in a special election Tuesday. Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt appears headed to a runoff against state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) after finishing with 49.7% and 33.8% of the vote, respectively. The two Democrats were the top finishers in a special election to represent SD 14, after longtime state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) resigned earlier this year to accept a post with the University of Houston.

Voter Turnout

In general, the primary runoffs exposed some deeply troubling issues with voting during the COVID-19 pandemic, ranging from problems with voting by mail, to staffing issues resulting from poll workers who refused to wear masks, to issues for voters who have tested positive for COVID-19.

A total of 660,184 Democrats and 420,960 Republicans voted early in the runoff elections for a combined turnout of 6.61%. Of those, 30% of Democrats and 24% of Republicans cast ballots by mail. Election Day turnout figures were not immediately available from the Texas Secretary of State, but 955,735 Democrats voted in the statewide runoff for U.S. Senate. There was not a statewide runoff on the Republican ballot, making comparisons difficult without official turnout numbers.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 3, 2020

This week, we celebrated the anniversary of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified July 1, 1971. Since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, now is the perfect time to celebrate with all the young people in your life as you make plans to early vote in the primary runoffs. Here is our wrap-up of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team. We wish you a safe and relaxing Independence Day weekend!


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott made headlines with an executive order requiring that Texans wear masks in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases. There are a few exceptions to the mask order, including for children under 10 years old, those with a medical condition that prevents wearing a mask, and in some specified circumstances such as driving. Violating the order is punishable by fine, but jail time for violations is prohibited. See the full executive order with a list of exceptions and exempted counties here. Abbott also reduced the limits of most allowed gatherings from 100 to 10 people. Both changes take effect at 12:01 p.m. Friday, July 3, 2020.

According to an article by the Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, Gov. Abbott gave an interview on Thursday afternoon in which he speculated about restarting schools this fall. ““If COVID is so serious, it may mean that students are having to learn from home through a distance learning program,” the governor is reported as saying, despite giving earlier assurances that it would be safe for schools to reopen soon. Meanwhile, we continue to wait for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to provide school districts with health and safety guidance needed to begin the new school year. The agency posted a public health document last week only briefly before quickly pulling it down and calling it a working draft.

ATPE has shared its own Recommended Health and Safety Guidelines to the state and districts, urging them to address the safety concerns of school staff, students, and parents well ahead of a return to in-person classes, especially with the current spike in Texas coronavirus cases. Our recommendations urge TEA to release COVID-19 reopening guidelines and require that prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, each school district disseminate a local policy describing health and safety measures it will take to mitigate and respond to the threat of COVID-19. ATPE believes TEA should require districts to involve non-administrative, campus-level staff and parents as they develop such policies. Districts should promptly notify employees and parents of their policy, and they must also be ready to adjust their policy should pandemic conditions change. We also provided a list of other considerations for districts to consider as they develop their policy, which include accommodating varying levels of risk factors among their student and staff populations, minimizing person-to-person contact, planning for special populations, adjusting staff  leave policies as necessary, and addressing child care needs of their staff, especially since many districts are now contemplating staggered student schedules or mandatory remote instructional days.

Please visit ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for news and answers to educators’ commonly asked questions amid the rapid developments during this pandemic. Many of the categories of resources on the TEA Coronavirus Support Page were also updated this week, including an Operation Connectivity Survey, English learner guidance, waivers, finance, and grants (information on synchronous and asynchronous instruction), crisis code reporting results, July 4 public health resources, and child nutrition. Gov. Abbott also extended the P-EBT application deadline to July 31.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the primary runoffs and the Texas Senate District 14 special election started this Monday. Polls are closed today for the holiday, but early voting will continue through July 10. Election day is July 14, but we highly recommend you early vote in order to avoid crowds and lines. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier voted early and documented her experience here on our blog with tips to prepare for a safe trip to the polls.

The education-focused nonprofit organization Raise Your Hand Texas is holding two virtual forums for runoff candidates next week (see below). If you’re not attending the ATPE Summit next week, find more information and submit questions for the candidate forums here.

  • Texas Senate District 19 (San Antonio to Big Bend area) – Tuesday, July 7 at 1:00 p.m. (CDT)
  • Texas House District 26 (Houston/Sugar Land area) – Thursday, July 9, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (CDT)

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating many challenges for our public education system that will be long-lasting and require a commitment of support from our elected officials. Voting is the best way to influence laws and policies in Texas that will affect your profession, your schools, and your students. Find a list of polling places where you can vote here. Generate a personalized sample ballot here. Review candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. Stay safe, Texas voters!


FEDERAL UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 1, the U.S. Department of Education officially published a final interim rule that states how public school districts must spend their CARES Act federal emergency funds for equitable services offered to private schools. The rule became effective immediately upon being published, but it is open for public comment through July 31, 2020. TEA held an update training session on Thursday in light of the changes; expect to find the training recording on TEA’s Grant Compliance and Administration YouTube playlist here. The new rule gives districts two options – spend CARES Act funds only on Title I schools and follow the longstanding interpretation of equitable services under federal law, or spend CARES Act funds on all schools and be held to the questionable interpretation of the equitable services law advanced by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Read ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on the rule from last week for more information.

DeVos also announced final rules that impact the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program, which provides up to $4,000 a year to college students who are taking certain courses in preparation to teach, so long as they continually certify that they meet certain requirements when they become teachers, such as teaching in a low-income school. If recipients do not continue to meet the requirements, the grant is converted to a loan. As reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2015, many TEACH Grant recipients had their grants converted to loans due to confusion over the requirements. The new rules change the department’s practices to expand how recipients can fulfill their service obligation, simplify the employment certification requirements, and allow recipients whose grants have been converted to loans to request a reconversion, among other provisions. Read a fact sheet on the rules here.


This week, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter set the record straight on erroneous claims that teachers can temporarily retire due to the pandemic. The “temporary retirement” myth was mentioned in a news story following a conference call national teacher union affiliates held with Texas reporters last week. The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) has made it clear that there is no such option for “temporary” retirement, explaining that any teacher who retires and then returns to employment will be held to a fixed annuity amount as of their retirement date. There are a number of restrictions on early retirement that educators should consider. Read retirement facts in this blog post by Exter.


New data show student engagement declined when the pandemic forced schools to close this spring. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released crisis code reporting data this week, which includes crisis code reporting on student “engagement” and indicates that more than 600,000 students (about 11% of the student population) had inconsistent or no contact with their teachers or administrators. ATPE’s 2020 Membership Survey provided even more concerning data related to engagement, as just over 65% of our survey respondents reported that their students were less engaged during virtual learning. Moving forward, TEA and school districts will need to prioritize data collection and planning that works towards eliminating barriers students faced when attempting remote learning this spring, which goes far beyond access to Internet and devices. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to address several agenda items, including revision of physical education and health TEKS, which garnered over 12 hours of virtual testimony on Monday. Votes on proposed revisions to the curriculum standards will not occur until a future meeting of the board.

On Tuesday morning, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath appeared before the board during its virtual meeting and fielded questions from SBOE members on topics such as testing and how teachers would be protected against COVID-19 risks when schools reopen. The commissioner said no decision has been made yet as to whether Texas will seek a federal waiver of testing and accountability requirements like it did during the spring when schools were forced to close. Read a summary of Morath’s comments to the board in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

The SBOE committees’ work on Wednesday was largely uneventful, although the Committee on Instruction did amend an agenda item to keep computer science as a required high school course. On Thursday, the full board had a lengthy discussion about increasing the capacity of the charter school bond guarantee program by 20%. Upon a motion by Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville), the board voted 5-9 in favor of maintaining the increase. The board moved forward with ease on their other agenda items.


An accurate count for Texas in the 2020 U.S. Census is essential for adequate funding of public schools and other services that will be sorely needed in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The Census Bureau has launched a self-response rates map, showing Texas currently ranks 40th and is tied with Arkansas. Rankings by county and city are also available, creating the perfect opportunity for some friendly competition! Congratulations to Mountain City, Texas and Fort Bend County for the highest census completion rates in Texas!

Find a Census response rate competition toolkit here, and keep spreading the word on social media and in other communications with family, friends, and the community about the importance of filling out the census questionnaire.

Texas election roundup: Early voting begins Monday, June 29

Early voting begins Monday, June 29, 2020, for the July 14 primary runoff elections across the state of Texas, as well as for a special election to fill an open Texas Senate seat in Central Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott postponed the runoff elections three months ago from their original May 26 election date over concerns about the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus. Infections today are even higher than they were back then, which highlights the importance of making a plan to vote safely.

As we previously reported here on Teach the Vote, the Texas Secretary of State last month released a list of “minimum recommended health protocols” for voting, which instructs voters to consider maintaining six feet of separation, self-screen, bring their own stylus or pencil with eraser, bring hand sanitizer, and wear a mask when they head to the polls. For those experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, voters are encouraged to consider utilizing curbside voting if they meet the eligibility requirements. Curbside voting is typically reserved for voters with disabilities who are not physically able to enter polling locations without assistance or who may be likely to injure their health by doing so.

Texas polling places must offer curbside voting for certain individuals who are unable to enter a polling location due to a disability. The Secretary of State’s website explains, “If a voter is physically unable to enter the polling place, he or she may ask that an election officer bring a ballot to the entrance of the polling place or to a car at parked at the curbside. After the voter marks the ballot, they will give it to the election officer, who will put it in the ballot box. Or, at the voter’s request, a companion may hand the voter a ballot and deposit it for him or her.” The Secretary of State’s office suggests checking your county’s voting website and calling ahead to the polling location before voting curbside. You can read more about curbside voting in this post by Disability Rights Texas.

The Secretary of State’s office offered additional info on curbside voting and voting by mail in a webinar hosted earlier this month by the Texas League of Women Voters. State officials emphasized that if a voter has voted by mail in the past and their qualifying circumstances have not changed, they can still vote by mail.

With the possibility of a greater number of voters choosing to vote curbside and fewer election volunteers working at polling places due to the coronavirus pandemic, early voting and allowing ample time to cast your vote is extra important for this runoff. The Texas League of Women Voters recommends voting early during non-peak hours in order to encounter the fewest people possible. The Secretary of State’s office also recently reiterated the importance of voting early and following the health and safety protocols, stating, “It is essential to our democracy that Texans are able to safely and confidently cast their vote.”

Multiple lawsuits have been filed aimed at expanding the ability of Texans to vote by mail, as some voters feel they must make a choice this year between exercising their civic duty by voting and protecting their health and that of their families. The fact remains that voting is the single most powerful way to ensure elected officials prioritize public education, listen to educators, and put children first. The decision of whether to cast your vote is yours alone, and we recognize the courage it takes to participate in democracy at this unprecedented moment in history. We urge you to follow all of the safety precautions to protect yourself while you exercise this most critical constitutional right.

As a reminder, early voting runs June 29 – July 10, 2020. Check out ATPE’s profiles of candidates for the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education here on Teach the Vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 8, 2020

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Hardworking educators have been in the spotlight this week, but soon the attention will shift to graduating seniors. Who is ready for virtual graduation ceremonies from home and honking parades of whooping high school seniors down the street? We are excited for the good news this week that teachers and students can celebrate their accomplishments (safely). Here is more of this week’s education news from the ATPE lobby team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: For a comprehensive look at the intersection of COVID-19 and education, from the first major event cancellation to the road ahead, ATPE’s lobbyists have compiled a new summary this week of the legislative and regulatory developments since the crisis began. Read the coronavirus recap in this May 8 blog post.

On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott expanded the types of businesses that can reopen in his phased plan to reopen Texas. Today, salons, barbershops, and pools will join malls, movie theaters, retail stores, restaurants, museums, and libraries as those that can reopen their doors to limited numbers of customers. This development is a change from Abbott’s previous declaration that the state would wait two weeks before expanding which businesses can open. It is still expected that gyms, office buildings, and non-essential manufacturing facilities will open (with occupancy limitations) on May 18. Abbott also modified his previous order by allowing weddings with social distancing guidelines.

Commissioner Morath speaks at Gov. Abbott’s press conference, May 5, 2020.

Education Commissioner Mike Morath joined Abbott at his press conference Tuesday to talk about graduation ceremonies. Under Abbott’s orders, graduation ceremonies and grade promotion ceremonies must be approved by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and adhere to certain stipulations. Outdoor ceremonies are allowed in rural counties between May 15 and May 31, and only with social distancing protocols in place. On or after June 1, outdoor ceremonies will be allowed in any Texas county. TEA has also suggested other options such as hybrid ceremonies (where students are video-recorded receiving their diplomas one-by-one and these videos are stitched together for a virtual ceremony), all-virtual ceremonies, and vehicle-based parades and drive-in ceremonies. Perhaps you’ve heard (literally) of some districts already honoring their seniors through “honk lines” or seen yard signs popping up to celebrate graduating seniors. TEA has provided guidance on graduation ceremonies here.

Also this week, TEA updated its main coronavirus resource page on nearly every topic and added new superintendent debriefs. Among many other things, TEA has provided updates to the protocol for employees who are accessing school buildings, the FAQ on optional end-of-year assessments (which will NOT be used for accountability), and the educator certification and preparation FAQ (including answers to questions about probationary certificates, rescheduling cancelled tests, and continuing professional education requirements for educators), plus new guidance on school calendars and start dates for this fall. (Read more on this topic below.)

Yesterday, Commissioner Morath sent a response to ATPE’s April 2 letter asking for a statewide suspension of educator appraisals for the 2019-20 school year due to challenges associated with COVID-19. In his reply, Morath declined to issue a statewide order and stated that, ”The decision to pursue waivers of appraisal requirements is strictly a local decision.” ATPE has yet to receive a response to our joint letter with 17 other organizations regarding a moratorium on costly charter school expansion during the pandemic.

For more resources related to the pandemic, visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page, and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter.


Last week, we reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has allocated $180 million of the funding approved by Congress through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act for private school vouchers. In response, ATPE sent a letter in opposition of this development to every member of the Texas congressional delegation, including U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R) and Ted Cruz (R). In particular, ATPE asked for strong congressional oversight of this use of funds and for continued diligence regarding federal funding for vouchers in any future legislation passed by Congress.

At the state level, the Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, sent a letter this week to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to address recent suggestions made by Republican members of the Texas Senate Education Committee that the state should try to expand virtual school options in Texas, despite the data showing that virtual schools do not perform as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts.


ELECTION UPDATE: With all the coronavirus news, it’s easy to forget that another election is slowly creeping up on us. On July 14, Texans in various parts of the state will be able to vote in primary runoff elections to choose which candidates will be on the general election ballot this November.

The runoff elections were originally scheduled for May 26, but were postponed by Gov. Abbott over concerns about the safety of voters during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because the election has been postponed, many of the deadlines leading up to it have also been shifted. For example, the deadline for registering to vote in time to participate in the runoff elections is now June 15, 2020. Check out this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a list of important deadlines as we get closer to voting time.


One of the biggest questions on educators’ minds right now is what the return to school in the fall will look like. The variety in plans being contemplated by school districts for the 2020-21 school year was the topic of a recent article from the Texas Tribune, which ATPE republished here on our our Teach the Vote blog this week. Also this week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) provided updated guidance on start date and calendar changes to account for student learning loss and a potential resurgence in virus cases this fall.

In particular, the agency has suggested that districts can become Districts of Innovation (DOI) or add an amendment to their existing DOI plans to allow for an exemption from the law preventing schools from starting earlier than the fourth Monday in August. This exemption is already the most popular one among DOIs, as many districts prefer to start their school year earlier, insert more breaks throughout the year, and end the year later. TEA suggests that this format of an “intersessional” calendar could help to build in breaks that may be used for remediation of students who have fallen into a steep loss of learning on the “COVID slide.”

Other districts may choose to implement a year-round school calendar, which in many ways is easier than obtaining DOI approval. Under this route, districts need only obtain board approval for a new academic calendar and designation as a year-round system, and they must notify their Education Service Center PEIMS coordinator of their intent to operate through a year-round system.

TEA has also suggested using the flexibility in additional school days for elementary students as provided by House Bill (HB) 3 passed in 2019. HB 3 adds half-day formula funding for school systems that want to add up to 30 instructional days beyond the minimum of 180 days, but only for grades PK-5 and only after September 1, 2020.

Related: The COVID-19 pandemic has already dealt an enormous economic blow to our state, resulting in declining state revenue from oil and gas as well as sales taxes. This has many educators worrying about budget cuts next year. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter discussed the financial uncertainty with KXAN this week in this news story about how school districts in Central Texas are preparing for the future.


When SXSW EDU was abruptly cancelled back in March 2020, many in the education community were disappointed to miss the week-long learning event in Austin, Texas. Since then, SXSW EDU has gone virtual. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier attended this week’s virtual keynote address on growth mindset in education  The presentation, entitled “A Science of Human Motivation for the Next Decade,” is viewable here. Read Chevalier’s blog post about the session here.


ATPE member Morgan Castillo received an H-E-B Excellence in Education Teaching Leadership Award.

This week, ATPE member Morgan Castillo of Woodgate Intermediate School in Midway ISD received an H-E-B Excellence in Education Teaching Leadership Award. This award honors teachers with 10 to 20 years in the classroom. Castillo received a $10,000 award for herself and a $10,000 grant for her school. She was one of eight educator winners announced this week and chosen from a group of 40 finalists who received smaller cash awards earlier this year. Castillo and the other award recipients were recognized Tuesday during a virtual “Toast to Texas Teachers” organized by the #TeachersCan initiative as part of several Teacher Appreciation Week festivities.

ATPE has been featuring our “Work from Home Classroom Makeover Contest” during Teacher Appreciation Week. Visit ATPE’s Facebook page to view the entries and cast a vote for your favorite between now and May 13. Winners will be announced on May 15.

Texas election roundup: The long delay

Election politics is pretty much in a holding pattern across most of Texas as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Friday that the primary runoff elections for state and federal offices originally scheduled for May 26 will be postponed until July 14. This is the same date as the special runoff election for Senate District (SD) 14 to replace state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who announced his retirement from the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Speaking of the SD 14 race, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced this week she will push back her resignation in order to focus on the coronavirus response. Eckhardt had announced plans to resign her office, as she is legally required to do, in order to run for the SD 14 seat. Eckhardt is permitted to serve in her current office until a successor is sworn in, which in this case will be former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has also filed to run for the SD 14 seat.

Earlier this month, Gov. Abbott gave local political subdivisions (i.e. city councils, county governments, local school boards, etc.) the ability to postpone their elections to November 3 from their original May 2 uniform election date. According to TXElects.com, only a handful have formally delayed their local elections as of yet. While Georgetown and Fort Bend ISD are among those that have gone ahead and moved their elections, Waco and Waco ISD are considering sticking with the May 2 elections as scheduled. This has apparently created somewhat of a standoff in McLennan County, where the county elections administrator reportedly warned the city and school districts that the county would refuse to conduct the elections in May regardless of their decision.

The delays, coupled with local stay-at-home orders, have radically altered the campaign landscape in Texas. Many campaigns are suspending fundraising operations and focusing on community services. Most have put aside in-person campaigning in order to focus their resources online in order to reach people stuck in their homes. But while activity has ground down, it has certainly not stopped.

As candidates and officeholders continue to try shape their messaging in light of the current health crisis, they may be wise to consider the results of a national poll by Ragnar Research. First reported by the Quorum Report, the poll shows that 88% of Americans view the coronavirus outbreak as either “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” When sorted by political parties, 53% of Republicans said the coronavirus outbreak is “very serious,” compared to 83% of Democrats and 70% of independents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls the coronavirus outbreak a “serious public health risk.”

Other political pollsters are also continuing to survey the American public more broadly during this time of national crisis. According to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday, 34% believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 54% believe it is on the wrong track. At the same time, 48% of respondents approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while 46% disapprove. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of recent polls puts President Trump at -2.5% approval, or 47% approve to 49.5% disapprove.

It’s also easy to forget there is still a presidential primary underway to choose the Democrat who will face Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders won this month’s primary in Utah, while 12 other states and Puerto Rico have postponed their presidential primaries. Connecticut, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Delaware have moved their primary elections to June 2. With Joe Biden building an insurmountable delegate lead in the primary contest, the political forecasters at FiveThirtyEight.com have placed Biden at 98% odds to win the nomination. A Monmouth poll released Tuesday has Biden leading Trump by 3% if the election were held now.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 6, 2020

Election day was this week on Tuesday, March 3, and Texas is abuzz with the results. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has the scoop on what happened at the polls and other education news. Also happening this weekend: don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour on Sunday!



BREAKING NEWS: Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials held a press conference this afternoon to announce the decision to cancel the massive SXSW conference slated to begin next week amid concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus. Conference organizers quickly issued a statement indicating that they are exploring options for rescheduling the event and/or changing some of the programs to an online format. The cancellation also includes SXSW EDU, in which ATPE was slated to participate. We will report additional details about the cancellation as we learn them.

Meanwhile, school officials in Texas have been closely watching developments with the coronavirus. During an interview with the Texas Tribune on Friday, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath repeated that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to monitor the virus. TEA sent a memorandum to school administrators last Friday advising that the agency is monitoring media reports and information shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and working with other state agencies to provide guidance to local school districts. The memo included the following list of general practices that will help prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • If you’ve not already gotten one, a flu shot is encouraged.

Today, TEA sent updated correspondence to school districts offering guidance on dealing with students and staff who may travel over the spring break. TEA also used today’s letter to urge schools to deep clean and disinfect their facilities over the break.

According to news reports, a school district in San Antonio undertook a major cleaning of one of its elementary schools after learning that an employee of the school also worked in a local mall where an infected person reportedly visited. A spokesperson for Northside ISD told KSAT that the district took the step in order to “get ahead of false information.” In the Houston area, where a 70-year old Fort Bend man was diagnosed with the first local case of coronavirus, Pearland ISD announced this week that it would suspend perfect attendance rules for the remainder of the school year, as well as exam exemption criteria. Fort Bend ISD has not canceled any classes, and Fort Bend County has set up a hotline with information regarding the virus. Read more in this article from the Houston Chronicle.


ELECTION UPDATE: The percentage of voters who turned out during Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” was slightly lower than in the 2016 primary, with over 4 million casting votes. The number of voters in each party’s primary was split nearly 50-50.

In many races, Tuesday’s primary winner will be unopposed or face weak opposition in the November general election in November. Other races are headed to a runoff, including those of four incumbents in the state legislature. Read more on the results here.

Even if you didn’t vote in this primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff to make your voice heard on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, 2020, and early voting will begin May 18. Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources for educators. Also, remember that you can view candidate profiles and responses to ATPE’s candidate survey here on Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey.


On Wednesday, March 4, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the School Safety and Victims’ Services Research Survey, to be distributed to approximately 500,000 educators across Texas. Read more about the survey in this article from the Texas Tribune. A link to the survey, which is said to take 20 minutes to complete, will be sent directly to educators. The results will provide invaluable educator input regarding school safety and will inform policy at the state level. Be sure to weigh in on this important topic!

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also begun distribution of a voluntary survey aimed at high school counselors. School districts will receive the High School Counselor Survey and forward the link to their high school counselors in order to send information back to the TEA and the American Institutes for Research, “about the resources, activities, and tools that their teams use to assist students.” Read more about the High School Counselor survey from TEA here.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has announced a delay in changes that would reduce funding for many rural schools. Hundreds of rural schools around the country were facing funding cuts pursuant to a new federal interpretation of eligibility criteria for Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) grants. The department announced this week that it would postpone the change for at least another year, following criticism Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received from members of Congress. Read more in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is sharing examples of some new STAAR test questions. House Bill (HB) 3906 passed by the Texas legislature in 2019 eliminated the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. However, this change won’t take effect until Sept. 1, 2021, which means the grades 4 and 7 writing assessments will stay the same until the 2021-22 school year. Instead of standalone writing assessments, writing content will be assessed in the reading and language arts STAAR tests, as discussed below.

Sample STAAR revising and editing question, grade 4 (Source: TEA)

TEA will begin field-testing revising and editing questions on the reading/language arts STAAR test as part of the Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 assessments. These items will not impact accountability. To help educators understand what these new test questions will look like, the agency has released sample test questions such as the one pictured here.


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath spoke Friday, March 6, at a live event hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. In an interview with the Texas Tribune‘s Evan Smith, Commissioner Morath touched on several topics, including the state’s preparedness for dealing with the coronavirus and implementation of House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, staff lobbyists, and members of our marketing and communications department attended the event. During an audience Q&A portion of the interview, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter asked the commissioner about teacher preparation and certification in light of state laws that exempt many school districts and charter schools from the requirement to hire certified teachers. The the commissioner responded that he believes teachers should undergo “extraordinarily robust training.” Watch video of the full interview with Commissioner Morath here.


Texas primary election results for 2020

Texas held its Republican and Democratic primary elections yesterday, March 3, 2020. The “Super Tuesday” primaries brought out a record number of voters in parts of the state, with some voters reportedly waiting in line until after midnight to cast their votes.

Texas early voting turnout from Feb. 18-28 was slightly higher at 12.87% than early voting in the 2016 presidential primary. However, during these four years, Texas added 2 million voters to its rolls. The total turnout percentage during early voting and election day looks to be slightly lower than in 2016, with over 4 million Texans casting votes.

Some precincts in Texas have still not reported final numbers, and there have been discrepancies noted between the vote counts reported on the Secretary of State’s website and various county voter registrar’s totals, particularly for larger metro areas. As a result, some race results are still unknown, and some races are so close that a recount is nearly certain.

 

Federal races

The presidential race at the top of the ballot drew a number of voters, particularly on the Democratic side where multiple candidates have been vying to become the party’s nominee. Here in Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden earned the most votes, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Texas awards its delegates proportionally, so both candidates will benefit. On the Republican side, more than 94% of the votes predictably went to President Donald Trump. A crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking a place on the November ballot opposite Sen. John Cornyn (R), as well as some hotly contested congressional races also captured voters’ attention.

 

State Board of Education (SBOE)

In contested races for the State Board of Education (SBOE), results in the race for one open seat in central Texas raised eyebrows. In District 5, candidate Rebecca Bell-Metereau won the Democratic nomination, while the Republican primary resulted in a runoff between second-place finisher Lani Popp and controversial figure Robert Morrow, who earned the most votes despite barely mounting a campaign for the seat.

In District 6, another open seat, Democratic candidates Michelle Palmer and Kimberly McCleod are advancing to a runoff. Marsha Burnett-Webster earned the Democratic nomination for District 10, and in District 15, incumbent and former ATPE State President Sue Melton-Malone easily won the Republican primary.

 

 

“Winner take all” primaries

As we reported in our “Primary Colors” blog series last month, there were several Texas House races in which all candidates who filed to run for the seat were affiliated with the same political party, meaning there would be no remaining contest for the seat in November. Here are the unofficial results in those “winner take all” primaries:

  • House District (HD) 9 Republican primary: Rep. Chris Paddie with 77.8% of the vote easily defeated Mark Williams.
  • HD 30 Republican primary: Rep. Geanie Morrison earned 78.7% of the vote to defeat her challenger, Vanessa Hicks-Callaway.
  • HD 36 Democratic primary: Rep. Sergio Munoz garnered 68.2% of the vote, surviving another challenge by Abraham Padron.
  • HD 37 Democratic primary Rep. Alex Dominguez appears to have narrowly survived a challenge, earning 51.4% of the vote, just 340 votes more than his challenger, Amber Medina.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Rep. J.D. Sheffield was the second-place finisher in this three-person race that now heads to a runoff. Chellenger Shelby Slawson earned the most votes at 45.6%, followed by Sheffield’s 30.4%. Candidate Cody Johnson garnered 24.1% of the vote. The winner of the runoff will become the presumptive winner of the seat with no other candidates vying for it in November.
  • HD 72 Republican primary: With 87% of the vote, Rep. Drew Darby easily defeated challenger Lynette Lucas.
  • HD 76 Democratic primary: Claudia Ordaz Perez is the presumptive winner of this open seat. She earned 56.4% of the vote, compared to the 43.6% of votes that went to Elisa Tamayo.
  • HD 80 Democratic primary: Rep. Tracy King is headed for another term in the Legislature after earning 68.4% of the vote to beat repeat challenger Danny Valdez.
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil, who only became the incumbent in this district last month after winning a special election runoff, is facing yet another runoff. Birabil earned 29.2% of the vote in this crowded primary against five challengers. Second-place finisher Jasmine Crockett also made the runoff with 25.9% of the vote.
  • HD 131 Democratic primary: Also cruising to another term in the House is Rep. Alma Allen, who earned 78.9% of the vote against her two challengers, Carey Lashley and Elvonte Patton, who won 10.6% and 10.5% of the vote, respectively.
  • HD 141 Democratic primary: Rep. Senfronia Thompson unsurprisingly beat her challenger, Willie Roaches Franklyn, with 81% of the vote.
  • HD 147 Democratic primary: Finally, with 61.1% of the vote, Rep. Garnet Coleman survived a challenge by two candidates, Aurelia Wagner and Colin Ross, and will land another term in office.

 

Hot races

We also reported last week on our blog about a half dozen state legislative races deemed to be the “hottest” and most competitive in Texas, per the Texas Tribune. Here’s a look at how those hot Texas legislative races shook out last night:

  • In the Democratic primary for Senate District (SD) 27, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. faced off against two challengers: current SBOE member Ruben Cortez and attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera. Sen. Lucio almost won the primary outright, but with 49.8% of the vote, he’ll head to a runoff against Barrera, who earned 35.6% of the vote.
  • In the Republican primary for HD 2, Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) is facing a runoff with repeat challenger Bryan Slaton. Flynn earned 44.5% of the votes, compared to Slaton’s 35.2%. Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins was the third candidate in the race.
  • In the HD 59 Republican primary, Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) faced two challengers: Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. As we mentioned above, this race is headed to a runoff between Slawson and Sheffield. Since no other candidates filed to run for this seat, the winner of the runoff in May will become the winner of the seat.
  • The open seat being vacated by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) in HD 92 drew a number of candidates. In the Republican primary, the candidates were Jeff Cason, Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin. Cason won the Republican nomination outright with 54.1% of the vote, compared to Griffin’s 36.6% and Gillig’s 9.3%. In the Democratic primary, was a contest between and Jeff Whitfield was the winner with 56.2% of the vote, defeating Steve Riddell.
  • In HD 132, Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) will face a rematch in November against former representative Mike Schofield, after he earned 53% of the vote to defeat Angelica Garcia for the Republican party’s nomination.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston), who just won a special election for this seat in January, faced four different primary opponents: Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. Eastman earned 41.8% of the vote and is headed to runoff with Shaw, who earned 22.2%.

 

Runoffs

Below are the races in which no candidate earned a majority of the votes last night, leading the top two candidate to a runoff that will take place on May 26, 2020:

Texas Senate races headed to a runoff.

  • SD 19 Democratic primary: Xochil Peña Rodriguez vs. Rep. Roland Gutierrez
  • SD 27 Democratic primary: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. vs. Sara Stapleton Barrera

Texas House races headed to a runoff.

  • HD 2 Republican primary: Rep. Dan Flynn vs. Bryan Slaton
  • HD 25 Republican primary: Ro‘Vin Garrett vs. Cody Vasut
  • HD 26 Democratic primary: Suleman Lalani vs. Sarah DeMerchant
  • HD 26 Republican primary: Matt Morgan vs. Jacey Jetton
  • HD 45 Republican primary: Carrie Isaac vs. Kent “Bud” Wymore
  • HD 47 Republican primary: Jennifer Fleck vs. Don Zimmerman*
    *Zimmerman beat a third candidate, Justin Berry, by only a single vote, which means this race most likely will be subject to a recount.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Shelby Slawson vs. Rep. J.D. Sheffield
  • HD 60 Republican primary: Jon Francis vs. Glenn Rogers
  • HD 67 Democratic primary: Tom Adair vs. Lorenzo Sanchez
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil vs. Jasmine Crockett
  • HD 119 Democratic primary: Elizabeth “Liz” Campos vs. Jennifer Ramos
  • HD 138 Democratic primary: Akilah Bacy vs. Jenifer Rene Pool
  • HD 142 Democratic primary: Rep. Harold Dutton* vs. Jerry Davis.
    *The Secretary of State reported that Dutton won the primary outright, avoiding a runoff by only a single vote, but the numbers reported by the counties in this district were different. Further counts may be needed to verify the outcome of this one.
  • HD 148 Democratic primary: Rep. Anna Eastman vs. Penny Morales Shaw

 

 

Ballot propositions

The primary elections are also an opportunity for the state political parties to poll their voters on major issues in order to help shape the party’s platform. Both the Republican and Democratic party primaries included a set of these non-binding ballot propositions asking voters for their opinions. In the Democratic primary, voters overwhelmingly supported all 11 of the position statements set forth by the state party, covering topics ranging from healthcare to immigration. Republican primary voters similarly favored all 10 of the state GOP’s position statements on the ballot, which addressed such issues as school prayer and “taxpayer-funded lobbying.”

 

View complete election results from last night’s primaries on the Secretary of State’s website here, keeping in mind that the results remain unofficial and are still being verified and updated. ATPE thanks all those who voted in the primary election.

 

Primary Election Day 2020 is here. Go vote!

Today is “Super Tuesday,” the date of the 2020 primary election in Texas.

Polls are open until 7 p.m. tonight, and ATPE encourages all registered voters to get out and vote today!

Quick voting tips and reminders:

  • Know where to go vote today. Some counties offer countywide voting, which allows you to select from multiple locations. Other counties require you to vote in your precinct’s assigned polling location. Find out where you can vote on Election Day by entering your information here.
  • Texas has open primaries, meaning that you can choose to vote in either the Republican or Democratic party primary election today. Your choice of a primary will not affect your ability to vote for any candidate on the ballot, regardless of party affiliation, in the November general election.
  • Use Vote411.org to print out a customized ballot to take with you to the polls. (You can’t use your cell phone inside the voting booth!)
  • Learn what to expect at your polling place today. Click here for ATPE’s tips on various balloting systems in use around Texas and more.
  • Don’t forget about the photo ID requirements for voting. Also, check out VoteTexas.gov for additional voting tips.
  • View profiles of the candidates running for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote. Learn where they stand on education issues based on their voting records, responses to our candidate survey, and other information.
  • Preview the non-binding ballot propositions that the state Republican and Democratic parties are asking their voters to weigh in on during this election. Learn more in this Teach the Vote blog post.

ATPE’s lobby team will be reporting on the Texas election results tomorrow on our blog. In the meantime, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual lobbyists on Twitter for updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 28, 2020

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already had your close-up with the ballot box or plan to vote on March 3, catch up on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Today, Feb. 28, is the last day of early voting. Voter turnout has been steady in the state’s largest counties. Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. For the latest news on races in Texas, check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’ “election roundup” blog post.

If you haven’t made it to the polls yet, we’re bringing it back to basics to get you vote-ready.

    • WHO? Visual learner? Watch this video to learn how to view candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details. It’s not too late!
    • WHAT? We’ve received many questions about the party-based, non-binding propositions that are on your primary ballot. Learn more about these philosophical statements proposed by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties in this Teach the Vote blog post. These measures won’t change the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues.
    • WHERE? Use Vote411.org to find your polling location and build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You won’t be able to use your phone inside the voting booth.)
    • WHEN? Today or March 3! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources created for educators.
    • WHY? Did you know that some races are determined entirely by the primaries? Read more about why it is important to vote in the primaries in Part I and Part II of Teach the Vote’s “Primary Colors” blog series.
    • HOW? Get the scoop on how to vote, including guidance on new balloting systems in use in many polling places. Click here for tips!

Want even more? Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020 and find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org. As you’re researching candidates and building your ballot, check out video of the recent candidate forums conducted around the state by Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the candidates’ views on public education.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has released the federal teacher shortage areas for Texas in 2020-21, which are largely consistent with those listed in 2018-19 and 2019-20. These include Pre-K-12 bilingual education, special education, and computer science, plus 7-12 career and technical education and mathematics. Since 2019-20, computer science as a shortage area has been expanded from only at the secondary level to covering all grades, likely reflecting career and technical needs across the country in our changing economy. The nationwide teacher shortage areas have implications for federal loan forgiveness and deferment options.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat before the U.S. House Appropriations education, health, and labor subcommittee to defend President Donald Trump’s education budget proposal, which we wrote about here on Teach the Vote. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that members of Congress questioned the secretary on several issues, including spending and scandals associated with charter schools, discipline practices for vulnerable students, concerns about child vaping, and the mechanics of the proposed consolidation of 29 federal programs into one block grant. Secretary DeVos defended much of the proposal by stating that the department’s intent is to give more spending freedom and flexibility to states.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Feb. 27, 2020 (Source).

Much of the hearing was devoted to criticism and defense of the proposed “Education Freedom Scholarships” and the civil rights risk associated with the department’s lack of commitment to ensuring non-discrimination. DeVos insisted that, because the scholarship program would be administered through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the voucher-like tax credit was not federal funding. This would free the program from being tied to federal protections for students such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it seemed apparent that many committee members understood this impact. View video of the hearing here.


The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conducted a survey of Texas public school districts on salaries during the fall of the 2019-20 school year. Just under half (49%) of districts responded, representing 84% of the estimated teacher population in Texas. According to respondents, the median starting salary for a new teacher is $44,000. This increase of 7.3% from 2018-19 is largely due to the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and represents a one-time bump in salaries unless the Texas legislature increases the public school basic allotment again. A similar superintendent survey conducted by TASB showed a 3.1% increase in the average superintendent’s salary from 2018-19. See the full TASB teacher compensation survey for more information, including stipend trends and substitute pay. In both surveys, educators who work in larger districts were shown to receive higher pay.


In December 2019, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reviewed Part I of a recent readability study of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Mandated by the Legislature as part of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3, the findings in Part I left many questions unanswered. Chevalier reports that with the recent release of Part II, the study is now complete, but it still leaves us wondering if STAAR tests are written at the appropriate grade-level, as the results are mostly the same as in Part I.

Using 2020 STAAR assessments, researchers found that 99.5% of test items were aligned to the TEKS curriculum standards. As in Part I, researchers could not answer if items were at a grade-appropriate readability level due to a lack of confidence in methods and analysis. Lastly, the passage readability results were mixed, with researchers reporting multiple methods of analysis that lead to different conclusions.

Because this non-peer-reviewed study is entirely inconclusive on item readability and presents unclear results on passage readability, many questions remain as to the appropriateness of the use of STAAR in high-stakes decisions. As noted by Chevalier, if a student cannot understand a question because it uses vocabulary outside the scope of the student’s common knowledge, the child cannot be expected to answer it correctly.


Texas Senate Finance committee meets Feb. 25, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee met in Austin this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that among other agenda items, the interim hearing included a review of the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. The committee has been charged during the interim with making recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income for the state.

The committee also added to its agenda an examination of the long-term facility plans of TRS, including specifically examining the facility space costs of housing TRS’s Investment Management Division. TRS Executive director Brian Guthrie delivered two presentations to the board: the first on TRS investment strategies and the second on long-term space planning for the agency.


Texas election roundup: Last chance to vote early!

Friday, Feb. 28, is the last chance to vote early in the 2020 Texas primary elections, so make plans to vote before 7 pm Friday if you’d like to avoid the long lines we’re expecting to see on Election Day, March 3.

Our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to remind you that by voting, you pick the people who decide how much to fund public schools; how much the state will rely on standardized testing; whether to use A-F ratings and how grades are determined; how much to fund teacher pay, healthcare, and retirement; and whether to invest in our schools or privatize them. You can be a voice at the polls for the over 5.4 million kids in Texas public schools, most of whom are not old enough to vote, model good citizenship for students, move Texas up from being last (or almost last) in voter turnout, strengthen democracy by being an engaged citizen, exert your power at the polls, and practice what you preach — if first grade students are learning the importance of voting, you should, too!

According to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s website, as of the fifth day of early voting, 322,541 Texans had voted in Texas’ top 10 counties for voter registrations. News outlets report that figure as an increase of 30.7% from the number who had voted by the fifth day of early voting in the 2016 primaries.

Statewide 1,394,488 Texans had cast a ballot by Feb 26, the eighth day of early voting, including 762,290 Republicans primary voters and 632,198 Democratic primary voters.  Texas election data researcher Derek Ryan found that, 20% of those who voted in the Democratic primary through day eight of early voting had voted in a previous general election but were likely voting in a primary for the first time. The share of likely first-time primary voters is greater than Democrats saw in 2018 (18%) and in 2016 (17%). In the Republican primary, 12% of early voters this year had voted in a general election but not in a recent primary. So far, slightly more men than women have voted in the Republican primary, while more women than men have voted in the Democratic primary this time around.

On Feb. 26, the Texas Tribune updated its “hot list” of the most competitive Texas primary races. There are 20 Texas House districts on the list, including five races that earned the distinction of being listed among the “hottest” races in the state. Those five are as follows:

  • In House District (HD) 2, the Republican primary features incumbent Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) being challenged by Bryan Slaton and Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins. Slaton challenged Rep. Flynn in the 2018 primary and nearly defeated him.
  • In HD 59, the Republican primary is between incumbent Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) and challengers Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. Rep. Sheffield, a physician, has been endorsed by pro-public education groups like Texas Parent PAC and received campaign contributions from a number of medical associations. Johnson has loaned his own campaign over $1 million as of his last ethics filing.
  • The crowded race to replace infamous Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), who is not running for re-election in HD 92, has contested primaries on both sides of the aisle. In what has become a closely watched swing district, both parties hope to put forth the candidate who will ultimately prevail in November. The Republican primary candidates are Jeff Cason, who also ran for the seat in 2018 and is one of relatively few candidates to be endorsed this year by Empower Texans; Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin, who received endorsements from Texas Parent PAC and Gov. Greg Abbott. The Democratic primary is a contest between Steve Riddell, who came close to toppling Stickland in 2018, and Jeff Whitfield, whom the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram endorsed. There are also two third-party candidates who will be on the ballot in November.
  • In the Republican primary in HD 132, former Rep. Mike Schofield faces Angelica Garcia. Each candidate is vying to unseat freshman Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) in November. Rep. Calanni defeated then-incumbent Schofield in 2018, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat that year.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, newly elected Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) is defending the seat she won just last month in a special election. Her primary challengers include Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. While Eastman is now the incumbent, former Rep. Jessica Farrar, who resigned from the seat after last session, is backing Morales Shaw. A Republican challenger who also ran in the special election will be on the ballot in November, too.

Also of note is the sole Texas Senate race to make the Texas Tribune‘s hot list. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a 30-year incumbent, is facing two challengers in the Democratic primary in Senate District 27. One is State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville)., who also received an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, and the other is Brownsville lawyer Sara Stapleton Barrera.

A new presidential poll released this week by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by Progress Texas shows Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden tied at 24% as the top choice of Texas Democrats. Michael Bloomberg follows at 17%, with Elizabeth Warren at 14%, and Pete Buttigieg at 10%.

With early voting coming to close, ATPE encourages everyone to take a moment to research the races in their local districts and go vote!