Tag Archives: 85th legislature

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.

Education investment: The key to real tax relief

Mortgage calculator. House, noney and document.If there’s one thing most Texans can agree on, it’s that property taxes are too dang high.

What gets dicey is trying to sort through the myriad schemes put forth in the last few years by state lawmakers trying to cut local taxes over which they have little direct control. They’ve proposed tweaks to the rollback rate, increased the homestead exemption, and filed bills targeting local appraisal districts. That’s a lot of work by a lot of smart people you’ve sent to Austin with your tax dollars.

So.

Does your tax bill look any better?

In 2013, the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy ranked Texas as having the 15th highest per capita property tax in the country. Despite our high property taxes, Texas ranks 45th in overall K-12 education spending and 49th in adjusted per-pupil expenditures, according to our performance on the “Quality Counts” state report card from Education Week.

Why is that?

Speaking to a joint hearing of the House Public Education and Appropriations Committees in September 2016, outgoing Appropriations Chairman John Otto (R-Dayton), put it simply. “The burden is shifting to the locals,” he said.

According to the Legislative Budget Board, local school spending, as approved by local voters and their elected school boards, increased 34 percent from 2008 to 2015. During the same period, the amount the state spent on local schools increased by just 4.8 percent.

The school finance relationship is like a see-saw, with state funds on one side and local tax dollars on the other. When state spending goes down, local school districts have to raise taxes in order to fund services at the same level. This year, the state will pay 38 percent of the cost to fund schools, while the burden that falls to local property owners will be 52 percent.

Under the state’s recapture rules for maintaining equity in our school finance system, those local taxes you pay are also tied to school districts all over the state. That means in cities with high property values such as Austin and now Houston, a significant chunk of local property tax revenue must be shipped out of town to help fulfill the state’s obligation to maintain funding equity in other districts.

The total amount of transfers under recapture – commonly referred to by some as “Robin Hood” – has grown to $2 billion, with Austin ISD accounting for $583 million of recaptured funds in 2016. The math works out to 28 percent of statewide recapture falling on the shoulders of local taxpayers in Austin alone.

This week, the House and Senate each submitted their proposals for the 2018-19 state budget, and financial wonks are still crunching the numbers to determine whether either plan would effectively fund school services at current levels. Both claim to do so.

What we do know is that in the House plan, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has proposed an additional $1.5 billion boost in education funding “contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system.”

If legislators are serious about reducing local property taxes, this is where it starts. It’s simple math.

Back to the see-saw: The only way to achieve meaningful property tax relief is for the state to assume more responsibility for the share of school funding it has passed on to you through local property taxes. Any other proposals you hear – and you will hear plenty – are empty measures meant to delay your outrage over your property tax bill for another two years.

In a December 2016 column, The Texas Tribune’s executive editor Ross Ramsey concluded, “Had the state kept its share of school funding constant for the past 10 years, voters might not be griping about rising property taxes.”

Tired of griping? Then let’s get serious. By boosting state investment along with taking a real shot at reforming the school finance system, the House is on the right track. We’ll find out if the rest of the legislature is serious as well.

Texas Senate committee assignments for the 85th legislature

Lt. Governor Dan Patrick released his Senate committee assignments yesterday for the 85th Legislature.

As expected, Senator Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) will continue to chair the Senate Education Committee, and Senator Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) will continue to serve as vice-chair. Senators Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carols Uresti (D-San Antonio) were added to the committee in lieu of Senators Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso) who served on the committee last session but were not reappointed. The number of committee members stays the same, but the balance of power is tilted further toward Republicans who picked up a seat while Democrats lost one. Senators Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), Van Taylor (R-Plano), and Royce West (D-Dallas) make up the remainder of the committee.

The Senate State Affairs Committee, which is expected to receive Lt. Gov. Patrick’s priority Senate Bill (SB) 13 to ban payroll deduction for educators, also maintains a chair in Senator Joan Huffman (R-Houston), but newly elected Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) will take over as vice-chair. Chairwoman Huffman is the author of SB 13 and authored and passed out of her committee the same bill last session.

View all of the Senate committee assignments here.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 13, 2017

The 85th legislative session began this week. Here are highlights from the week:


Tuesday marked the opening of the 85th legislative session. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided a report on the first day’s activities, including the unanimous election of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) will preside once again and is actively pursuing a number of controversial priorities he wants lawmakers to enact this session. Patrick’s 2017 wish list includes private school vouchers, naturally, and politically motivated bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues.

Failing grade wrinkledOne thing that won’t be on the Senate’s agenda, according to Patrick, is repealing the “A through F” rating system that sparked outrage when school districts got a recent preview of how they might be graded when the system takes effect next year. In a pair of public speeches on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor insisted that A-F is “not going away” and seemed almost giddy about Ds and Fs being slapped on the same school districts that have “met standards” in the current accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more about the reactions to A-F in today’s blog post.

The news from the state capitol wasn’t all negative this week. On Thursday, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) held a press conference to announce a bill, Senate Bill (SB) 463, to permanently extend the now temporary law on graduation committees. The committees create graduation pathways for students who cannot pass all STAAR tests but are otherwise qualified to move on post-secondary life. Seliger authored the original bill creating the committees in 2015, which ATPE strongly supported.

We encourage ATPE members who are interested in these issues to use our new grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to learn more about what’s at stake, follow related bills as the session continues, and send messages to their lawmakers.

Related: Check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s Jan. 12, 2017 editorial in the Austin American-Statesman about vouchers and why running public education like a business is a bad idea.

 


As one of the Texas’s largest areas of expenditure, the public education budget is frequently a target for possible budget cuts, and this session will be no exception, unfortunately.

On the eve of the 85th legislature’s first day in Austin, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate (BRE) Monday. The BRE reflects a forecast of future revenues and economic trends for the next two years, and it provides the budgeting framework within which lawmakers have to operate this legislative session. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog on Monday, the $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending is less than we need and will force lawmakers to prioritize. The hard decisions on those priorities are a stark reminder that elections have consequences.

cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundEarlier this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that has long supported education reforms like privatization, merit pay for teachers, deregulation, and limiting spending. In addition to boasting of the success of “A through F” accountability ratings as a means to a voucher end, Patrick pointed to healthcare and education as areas of the state budget that would be ripe for cuts. If talk of education budget cuts by the state’s second highest ranking elected official don’t alarm you already during this first week of the session, consider also that Patrick’s remark sparked a roomful of applause at the TPPF gathering.

As Mark stated in his blog post, “Get ready to tighten your belts.”

 


The United States Capitol building

The 115th Congress continued its second week of business this week, one that was originally slated to include the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to conduct the confirmation hearing for billionaire and alt-school-choice supporter Betsy DeVos on Wednesday, but announced late Monday that the hearing had been postponed for a week “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Calls for the postponement of confirmation hearings had surfaced after news broke that the Office of Government Ethics had not completed its ethics reviews for many of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos. The hearing on her nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Education is now scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 4 PM CST.

Read more about the start of the 115th Congress and the DeVos hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week. Kate’s post has been updated to include information on a letter that ATPE sent this week to the two newest members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. The letters welcome Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R) of Lubbock and Vicente Gonzalez (D) of McAllen to Congress and highlight ATPE’s top federal policy goals, namely the passage of Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security.

While the Department of Education (ED) awaits the appointment of a new boss, it is looking for qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. The peer review process is required by law and serves to provide recommendations that will inform ED as it reviews states’ plans. ED is looking for teachers, principals or other school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among other qualified educators to serve. Learn more about the peer review process, ED’s call for qualified reviewers, and how to apply here.

 


Monty testifying at a TEA hearingAs we have reported recently on Teach the Vote, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is proposing significant changes to the performance standards for STAAR tests. A public hearing was held today to give stakeholders another chance to weigh in on plans to accelerate a jump in the cut scores. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at today’s hearing with concerns about the proposal. He’ll have a blog post coming up soon with more on the proposed rules and why they are drawing negative reactions from parents, teachers, and school district officials.

 


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members still have a few weeks left to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event set for March 5-6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. There is no registration fee to attend, and incentive funds are available to help defray travel costs. The deadline to register and reserve hotel rooms at our special group rate is Feb. 3. Visit Advocacy Central on the ATPE website (member login is required) to view all the details, including news about our speakers and panelists.

 


 

And so begins the tenure of the 85th Texas Legislature…

ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Today marked the first official day of the 85th legislative session. At noon today, 181 legislators were sworn in before their families and other invited guests in their respective chambers. In the upper chamber, Senator Kel Seliger (R) of Amarillo was elected President pro tempore, while across the rotunda, Representative Joe Straus (R) of San Antonio was re-elected to his fifth consecutive term as Speaker of the House.

In a dramatic show of strength, Speaker Straus was elected by a vote of 150 to 0. He is now tied with Gib Lewis and Pete Laney as the longest serving Speaker in Texas history. In his comments today, Speaker Straus called on his fellow House members to be thoughtful with tax dollars but also smart with regulation, doing their part to ensure that the legislature creates a government that works. In his remarks on crafting education policy this session, the Speaker called on legislators to partner with teachers and not treat them as adversaries.

For the sake of educators and schoolchildren alike, we hope the sentiment of cooperation with the state’s teachers prevails over the remaining 139 days of the 85th legislative session. Either way, your ATPE lobby team will be here every step of the way to report back on what the legislature is doing with regard to public education and to represent you with passion and professionalism at your Texas capitol. We encourage you to join us in our efforts by talking to your own lawmakers about ATPE’s legislative priorities. ATPE members can use our convenient grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to track the progress of bills, send messages to lawmakers, and even receive mobile updates. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more as the legislative session continues.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was at the Capitol to welcome legislators back for the start of the 85th legislative session.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was at the Capitol to welcome legislators back for the start of the 85th legislative session.

Rep. Dan Huberty shows off a celebratory cookie he received during a visit from Humble ATPE’s Gayle Sampley on opening day of the 85th legislature.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 9, 2016

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s been a busy education news week. Here are highlights:


ThinkstockPhotos-462761867Groups looking to ban educators from using payroll deduction have a newly filed bill, and school employees concerned about this need to speak up now! The move is part of a national effort to try to weaken unions and professional associations like ATPE that advocate for public employees. Here in Texas, efforts to ban payroll deduction are taking direct aim at the education community, apparently in response to our outspoken opposition to private school vouchers and other reforms favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and others.

Patrick has identified prohibiting payroll deduction for “collection of union dues” as one of his top priorities for the upcoming legislative session, reserving a low bill number (Senate Bill 13) for the yet-to-be-filed legislation in the Senate. On the House side, Houston-area Rep. Sarah Davis (R) pre-filed House Bill 510 this week to prohibit the use of payroll deduction for educators’ voluntary association dues. The bill exempts police, firefighters, and EMS workers, allowing them to continue to take advantage of the safety and convenience of payroll deduction, but punishes educators who choose to join professional associations by denying them the same rights.

ATPE is urging members to contact their legislators right away and ask them to oppose these politically charged bills that would serve no purpose other than to further devalue the education profession and attempt to silence the voices of teachers. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and use our new communication tools for members at ATPE’s Advocacy Central to take action today.

17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenRelated content:  While you’re visiting Advocacy Central, check out the details on ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day and political involvement training event in March. Registration is open now, and there is no registration fee for ATPE members to attend the event. This is a great opportunity to learn more about grassroots advocacy and meet with your lawmakers to discuss saving payroll deduction and other ATPE legislative priorities for 2017.


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today for its last meeting of 2016. After more than a year of meetings dedicated to revising rule chapters that pertain to educator preparation and certification, among other issues, the board’s agenda was notably shorter and involved very few action items.

On today’s agenda was a presentation from former Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson on the work of the Texas Teacher Preparation Collaborative; a discussion on developing a certification specific to early childhood education; and an update on the principal and teacher satisfaction surveys that are used to hold educator preparation programs (EPPs) accountable. The only actions taken by the board, aside from rulings on individual disciplinary cases, was adoption of the board’s legislative priorities and approval of EPP monitors. Board members also adopted three legislative priorities: expand reporting requirements on educator misconduct to principals, expand outcome-based accountability to EPPs, and consider other options for demonstrating proficiency with regard to educator certification reciprocity for educators coming from other states and countries.

Kuhlmann_SBEC_12-9-16

Kate Kuhlmann testifying at SBEC, Dec. 9, 2016

On the second priority, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at this morning’s meeting and successfully argued to remove some original language that would have specifically encouraged the use of teacher evaluation results to hold EPPs accountable. Board members understood our concerns that such a move would affect the confidentiality of appraisals, which are meant to serve as an informative and developmental tool for educators. Kuhlmann testified that, among other concerns, the formative nature of appraisals at the local level could be undermined if confidentiality of those results were compromised by legislative changes. To hear the full discussion on any of these topics or others discussed today, access an archived webcast of the meeting here.

The board welcomed two new members recently appointed by Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX). Dr. Scott Ridley, the Dean of the College of Education at Texas Tech University, and Tommy Coleman, a citizen member of the board who works as an assistant district attorney for the Polk County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, were sworn in before today’s meeting. Gov. Abbott also recently appointed Carlos Villagrana to serve in the non-voting role dedicated to a representative of an alternative certification program. Mr. Villagrana is the Director of the Alternative Educator Preparation Program at YES Prep Public Schools. He was not present for today’s meeting.

Related content:  The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released the latest version of its Teacher Prep Review this week. This go around, NCTQ decided to analyze programs based on their program type (as opposed to grouping them all together like in previous reports) in an effort to offer a more apples-to-apples comparison of data. The report released this week focuses only on 875 undergraduate elementary programs throughout the country. Two of the top rated undergraduate elementary programs, which all scored in the top 99 percentile, hail from Texas: Texas A&M University and the University of Houston. Learn more about the report here, and watch for future reports on the various program types beginning in Spring 2017.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) invited legislative staff and stakeholders to a briefing this week on its actuarial valuation reports for the period ending Aug. 31, 2016. The presentation also included data on the healthcare plans administered by TRS for active and retired educators. TRS officials reported that the pension fund earned a return of 7.3 percent in 2015-16 and ended the 2016 fiscal year at a market value of $134 billion compared to a market value of $128.5 billion in the previous fiscal year.

ThinkstockPhotos-177774022-doc

While the pension fund investment returns are in good shape, there are more serious concerns about funding for TRS-Care and ActiveCare. This week’s briefing highlighted the fact that TRS-Care is not pre-funded and is facing a shortfall of between $1,088 million and $1,294 million by the end of the 2018-19 biennium. As we have previously reported on our blog, lawmakers are recommending dramatic changes to the design of the health benefit plans.

Learn more about the current status of the funds in these new reports supplied by TRS:

 


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Department of Education (ED) finalized its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) rules pertaining to assessments this week. The assessment rules were much less contentious than some of the other rules released by the department, with stakeholders who served as negotiators coming to agreement on the contents of the rule. ATPE submitted comments on the rules during the comment period, supporting the innovative assessment pilot and encouraging the use of sample testing. Our comments were taken and included, in part, in the final innovative assessment pilot rules. You can read ATPE’s comments and learn more about the rulemaking process for assessments here.

As we have previously discussed, the future of ESSA rulemaking remains very unpredictable at this point. When President-elect Trump and his administration take office in January, they will have the ability to carry on with the policies of the Obama administration, forgo them altogether, or pursue some combination of these options.

 


The 12th annual Friends of Texas Public Schools (FOTPS) gala took place Wednesday evening, Dec. 7, in Waco, TX. ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz contributed this report on the event.

ATPE leaders, volunteers, and staff members were honored to be a part of the FOTPS annual celebration where education allies were honored for their outstanding work supporting the Texas public education system. Three major awards were handed out at the event, which was held at Baylor University’s Baylor Club, located inside McLane Stadium. Those attending the event as part of the ATPE delegation were State President Julleen Bottoms, Region 12 Director Jason Forbis, Region 12 President Patty Reneau, Corsicana ATPE member Suzanne Waldrip, Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, Regional Representative Ginger Franks, Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Exter.

The Friend of the Year Award is FOTPS’s highest award and is bestowed to individuals and organizations who step up as champions for those who work and learn in our Texas public schools. The award went to Texans Advocating for Meaningful Student Assessment (TAMSA) for their continued activism to reduce the state’s overreliance on high-stakes standardized testing. Their work has been instrumental in bringing awareness to the amount of time our students spend on standardized tests and the limited time that is actually left for instruction. During the last two legislative sessions, TAMSA has been a leader in advocating for a reduction in tests, helping to bring the number of required state tests from 15 down to five.

Also recognized that evening were Pamela & Rep. Gary VanDeaver who received the Ambassador of the Year Award. This award was established to highlight the efforts of an educator stepping up as a champion for the Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver and his wife are no strangers to the public education system having both worked as career educators and been an instrumental voice for the 5.3 million children who currently attend Texas public schools. Rep. VanDeaver’s work on behalf of public education during the last legislative session was relentless, and we look forward to working with him again during the 85th session. Their passion to serve our schoolchildren is inspiring!

Last but not least, the Founder’s Distinguished Service Award went to the Texas Education Service Centers for their outstanding work and support for the continued success of Texas public schools. The 20 Education Service Centers have tirelessly served public schools for the past 50 years by providing vital services that enable each district to educate students in an effective and efficient manner.

Congratulations to all of the honorees for their outstanding work!

FOTPS_2016

ATPE’s representatives at the FOTPS gala on Dec. 7, 2016, in Waco


 

Guest post: Special education issues facing the 85th legislature

Janna_TCASE_Nov16_cropped

Janna Lilly

by Janna Lilly, Director of Govermental Relations
Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE)

Special education issues are once again expected to be hot topics in the upcoming Texas Legislative Session including vouchers, special education identification, and (yes, again) cameras.

Vouchers

The lieutenant governor has been very vocal that passing voucher legislation is one of his key priorities. TCASE opposes subsidizing private schools with public funds through vouchers or voucher-like programs such as taxpayer savings plans or scholarship credits. Vouchers are particularly harmful for students with disabilities. Private schools are not required to accept or even appropriately serve students with disabilities. Private schools are not required provide the legal protections mandated by federal and state laws to protect the rights and interests of students with disabilities.

Special education identification

Currently the state’s Performance Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS) gives districts a grade or performance level based on an 8.5 percent standard that has come under recent scrutiny in the media. As a result, at least one bill has already been filed to prohibit the Texas Education Agency (TEA) from evaluating districts based on their percentage of students with disabilities.

TCASE recommends TEA continue to provide districts with identification data in PBMAS, but remove the 8.5 percent standard and the corresponding performance level assignment. This would provide necessary information to the state and districts without the reality or perception of a punitive system.

While there are a multitude of state systems designed to gather data on special education, minimal statewide data systems exist to identify the often extensive interventions provided with general education supports only. TCASE recommends the agency develop further statewide data systems to acknowledge these efforts and identify the potential impact on student growth and achievement.

Cameras

Senate Bill (SB) 507 passed last session requiring cameras in certain special education classrooms. The TEA asked the Texas Attorney General (AG) for clarification on several pieces of the law. The AG issued his opinion strictly interpreting the bill, primarily saying one request means cameras must be installed in all eligible classrooms across the district regardless of the bill’s authors stating their intent was that one request applied to one classroom. The AG told lawmakers they would need to change the bill in the next session if they meant something different from what was passed. Lawmakers are drafting bills expected to address some of the concerns including clarifying that one request triggers a camera in a single classroom versus the entire district. Currently, some districts are installing cameras in single classrooms, while some are reporting installing cameras or equipment in all eligible classrooms. Districts are also reporting significant costs associated with the law’s six-month archiving requirement. Community advocates are expected to want some changes of their own, like expanding venues for disagreement beyond the school board including potentially even the ability to file suit. TCASE believes the bill’s current grievance remedies are sufficient, one request should apply to one classroom, and that next legislative session should appropriate funds to cover this unfunded mandate.