Tag Archives: Achievement School District

Vouchers gain attention during School Choice Week and heading into March primaries

School Choice Week is being observed around the country this week and putting private school voucher proposals back in the spotlight.

In Congress

In Washington, D.C., the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce was slated to hold a hearing on school choice on Jan. 26, but the meeting was postponed because of Winter Storm Jonas. Now, the committee’s hearing entitled “Expanding Educational Opportunity Through School Choice” will take place on Feb. 3 in the nation’s capital.

Legislative activity in other states

Meanwhile, “school choice” and privatization bills are on the move right now in several states. A Tennessee House committee voted on Tuesday, Jan. 26, to approve a private school voucher bill and send it to the full Tennessee House for consideration. It’s reported to be the most progress voucher supporters have made in that state in many years. The bill is being called an “Opportunity Scholarship Act” and would provide vouchers to students primarily in inner-city schools that are struggling to meet academic standards. In North Carolina, legislators are weighing a bill to set up a statewide Achievement School District (ASD) for schools in the state that are struggling. The ASD schools would be run by private, for-profit charter operators with a state-appointed superintendent. The ASD concept has already been tried without much success in New Orleans and Tennessee, and we’ve seen similar proposals to create an ASD in Texas during the last two legislative sessions that did not pass. Indiana’s legislature is debating a bill to expand an existing voucher program in that state, while the Commonwealth of Virginia is looking into the possibility of “education savings accounts,” under which parents could access state funds to pay for their children to attend private or home schools. The Virginia bill is similar to one that was filed in Texas last year by Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas).

What’s at stake in Texas

The determination of voucher supporters to pursue legislation in other states reminds us of the privatization battles we can expect to face in 2017 when the 85th Texas Legislature meets. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) told a pro-privatization crowd earlier this month that school choice will be one of his top priorities for the 2017 legislative session. As reported by The Texas Tribune, the lieutenant governor “vowed to pass a bigger and better tax credit scholarship program — and possibly other school choice legislation — out of the Senate in 2017.”

During the last Texas legislative session, the Senate passed a voucher bill that died in the House. Senate Bill (SB) 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) called for giving tax credits to “educational assistance organizations” that would pay “scholarships” for students to attend private schools. (Several other pieces of legislation originated in the Texas Senate in 2015 that called for giving tuition grants and vouchers directly to parents.) The Senate passed SB 4 last year by a vote of 18-12. Fortunately, the bill did not get heard in the House.

Of the 18 state senators who voted for vouchers in 2015, only one (Senate District 27’s Sen. Eddie Lucio) has a primary opponent this year, while two others are giving up their seats creating a pair of high-profile open races:

  • In Senate District 1, four candidates who are all Republicans are vying for the office, meaning that the Republican primary will determine the winner of this crucial contest and there will be no contested race in November. The candidates in the east Texas race are current state representatives Bryan Hughes and David Simpson, joined by “Red” Brown and Mike Lee.
  • Over in Senate District 24, six Republican candidates have filed to run: Brent MayesDawn BuckinghamJon CobbReed WilliamsRyan Downton, and current state representative Susan King. While there is also one Democrat, Jennie Lou Leeder, in the race, Senate District 24 is drawn in a manner that favors a Republican candidate and makes it likely that this spring’s Republican primary will determine the ultimate winner of this race, too.

As you can see, the public education community’s success defeating all varieties of vouchers next session will depend largely on the outcomes of the upcoming elections, and especially the Republican primary election taking place on March 1. ATPE strongly encourages you to use our 2016 Races search page to look up profiles of the legislative candidates in your area, find out where they stand on vouchers and privatization, and vote for pro-public education candidates in March.

ATPE opposes controversial change to superintendent certification rule; submits formal input to SBEC

For the past two months we have regularly reported on the State Board for Educator Certification’s preliminary decision to water down superintendent certification standards in Texas, which would remove the requirement that superintendents first obtain two years of classroom teaching experience, among other crucial qualifications, for some superintendent candidates. Today, ATPE submitted formal comments on behalf of our more than 100,000 educators across the state opposing the controversial plan.

Background:SBEC

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) took the preliminary vote and advanced the proposal in August, despite testimony from ATPE that stressed our members’ belief that classroom teaching experience, in addition to managerial experience and a strong educational background, is a critical contributing factor to the success of an administrator. The hybrid proposal advanced by the board was instigated by two stakeholder groups, one consisting of members from the education community and one consisting of those in business. Each group essentially created a new pathway to becoming a superintendent: substituting education specific managerial experience for principal certification and substituting business experience for principal certification and a master’s degree, respectively. Under the latter pathway presented by representatives of the business community, a district’s board of trustees would be given blanket authority to hire a non-traditional superintendent without proof to parents, school personnel, and taxpayers why such a candidate is otherwise qualified. Ultimately, both pathways were included in the proposed revisions.

Rationale and excerpts of ATPE’s written comments on the proposed rule change:

ATPE’s formal comments submitted today to SBEC again stressed the need for superintendents to bring well-rounded experience to the job, including experience teaching in the classroom, managerial experience, and an advanced educational background:

“ATPE members and educators at all levels across the state support the need for teaching experience prior to obtaining a superintendent certificate, because those working in the field know that every superintendent needs a strong understanding of how education works, the needs of every student, and how administrative influence can affect educational outcomes… ATPE’s superintendent members tell us this teaching experience is critical because without it, administrators cannot fully understand classrooms and the needs of students within them – classrooms and students they make decisions about daily.”

And, as our formal comments stress, ATPE members are not alone in their stance on the issue:

“Educators across the state also support our members’ opinion that high standards and experience in education, in addition to managerial experience, are critical to the success of superintendents. In fact, a 2009 informal survey asked Texas administrators whether the two-year classroom experience requirement in SBEC rules was adequate, and 92 percent of respondents agreed it was insufficient.”

Proponents of SBEC’s rule change suggest that such a revision is necessary in order to capture the non-traditional superintendent candidates that districts might find to be great hires. As the rule change was being proposed by SBEC in August, names such as Michael Dell and Bill Gates were mentioned as the types of business, finance, and managerial experts who might desire to become superintendents but would not want to commit to traditional superintendent training programs. Setting aside for now the rhetorical question of whether a Bill Gates or Michael Dell would ever truly desire to become a school superintendent in Texas, ATPE has questioned the merits of the rule-backers’ claims that districts do not otherwise have viable means of hiring non-traditional leaders. In our formal written comments, we point out that districts already have the option to utilize a waiver process in order to hire a non-traditional superintendent candidate. The difference between current law and the proposed rule revision is that current law provides for a more transparent and responsible process for hiring such a candidate.

The waiver process under current law requires school districts to provide the qualifications of non-traditional superintendent candidates and justify why those candidates would be a beneficial hire for that district. It also allows for a transparent and accountable process under which key stakeholders, such as those employed by the district and parents of students, are notified and applications are vetted and approved by the Texas Education Agency. None of this would be true under the proposed revisions where school board trustees are given blanket authority to hire the nontraditional candidates they see fit.

“ATPE believes that removing the requirements for keeping local communities – and especially school employees and parents of students – informed about the rationale for these major decisions would be a grave mistake. It will likely lead to school morale challenges with faculty members feeling disenfranchised, parents increasingly questioning the leadership of the district, and a disconnect between school board members and the taxpayers and voters who placed them into office.”

Next steps:

For all of these reasons above and more, which you can read in our full formal comments, ATPE opposes this certification rule change and urges members of SBEC to reject the proposed revisions. SBEC will take a final vote on the proposed revision at its October 16 meeting. If you would like to submit your own input on the proposed rule change, the public comment period officially ends Monday, October 5. Information on submitting written public comments can be found here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this issue later this month after the SBEC meeting.

Legislative Update: Budget approval and more on the final countdown

We’re in the home stretch of the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest on education-related bills that are still on the move:


State budget and TRS funding

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass in order to avoid a special session. The House passed its version of HB 1 on April 1 by a vote of 141-5. The Senate approved its version of the bill on April 14 by a vote of 30-1. The House version contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system. The Senate’s version provided an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their tax cut proposal was factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth will be covered by increases in property tax revenue. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee where representatives and senators negotiated a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. The budget deal calls for funding enrollment growth plus an additional $1.5 billion for public education.

Today the House and Senate are both considering the conference committee report and taking final votes on the budget plan. The Senate voted 30 to 1 to approve HB 1. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) voted against the motion, saying she preferred to see more spending on education and healthcare. Sen. Kevin Eltife (R) voted for the bill but only after he spoke passionately about his belief that state needs are not being adequately addressed in the appropriations. The House approved the budget a short time later by a vote of 115 to 33.

Tuesday evening the Senate unanimously passed its version of a supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R), sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Jane Nelson (R). (The House passed its version of the bill back on April 1.) Yesterday, the House voted 145 to 1 to accept the Senate amendments to the bill, which will send HB 2 on to the governor. Rep. David Simpson (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur. The supplemental appropriations include much-needed funding in the amount of $768 million to help cover costs of TRS-Care health insurance for retirees over the next two years.


Tax cuts and spending restrictions

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. The leaders of both chambers ultimately agreed on two tax cut proposals: increasing the homestead exemption to reduce property taxes and lowering the business franchise tax. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) contains the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; if the bill passes, that increase in the exemption will be subject to voter approval in a November election. The bill is pending in a conference committee. HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent, is already on its way to the governor.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also considered multiple measures to curtail state spending. One of the primary measures is SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. After the House changed the bill, the Senate refused to concur in House amendments and has requested a conference committee.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

Two major accountability reform bills are still in flux. HB 2804 is a comprehensive bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) intended to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. Unfortunately, the bill was amended to add a controversial plan, which ATPE opposes, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The House passed the bill by a vote of 102 to 26 after an attempt to strip out the “A-F” language from the bill was narrowly defeated. Read more about the House debate here on our blog. The Senate passed its own version of the bill unanimously on May 25. Now the House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes. HB 2804 is on today’s House calendar.

HB 1842 also by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for turnaround strategies for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 by a vote of 143 to 1 on May 13, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate approved a substitute for HB 1842 on Tuesday night, May 26, around midnight. The upper chamber added numerous floor amendments, many taken from other bills that were procedurally dead. The controversial amendments include Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) “innovation zones” school deregulation language from SB 1241 and Sen. Royce West’s (R) “Opportunity School District” (now called a  “School Turnaround District”) plan from SB 669. Language dealing with charter and virtual school expansion was also added to HB 1842. Chairman Aycock is expected to refuse the Senate’s changes to the bill and ask the House today for a conference committee to be appointed.

Student testing and curriculum

HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 and on May 25, the full Senate passed an amended version of it. The House refused to accept the Senate’s changes to the bill and is appointing a conference committee.

HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House unanimously on April 30. The Senate passed a substitute version of the bill on May 25 by a vote of 26 to 5, with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Charles Perry (R) opposing it. The House voted on Wednesday, May 27, to accept the Senate’s changes to the bill. The vote on the motion to concur was 96 to 45, and it sends HB 1164 to the governor’s desk.

HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. It passed the House on May 8 by a vote of 134 to 6. The Senate approved the bill this Tuesday, May 26.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. ATPE has supported the bill, which received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11. The Senate  passed a substitute version of HB 2349 unanimously on Wednesday, May 27.  Today the House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or send the bill to a conference committee.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE has supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on May 5. On May 25, the House removed language in the bill calling for a diagnostic assessment (the Texas Success Initiative) to be administered to students in the 10th grade. They also added a statement to clarify that a State Board of Education review of the curriculum standards should not result in a need for new instructional materials in any subject other than English language arts. Rep. Ron Simmons (R) offered an amendment today to allow students in special education a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, to the extent allowed under federal law. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, expressed concern that the new language might run afoul of federal testing requirements but allowed the House to vote on the measure, which passed. The House finally passed the bill, as amended, on May 26 by a vote of 125 to 19. The Senate opted not to accept the House’s changes to the bill and has appointed a conference committee.

SB 968 by Sen. Royce West (D) adds a prescription drug misuse awareness component to the school health curriculum. On May 7, the Senate approved it 28 to 3, with Sens. Konni Burton (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. The House unanimously approved the measure on Wednesday, May 27.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

Late Tuesday night, the Senate considered HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R), an educator preparation and certification bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). The bill, which ATPE supported in the House, changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The Senate made several changes to the bill. First, the Senate version of HB 2205 incorporates language from Sen. Seliger’s dead bill, SB 892, that lowers the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The Senate initially accepted a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) filed at our request to restore the 2.75 GPA language that is in current law. After conferring with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), the Senate stripped off the Menendez language, based largely on the lieutenant governor’s objection to keeping the GPA at 2.75. (Ironically, Patrick was the Senate sponsor of the 2013 bill that raised the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75.) As amended by the Senate, HB 2205 also requires 30 hours (up from 15) of field-based experience that must be delivered in a classroom setting (not online) before an alternative certification candidate may be hired as a teacher of record; that change is opposed by alternative certification providers. The Senate also added two of Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R) dead bills onto HB 2205 as floor amendments. One amendment added language from his SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified teachers, while his SB 1222 language added onto the bill gives the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The Senate’s vote on HB 2205 as amended was 28 to 3, with Sens. Bob Hall (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Robert Nichols (R) voting against it. The bill is on the House’s calendar today for a vote on whether to accept the Senate amendments to the bill or send it to a conference committee.

HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 on May 12 by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it. This ATPE-backed bill is now on the governor’s desk after being unanimously approved by the Senate on May 22.

Early childhood education

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law two pieces of legislation supported by ATPE that deal with early childhood education. HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Abbott signed the bill at a formal ceremony yesterday. He previously signed SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R), which calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. The bill gives preference  to teachers at campuses where the majority of students are educationally disadvantaged and entitles teachers who attend the academies to be paid stipends. Gov. Abbott declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has pursued legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. HB 2186 was passed unanimously on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar on Wednesday of this week. The House is expected to vote today on accepting the Senate’s amendments to the bill, which should send it to the governor’s office soon.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. ATPE has supported the bill. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. The Senate passed an amended version of the bill on May 24 by a vote of 23 to 7. Since the House refused to accept the Senate’s changes, the bill has been referred to a conference committee.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. The House passed an amended version of the bill on May 12 by a vote of 136 to 9. The Senate added several floor amendments to HB 18 and passed it on Wednesday, May 27 by a vote of 30 to 1; Sen. Konni Burton (R) was the lone dissenter. The House must decide to accept the Senate’s changes or appoint a conference committee.

Charter schools

Only a small number of bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools have made it this far through the legislative process. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) is designed to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth. The House approved it on May 15, and the Senate approved the bill on Tuesday, May 26; both votes were unanimous. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities. It passed the House on May 8 with only a single no vote from Rep. Terry Canales (D). The Senate unanimously approved a substitute version of HB 1170 on Wednesday, May 27. The House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or send the bill to a conference committee. Farney’s HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools; it passed the House and Senate unanimously, but also was amended by the Senate. Both of these bills on the calendar today for a decision by the House.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure. The House approved it unanimously on Wednesday. Several changes have been made to the bill, including amendments that give parents and the Texas Education Agency access to the videos. The bill has been referred this week to a conference committee.

Paperwork reduction

HB 1706 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) is designed to reduce school paperwork requirements. It passed the House unanimously on May 4, and the Senate approved it on Wednesday of this week.


With help from ATPE members who reached out to their legislators this session, we’ve managed to stop several bills that would have done great harm to the education profession. These included numerous high-profile private school voucher bills; proposals to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers; a bill to ban school districts from offering a payroll deduction option for school employees to pay their association dues; and proposals to make it easier to deregulate low-performing schools and take away the governing authority of locally elected school boards through “parent trigger” petitions or converting entire school districts to so-called “local control school districts.” We thank you for your grassroots advocacy efforts.

Our fight is not over. In the last few days of this long session, conference committees will negotiating deals on bills that remain contested, and some of those bills still contain language that we oppose. Stay tuned for updates on the bills not yet finalized. For the latest news, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: House skirts payroll deduction issue, suicide prevention bill passes, Senate resurrects bad education bills

Much attention was focused on the Texas House last night, where legislators faced a midnight deadline for most Senate bills to pass the House on second reading. On the calendar for consideration last night were pieces of high-profile legislation including an ethics reform bill declared an emergency issue by Gov. Greg Abbott (R), a controversial college campus carry bill, an agency sunset bill rumored to be a vehicle for an amendment widely viewed as discriminatory, and a divisive abortion-related bill. The House activity garnered most of the attention but resulted in very little impact on educators; meanwhile, the Senate took a number of dismaying actions around the midnight hour that are of real concern to education stakeholders. One of few positive highlights to report today is the advancement of an ATPE-supported bill to try to deter teen suicides.

House activity: ethics reform, campus carry, and retribution

The ethics bill, SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). Educator groups watched the House floor debate closely last night after rumors surfaced that legislators might try to add a payroll deduction ban from Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) SB 1968 onto the bill. No such amendment was proposed last night, but the lengthy and often boisterous debate centered on major differences between the two chambers’ versions of SB 19. The Senate’s version of the bill focused on conflicts of interest, imposing a two-year cooling off period before lawmakers can become employed as registered lobbyists, and incorporating a few odd provisions such as an amendment by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require all candidates for public office to undergo drug testing. The House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Cook, replaced SB 19 with its own version, stripping out the drug-testing mandate, aiming to protect lawmakers against secret video recordings, and requiring disclosure of so-called “dark money” contributions, which the Senate opposes. The most vocal opponents of dark money regulations have been conservative groups, typically aligned with the Tea Party, who rely on secret contributions to non-profit organizations that aren’t required to report their political spending and activities to the Texas Ethics Commission in the same manner as highly regulated political action committees. Cook and his colleagues in the House were unsympathetic to dark money groups such as Empower Texans. They voted 96 to 48 to accept the House version of SB 19 with its dark money regulations last night, infuriating the bill’s author and the Senate leadership. (An earlier vote on an amendment by Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) that would have reverted SB 19 back to its Senate incarnation with no dark money reporting requirements failed convincingly with only 33 representatives in support.) Today, the House approved the bill on third reading by a vote of 94 to 49 after adding one more amendment.

Last night’s ethics debate lasted several hours, to the dismay of conservatives in the House who were anxious to take up bills dealing with hot-button issues of gun rights and abortion. Sen. Brian Birdwell’s (R) SB 11 to allow concealed handgun license holders to carry guns on college campuses, later passed in a compromise format, and time ran out before the House had a chance to debate the abortion bill. With conservatives lamenting the demise of politically charged Senate bills in the more moderate House and Democrats fuming over last-minute attempts to pass legislation unfavorable to gay and lesbian couples, tempers are certainly flaring at the capitol. Debates have been punctuated by name-calling and shouting, with retribution appearing to be the order of the day. A manifestation of the tension today has been a handful of legislators knocking others’ seemingly innocuous bills off the House’s “local and consent” calendar.

Senate activity: ed prep, school turnaround, and supplemental funding

While many were tuned into the House last night, the Senate was quietly and quickly passing bills of major significance to public education. First, the Senate took up HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R), an educator preparation and certification bill being sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Kel Seliger (R). The Senate approved a version of the bill last night that incorporates language from Sen. Seliger’s dead bill, SB 892, that lowers the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The Senate initially accepted a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) filed at our request to restore the 2.75 GPA language that is in current law. After taking a break to confer with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, the Senate stripped off the Menendez language, based largely on the lieutenant governor’s sudden objections to keeping the GPA at 2.75. (Ironically, Patrick was the same person who, as a senator in 2013, had sponsored the bill that raised the minimum GPA from 2.5 to 2.75 and even wrote a letter to state board members encouraging them to raise the educator preparation program admission standards in rule). With Lt. Gov. Patrick’s change of heart, HB 2205 as approved by the Senate last night now represents a watering down of the criteria for entering the education profession. One positive change in the new Senate version, however, deals with training provided by alternative certification providers. HB 2205 now requires 30 hours (up from 15) of field-based experience that must be delivered in a classroom setting (not online) before a candidate may be hired as a teacher of record. A floor amendment by Sen. Seliger stripped out Rep. Ina Minjarez’s (D) House floor amendment creating a school turnaround specialist endorsement for principals and also gives the commissioner of education, rather than the State Board for Educator Certification, the ability set passing standards or cut scores for certification exams. The Senate also added two floor amendments by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) that resurrected a pair of his dead bills. One amendment added his SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified teachers. The other amendment latches Bettencourt’s SB 1222 onto the bill, giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct.

Next, the Senate took up HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) right at midnight and loaded it up with floor amendments, many representing otherwise dead bills this session. Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who sponsored the school sanctions bill in the Senate, first added to it language from his own SB 1241 calling for the creation of deregulated “innovation zone” schools. Next, Sen. Royce West (R) added his “Opportunity School District” language to the bill. Opportunity School Districts are largely deregulated statewide school districts comprised of certain low-performing schools and typically managed by an appointed superintendent. They’ve been previously called “Achievement School Districts” and are now being referred to, somewhat regrettably, as “School Turnaround Districts” (STDs). Sen. Bettencourt also successfully moved to add to HB 1842 the language from Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 1897, which provides for the expansion of charter and virtual schools. ATPE has opposed all the bills that gave rise to these three amendments now incorporated into HB 1842 – all of which were also being pushed by the well-funded Texans for Education Reform this session. Chairman Taylor did accept a few favorable floor amendments to HB 1842 filed by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D). The House, of course, will still have an opportunity to decide whether to accept the Senate’s dramatic changes to the bill.

Earlier in the evening, the Senate unanimously passed HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R), sponsored in the upper chamber by Sen. Jane Nelson (R). The supplemental appropriations bill includes much-needed funding in the amount of $768 million to help cover costs of TRS-Care insurance for retirees over the next two years.

For all three of these bills passed by the Senate yesterday, they will return to the House next for either motions to concur in the Senate amendments to the bills or decisions to send HB 2205, HB 1842, and HB 2 to conference committees of senators and representatives who will attempt to work out a compromise.

Update on ATPE’s suicide prevention legislation

HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) is a step closer to becoming law after being approved by the full Senate today. It was passed unanimously on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar this afternoon. As we’ve reported previously, the ATPE-requested bill aims to help educators become trained to spot and react to the warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of ATPE member Kevin Childers. Read more about the Childers family in the latest issue of ATPE News.

Stay tuned for updates as the legislative battles continue.

Legislative Update: With midnight deadline, ethics bill fight could impact educators

Over the long Memorial Day weekend, as many Texans were dealing with devastating rain, flooding, and tornado threats, legislators were at the capitol deciding the fate of numerous bills. We’re only six days away from sine die, and another major session deadline looms large in the Texas House. There is a midnight deadline tonight for the House to pass most remaining Senate bills on second reading. That includes a high-profile ethics reform bill, deemed an emergency issue by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). Rumors abound that some state representatives may try to attach harmful anti-educator language to the bill during today’s anticipated floor debate.

Here’s where things currently stand on education bills of interest:


Funding

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill. Under a compromise reached by a conference committee of senators and representatives, HB 1 funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new money for public education. The bill awaits final approval by the House and Senate. As we’ve previously reported, the budget deal hinged on the House and Senate reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Pieces of that tax cut compromise remain in motion at this point. SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) is the bill that would raise the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, if voters approve the measure in November. SB 1 is being referred to a conference committee after the House added an amendment requested by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) that deals with optional local homestead exemptions and is meant to protect some school districts from losing revenue. The House passed the bill with that amendment by a unanimous vote yesterday. The Senate opted today to appoint a conference committee rather than merely accepting the House’s new version of SB 1. The other part of the tax cut compromise deals with business taxes. The full Senate passed a version of HB 32 on Sunday by a vote of 24 to 6. That bill by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s version of HB 32 or appoint a conference committee for it. In addition to tax cuts, the 84th Legislature has also been considering bills to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which would limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation, is on today’s House calendar.

TRS-Care funding in the amount of about $768 million is provided for in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). That bill is on today’s Senate calendar for debate. With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) calling for an interim study of TRS-ActiveCare options did not make it out of a Senate committee.

Finally, as we’ve previously reported, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) attempt at a school finance solution through HB 1759 is procedurally dead.

Payroll deduction

There is good news and bad news on an effort by some conservative legislators to restrict educators and other public employees from using payroll deductions to pay their association dues.

The good news is that Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill, SB 1968, is procedurally dead after it did not make it out of the House State Affairs Committee by this past Saturday’s deadline. As reported this weekend by our friends at The Texas Tribune, Rep. Byron Cook (R), who chairs that committee, said there was not enough time to fix problems with the bill and that “he was concerned that teachers in his rural district would be hurt by the legislation.” ATPE has nearly 1,000 members in Cook’s legislative district, and we appreciate those who reached out to the chairman to express opposition to SB 1968.

The troubling news is that there will reportedly be an attempt to add language from SB 1968 onto a highly controversial ethics reform bill that the House is slated to consider today. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) is an emergency bill relating to “the ethics of public officers and employees, the disclosure of certain political contributions, and related requirements and procedures; creating criminal offenses.” The bill covers myriad issues, from a Senate proposal to drug-test all candidates for public office to a House proposal to require disclosure of “dark money” – contributions funneled through non-profit associations for political purposes. The House and Senate versions of the bill differ significantly. A lengthy and contentious floor debate is already anticipated today as the bill must pass the House by midnight tonight in order to remain alive. An amendment to add the payroll deduction prohibition to SB 19 could force a House vote on the issue today; if adopted, the amendment would undoubtedly spur points of order (challenging the bill based on technical violations, such as the addition of amendments not germane to the underlying bill) that could kill the bill if sustained by the House Speaker.

Read more about the payroll deduction bill and our opposition to it here.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is an accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). It includes a controversial provision, which ATPE has opposed, calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Yesterday, the Senate unanimously approved its version of the bill. The House must now decide whether to accept the Senate’s version or send the bill to a conference committee.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. HB 1842 is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It is on today’s House calendar for final passage, if time allows.

ATPE-supported bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization appear to be dead. These included HB 1891 and HB 1892 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), and SB 1483 and SB 1484 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D).

Educator preparation and certification

HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) has been sent to the governor. The ATPE-backed bill requires educator certification candidates who are exempted from the state’s minimum GPA requirement to pass a content exam prior to admission to an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) is on the Senate’s calendar today awaiting a debate. The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). In its current form, HB 2205 would also decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, which ATPE opposes.

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is likely dead. The bill was filed with the intent to increase the rigor of educator preparation, but the Senate amended the bill with language requested by some alternative certification programs to water down standards for becoming a teacher. SB 892 passed the full Senate and the House Public Education Committee, but did not get placed on a House calendar in time for tonight’s deadline.

Student testing and curriculum

The legislature enacted and Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed into law SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which allows individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE supported the bill.

HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) covered by those tests. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. The Senate passed an amended version of both bills yesterday; they will head back to the House now for a vote to concur in (accept) the Senate amendments or send the bills to a conference committee.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) also relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill already passed the House unanimously. It’s been amended and placed on the Senate’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills for an expected vote tomorrow, May 27. The Senate Education Committee also approved HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, recommending it for the local and uncontested calendar. HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes; it’s been placed on the Senate’s regular calendar.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was considered by the full House yesterday and today. It is another bill ATPE has supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. The Senate passed the bill unanimously on May 5. Yesterday, the House removed language in the bill calling for a diagnostic assessment (the Texas Success Initiative) to be administered to students in the 10th grade. They also added a statement to clarify that a State Board of Education review of the curriculum standards should not result in a need for new instructional materials in any subject other than English language arts. Rep. Ron Simmons (R) offered an amendment today to allow students in special education a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, to the extent allowed under federal law. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who is sponsoring the bill in the House, expressed concern that the new language might run afoul of federal testing requirements but allowed the House to vote on the measure, which passed. The bill was finally passed this afternoon, as amended, by a vote of 125 to 19. The Senate will have an opportunity next to decide whether to accept the House’s changes to the bill.

HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test, but that bill already died on the House calendar.

Suicide prevention

An ATPE-backed bill to improve the training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide is sitting on the Senate’s calendar today. If not approved by the Senate today, the bill has also been placed on tomorrow’s local and uncontested bill calendar in the Senate. Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. Read more about the Childers family in our latest issue of ATPE News.

Other health and safety bills

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, also known as epi-pens, to treat anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen, and notify parents of the policy. The bill is awaiting Gov. Greg Abbott’s signature.

HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R) calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. It passed the House but was left pending by the Senate Education Committee and appears unlikely to move.

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, has been recommended for the House’s local and consent calendar.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

On Sunday, the Senate amended and finally passed HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D), which requires schools and other public employers to provide accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibits workplace discrimination against such employees. ATPE supports the bill. The Senate’s vote on third reading this weekend was unofficially reported to be 21 to 9, with Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Donna Campbell (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Craig Estes (R), Bob Hall (R), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Jane Nelson (R), and Charles Perry (R) voting against the bill. The House must decide whether to accept the Senate’s version or send HB 786 o a conference committee. (SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a similar measure that applies specifically to school employees, has not made it through.)

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) would give the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. The bill did not get placed on a House calendar by today’s deadline, which makes the measure unlikely to pass this session unless it’s amended onto another bill.

Paperwork reduction

HB 1706, a paperwork reduction bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), has been approved by the House and is awaiting a vote by the Senate. The ATPE-supported bill has been recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. It’s been passed and sent to Gov. Abbott for approval. Abbott has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R), another ATPE-supported bill that creates literacy achievement academies for reading teachers.

Private school vouchers

Despite highly publicized efforts by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and other conservative legislators to push through a voucher bill this session, none of the proposals have made it through the legislative process. SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) called for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. As we reported previously, the Senate approved SB 4 by a vote of 18 to 12, but the House never gave the bill a committee hearing. The House also denied a committee hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R), calling for an interim study on the possible use of another type of private school vouchers known as an education savings account. A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), never made it past the Senate.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) called for eliminating the state minimum salary schedule for teachers and imposing new requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. Both of those bills aggressively promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and Texans for Education Reform (TER) are now procedurally dead.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

Multiple bills pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) with help from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), to deregulate and privatize the management of certain low-performing schools have failed to make it through the legislative process. SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would subject low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” It did not get placed on a House calendar, making it impossible for it to pass by tonight’s deadline. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) parent trigger expansion bill, SB 14, also died after the House Public Education Committee left it pending. Several bills calling for creation of a statewide, deregulated “Opportunity School District” for low-performing schools also died for lack of action; those included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). Lastly, SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts, to be called “local control school districts” instead. SB 1012 did not make it out of the Senate Education Committee, while HB 1798 died on the House floor by a vote of 59 to 76. ATPE opposed all these bills.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 was Sen. Van Taylor’s (R) so-called “Tim Tebow bill,” which would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposed the bill, which the Senate passed but the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear.

Charter schools

Quite a few charter-related bills have faltered this session. SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) to allow for the expansion of charter schools and virtual charters did not get granted a hearing by the House Public Education Committee. Other charter-related bills that appear to be dead for lack of action are HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) to modify procedures for revoking a charter and SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities. Additionally, HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) was an ATPE-requested bill to ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It narrowly missed the deadline for passing the House a couple weeks ago.

Some bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) would accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth. All three bills passed the House and remain alive in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar.


Tune it tomorrow for another blog update about today’s action, especially in the House where much of the attention will be focused on tonight’s deadline and consideration of the ethics reform bill as a possible vehicle for an amendment to prohibit payroll deduction for educators. For breaking news, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: The rundown on education bills at week’s end

With 10 days remaining until the legislature adjourns sine die, it’s time to look at where major education bills stand in the 84th legislative session.


Budget, TRS, and school finance

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass this month in order to avoid a special session. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee for representatives and senators to work out a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. A major sticking point in the negotiations was how and how much money to provide for tax cuts, which numerous legislators made campaign promises to pursue this session. The House version of the budget contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system; the proposal assumed that the legislature would pass a school finance reform bill, which is discussed below. The Senate’s version provided for an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their property tax cuts were factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth would be covered by increases in property tax revenue. Under the HB 1 compromise announced this week and voted out by the conference committee last night, the budget funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. The bill will go next to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote in each chamber.

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Differences in opinion about whether to focus on property tax reductions, lowering sales taxes, or slashing the business franchise tax held up a compromise not only on the main budget bill, but also on supplemental appropriations, including money for retired educators’ healthcare. Yesterday, May 21, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election. On Wednesday, May 20, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The compromise means the House get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate gets some of the property tax relief it sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal (less than $200 saved per year), while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also been considering multiple measures to curtail state spending. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee today passed a version of SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation. It is believed that most of these bills restricting future appropriations would have a negative long-term impact on public education funding.

Much-needed funding for TRS-Care is addressed in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). The House passed HB 2 back on April 1.The Senate Finance Committee kept the bill on hold pending negotiations on the main budget bill, HB 1, until today. The committee voted this morning to approve HB 2 and send it to the Senate floor. The bill includes an extra $768 million for retirees’ health care.

With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) establishes a joint interim committee to study TRS-ActiveCare, including options for allowing districts to opt out of the program and for allowing regional rates to be created. Currently, districts cannot opt out of the plan, and the TRS Board only adopts statewide premium rates, instead of differentiated, regional rates. The House passed HB 3453 as amended on May 11 by a vote of 121 to 12. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, but not yet scheduled for a hearing. The bill’s companion, SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), was never heard by a Senate committee.

As for bills affecting the TRS pension fund itself, few serious legislative proposals have been offered this session after changes were made in 2013 to ensure that the fund and the benefits it provides are secure. The House Pensions Committee heard some bills a few weeks ago that would increase benefits for current retirees – either through a one-time 13th check or a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). However, all of those bills were left pending in the committee.

Finally, it appears that another session will go by without a serious school finance fix. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to reform the state’s school finance system, which has been ruled unconstitutional. The bill was approved by the House Public Education Committee, but failed to gain enough traction to make it all the way through this session. On May 14, the last day for the House to pass major House bills on second reading, Aycock laid out HB 1759 for floor debate but ended up withdrawing the bill from the day’s calendar as a favor to other legislators needing to pass bills before the midnight deadline. Aycock was facing the certainty of hours of debate by the House; numerous contentious amendments, including some that would try to add vouchers to the bill; and several planned points of order (technical challenges to the bill). Additionally, Aycock expressed doubt that the Senate would give the bill any real shot at passing and would therefore be a waste of the representatives’ time on such a critical day. The fact that many education advocates believed the bill would not do nearly enough to help underfunded school districts was undoubtedly another factor in the chairman’s decision.

Private school vouchers

SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) has been heavily promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as the Senate’s signature voucher bill, but as we were hoping, the bill has received a chilly reception in the House. SB 4 calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), who voted for it. All Republican senators voted for the bill except Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R), who opposed it; Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent on the day of the SB 4 vote. Voucher supporters pushed hard for House Speaker Joe Straus (R) and other state representatives to move the bill forward in the House. Despite the intense lobbying and paid advertising efforts, the bill has not been heard by the House Committee on Ways and Means. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose this harmful bill. Click here to read more about ATPE’s opposition to SB 4.

Likewise, the House Public Education Committee has not allowed a hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R). That bill originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts that parents could tap into in order to pay their children’s private school tuition or home-schooling expenses. Facing strong opposition, SB 1178 was converted into a mechanism to simply study the idea of education savings accounts during the interim. The Senate passed SB 1178 on May 11 by a vote of 21 to 10. Even as a study proposal, the bill appears stalled.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), also appears doomed. It is a costly bill to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network and part of a package of controversial reform proposals favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and pushed by Texans for Education Reform (TER). ATPE opposed the bill in committee. SB 894 has bounced on an off the Senate Intent Calendar and struggled to to gain enough support for a floor hearing. Even in the conservative Senate that is friendly to voucher bills, SB 894 faced significant hurdles with legislators questioning its large fiscal note. Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and was approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Read more below in our section on charters.

Student testing and curriculum

There is one major student testing-related bill that has already made it through the legislative process and become law. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE strongly supported the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 149 into law on May 11, and the bill took effect immediately.

This week the Senate Education Committee heard and passed a trio of other testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session: HB 743, HB 1164, and HB 2349. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 with Reps. David Simpson (R) and Jonathan Stickland (R) opposing the bill. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House by a vote of 142 to 6 on April 30. HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards; it already received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11.

The Senate Education Committee also approved a couple of House bills this week that relate to curriculum. Yesterday, the committee heard and voted out HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, along with HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes

A bill that did not make it through this session is HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), which would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test. As filed, the bill called for eliminating state tests in writing, social studies, and U.S. history that are not required by federal law. The House Public Education Committee amended the bill so that it would only eliminate the eighth-grade social studies test. ATPE supported the measure, but it died on the House calendar last week for lack of a floor debate and vote.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

ATPE has opposed legislative proposals calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The original bill on “A-F” ratings was Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 6, which was a major component of a reform package being pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE opposed SB 6, which the Senate passed but the House left pending in committee, opting instead to add “A-F” language to HB 2804. (Two identical companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, were not heard.)

HB 2804 is a comprehensive accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A-F” accountability grades. The A-F language was not part of Aycock’s original bill as filed, but hoping to reach a compromise with the Senate, he added it to HB 2804 in committee, despite objections from several committee members and testimony from ATPE and other groups opposing the idea. The House passed the ATPE-opposed bill late last week by a vote of 102 to 26. It’s a bill that barely survived the House’s strict calendar rules, having passed the House on second reading with only 25 minutes remaining before the midnight deadline on the last day for it to be considered.  As we reported last week, the House floor debate was robust; several amendments were considered, including bipartisan efforts to try to strip out the A-F language from the bill, resulting in very close, but ultimately unsuccessful votes. Some amendments that were added to the House version of the bill included ATPE-requested language requiring the commissioner to consult with ATPE and other education groups in developing the new campus accountability grades, and an amendment requiring school ratings to factor in the percentage of an elementary school’s students assigned for two consecutive school years to a first-year or improperly certified teacher. Unfortunately, both of those amendments have been stripped out of the Senate’s proposed new language for HB 2804. The Senate Education Committee heard and voted out its substitute version of HB 2804 yesterday. ATPE similarly testified against the bill during yesterday’s hearing. The committee’s vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 last week by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate Education Committee heard the bill this week and proposed a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842. The committee voted its version of the bill out unanimously today, with Chairman Larry Taylor (R) calling it “still a work in progress.” It will head next to the Senate floor for consideration, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It has passed the Senate unanimously on April 30, and the House Public Education Committee approved it yesterday. The bill is a rare one that is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including educator groups such as ATPE and reform groups such as TER. (Its identical companion bill, HB 4028, was never heard.)

ATPE has also supported a set of bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. Unfortunately, those bills appear to be hopelessly stalled. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14. It took the addition of a bizarre amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R) stating that community schools would be prohibited from partnering with abortion providers in order for conservatives in the House to support the bill. HB 1891 was only yesterday referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage. The community schools language had been added at one point to Chairman Aycock’s HB 1842 through a floor amendment in the House, but that amendment was later stripped out. A correlating bill also by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to provide for grants to community schools, HB 1892, was voted down in the House 60 to 82, and the Senate version of that bill, SB 1484 by Sen. Garcia, was not heard in a committee.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and his friends in the group Texans for Education Reform (TER) have aggressively pursued a pair of bills this session to try to get rid of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. In addition to promoting performance-based compensation for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) would impose new state requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. With any luck, these bills are dead. HB 2543 was heard but never voted out of the House Public Education Committee before its deadline. SB 893 has not been voted out of the House Public Education Committee either, which has a Saturday deadline to act on Senate bills. We appreciate all the ATPE members who helped us lobby against these bills with persistent calls and emails to their legislators. Learn more about the bills here.

By contrast, another salary-related bill was considered this session that ATPE supported. SB 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) called for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. It was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 30, but the bill was left pending and is not expected to move. Other pay raise bills have been filed but not heard this session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 is Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees a payroll deduction option for paying their voluntary association dues. Its co-authors are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R). The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure, along with state employees working in a variety of professions. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill.

SB 1968 passed the Senate on May 7 by a party-line vote of 20 to 11. All Republican senators voted for the bill, while all Democratic senators opposed the bill. On May 15, SB 1968 was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, which left little time for it to be considered. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill this week failed, as we reported Tuesday. A motion was offered that day to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill on Wednesday. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed, but it did not defeat the bill since the committee could still bring up SB 1968 and vote it out in a formal meeting without testimony. Accordingly, the House agreed on Wednesday to hear the motion to suspend once again, approve the motion, and allow the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing on Thursday of this week.

The House State Affairs Committee’s public hearing that followed yesterday on SB 1968 was a limited one. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for testimony, which meant that many witnesses who signed up to speak against the bill – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. Read more about the contentious hearing in our Thursday blog post. As of now, the bill remains pending and has not been voted out by the committee. The committee only has until tomorrow, May 23, to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. We will be watching this one closely and will report on any developments here on Teach the Vote. Read more about the bill and our opposition to it here.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

With the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Texans for Education Reform (TER) has once again pursued a bevy of bills this session that call for certain low-performing schools to be deregulated in similar manner as charter schools and even subjected to alternative management by outside entities. The legislation includes variations on parent trigger actions, converting school districts to home rule charter districts, and creating a special statewide school district with an appointed superintendent. ATPE has opposed the bills, which we consider to be ineffective strategies for turning around schools that are struggling under our standardized test-based state and federal accountability mandates. Fortunately, most of these TER-backed efforts this session have failed, although there is always the risk that school deregulation and privatization language could be added as eleventh-hour amendments to other bills.

One of the only deregulation bills still in play at this point is SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), which the House Public Education Committee approved last night. SB 1241 subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE has opposed the bill. Previously, the Senate approved SB 1241 on May 11 by a vote of 22 to 9. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D); Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) first opposed the bill on second reading and then voted for the bill on third reading. SB 1241 must now be placed on a House calendar for floor consideration before time runs out.

A bill that appears not to have made it through this session is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill, but Texas PTA did support it, interestingly. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April after adding several favorable amendments to it. The Senate’s floor vote was 25 to 6, with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), John Whitmire (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. The House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday, May 19, but left it pending. (A House companion bill, HB 1727, was never heard.)

Legislators also filed several bills this session calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be placed into a statewide, largely deregulated “Opportunity School District.” Similar bills were attempted last session, when the idea was called an “Achievement School District.” ATPE opposed these TER-backed bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of otherwise public schools and exempting them from education laws aimed at ensuring quality, such as class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The bills filed this session included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). HB 1536 made it out of the House Public Education Committee but did not survive the House’s stringent calendar deadlines. Its companion bill, SB 895, was deliberately left pending in the Senate Education Committee, as its author and committee chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, agreed to support SB 669 instead. West’s SB 669 passed the Senate with amendments on May 7 by a vote of 20 to 11. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the measure. Ultimately, the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear SB 669.

SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts. Dallas ISD is the only school district that has attempted to convert to a home rule charter under the existing state law. The two bills filed this session would change the name of home rule districts to “local control school districts,” a rather misleading term considering that locally elected school boards would most likely lose much of their authority to govern the district under these proposals. The bills were also troubling because they would exempt “local control school districts” from many of the quality control measures, such as elementary school class-size limits, found in the Texas Education Code. SB 1012 and HB 1798 were among bills supported by TER while opposed by ATPE and most of the education community. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, but left that bill pending. On Wednesday, May 13, the House spent three hours debating Rep. Deshotel’s HB 1798 and considering floor amendments, including some relating to class-size limits and teachers’ contract rights, before putting the bill to a vote. HB 1798 failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Read our May 13 blog post to learn more about amendments that were considered and find out how your representative voted on the “local control school district” bill.

Despite a well-funded lobbying and advertising effort, TER has had little success pushing through its controversial agenda this session. The very public defeat of HB 1798, in particular, was a significant blow to reformers who have tried to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expertly delivered most of our testimony against these deregulation bills in hearings that were frequently contentious with backers of the bill bringing in parents from out of state to testify for the measures. Exter noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favored, such as making elementary class sizes larger. He also cautioned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated and the need for both transparency and accountability to voters.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), often referred to as a “Tim Tebow bill,” would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposes the bill and the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to equal academic standards as their public school student peers and competitors. The Senate passed SB 2046 on May 11 by a vote of 27 to 4. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Kel Seliger (R), and Kirk Watson (D). The House Public Education Committee opted not to hear the bill.

Charter schools

An ATPE-requested bill to protect charter school employees narrowly missed the House’s midnight deadline for passage on the last night for consideration of House bills on second reading. HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It unanimously passed the House Public Education Committee on April 23, and it was only three bills away from being debated by the House when the clock ran out on May 14. ATPE sincerely appreciates Rep. Allen’s work to try to pass the bill.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would authorize the commissioner of education to grant multiple charters to a charter holder in certain circumstances. In addition to providing for the expansion of charter schools, the bill waters down laws pertaining to charter school accountability measures and sanctions for low-performance. Language was added to the bill relating to expansion of the state’s virtual school network. ATPE opposed the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, May 11, by a vote of 22 to 9. Check out our earlier blog post for a breakdown of the Senate vote. As we discussed above in our section on private school vouchers, the House Public Education Committee has opted not to hear this particular bill.

Several bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth has made it through the House and been recommended for the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools; both bills easily passed the House and are pending in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar. (Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) carried companion bills to those two measures, SB 1567 and 1569.)

HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would clean up laws passed in 2013 relating to procedures for revoking a charter. HB 3347 didn’t survive the House’s calendar deadlines, and SB 1898 is stalled in the Senate. SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities was approved by the Senate Education Committee but hasn’t seen a floor vote either and is likely dead.

Educator preparation and certification

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was originally filed as a bill to increase the rigor of educator preparation by adding a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. However, the bill was amended with language requested by representatives of for-profit alternative certification programs and now has the effect of watering down the standards for becoming a teacher. Specifically, SB 892 would lower the individual GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. (The legislature raised the GPA requirement in statute from 2.5 to 2.75 in 2013, but the State Board for Educator Certification that is responsible for implementing the law complained that the new statute was vague and refused to raise its own admission rules to reflect the higher GPA requirement.) The state’s largest alternative certification providers are for-profit companies that seek to maximize their profits through high enrollment numbers; they would obviously benefit from putting lower GPA standards in law, but they also want the legislature to codify current practices that enable them to delay providing their candidates with significant training before they are hired as teachers of record. ATPE believes the watered down standards and weak training requirements do a disservice to would-be educators pursuing alternative certification, since they are placed into high-stakes teaching environments before they have received adequate preparation and often without the necessary content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching. We support higher standards for educator preparation to ensure that all new teachers are well-equipped to meet the rigors of their first classrooms. SB 892 passed the Senate unanimously on April 7. It was approved by the House Public Education Committee last night. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) was the only committee member to vote against the bill, and she did so because of its lowering of the GPA standard. (A companion bill, HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), was left pending in committee.) SB 892 must now be placed on the House calendar for debate before time runs out this session.

Another educator preparation bill is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R), which the Senate unanimously passed today. The ATPE-backed bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 last week by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it.

Yet another educator preparation bill filed this session was HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). The bill called for a number of changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including requiring consideration of the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 also would require all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). A version of HB 2566 was unanimously approved by the House Public Education Committee on April 28, but the bill was unable to survive the House’s calendar deadlines. In order to keep the measure alive in some manner, VanDeaver amended some of the language in his more comprehensive HB 2566 onto another bill, Rep. Crownover’s HB 2205. The pieces of VanDeaver’s bill that were added to HB 2205 include the administration of a new teacher survey to assess new teachers’ satisfaction with the training provided by their educator preparation programs; the requirement for alternative certification program candidates to receive training in the detection and education of students with dyslexia; and the establishment of educator preparation program approval and renewal standards, risk factors to be used in assessing the programs, and a process for submitting complaints against an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill adds two indicators to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), which seeks to hold educator preparation programs accountable for their quality and effectiveness at preparing candidates for certification and entering the profession. Those two new indicators are the ratio of field supervisors to candidates and the percentage of teachers employed within one year of completing the preparation program. ATPE supported HB 2205 when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee, which unanimously approved the bill on April 28. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 126 to 5, after several floor amendments were added to HB 2205. The amendments included one by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) to create a school turnaround specialist endorsement that may be added to a principal certificate issued by SBEC. HB 2205 was also amended to incorporate language from another bill, VanDeaver’s HB 2566, which is discussed above.

When HB 2205 was sent to the upper chamber, the Senate Education Committee proposed a substitute version of the bill, which ATPE testified against on May 20. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including Rep. VanDeaver’s language that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes lowering the standards for entrance into the education profession. HB 2205 would decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to approve its committee substitute for HB 2205 on Wednesday, May 20. It must now be approved by the full Senate.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Broadly supported and also declared a priority issue by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 4 generated controversy after a panel of advisors to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) publicly derided the bill and public schools. Both the House and Senate ultimately passed different versions of the bill. The House voted yesterday, May 21, to concur in amendments made by the Senate. That unanimous vote to accept the Senate’s language sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The ATPE-supported bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has been pursuing legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. The Senate Education Committee approved HB 2186 yesterday and recommended that it be placed on the House’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills.  A similar bill, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), passed the Senate last week by a vote of 29 to 1, with only Sen. Robert Nichols (R) voting against it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

The legislature is considering a couple of bills relating to accommodations for new mothers working in public schools, and ATPE has been supporting the measures.

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. It passed the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee this week and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor consideration as early as today.

SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is a similar measure that applies particularly to school employees and requires school districts to provide break times and suitable locations for educators to express breast milk. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on May 5 by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Donna Campbell (R) voting against SB 1479. It was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor debate earlier this week, but was removed from the calendar and is facing some opposition.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens, in school settings. Epi-pens are often used to treat anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen. The bill requires districts and charters to provide parents with annual written notice of their epi-pen policies. Related to the lawful use or non-use of an epi-pen in a school setting, SB 66 also includes immunity protections against liability for school personnel and calls for a state advisory committee to review schools’ usage of epi-pens.

The Senate passed SB 66 on April 15 by a vote of 24 to 7. Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voted against the bill. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously last Wednesday, May 13. The Senate voted Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill, which means SB 66 is now headed to the governor’s desk. The vote on the motion to concur was 24 to 7, again with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against it.

Cardiac assessments for student athletes

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The House passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62.

Cameras in the classroom

The House Public Education Committee voted last night to approve SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure.

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222 to the House Public Education Committee, which considered the bill yesterday. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. The committee approved the bill today and it will head next to the full House for consideration where amendments are possible. SB 1222 previously passed the Senate on May 4 by a vote of 29 to 2, with Sens. Kirk Watson (D) and Rodney Ellis (D) voting against it.

Paperwork reduction

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements. The bill was voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making it more likely to pass. ATPE supports the measure, which the House passed unanimously on May 4.


As a reminder, tomorrow (May 23) is the last day for House committees to report Senate bills. With the House still in session, impromptu meetings could still be scheduled anytime tonight or tomorrow to vote out additional bills. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

Legislative Update: Senate committee approves “A through F;” House hears payroll deduction; suicide and early education bills progress while reform bills languish

The clock is ticking on the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest news on the following legislation we are following closely:


“A THROUGH F” SCHOOL RATINGS

Earlier today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the bill this morning. He explained to the committee that the bill contains accountability provisions that ATPE supports but that we cannot support HB 2804 in its current form because of its language requiring “A through F” accountability grades to be used for campus ratings. Gregg said it was “egregious and wrong” to refer to students as failing. ATPE also submitted as written testimony a copy of a column penned by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday for the Summer 2015 issue of ATPE News. In the article entitled “The Failed Rhetoric of Failing Schools,” Canaday contends that “stigmatizing children” by labeling their schools as failing ‘”does nothing to support them or the educators working on their behalf.”

This evening the committee voted out a substitute version of the “A-F” bill. The vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.


OTHER BILLS IN THE SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The Senate Education Committee also heard today HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials and HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) dealing with interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools. The committee is proposing a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842, and because of its length, Chairman Larry Taylor (R) advised the the committee would not attempt to vote out the bill until tomorrow. HB 2811 was approved by the committee this evening. A late addition to the committee’s agenda for today was HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. The committee voted out that bill with a favorable recommendation, along with HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), the ATPE-backed suicide prevention training bill for educators. Among other pending bills that the committee voted out today were Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R) bill eliminating the STAAR test for writing, HB 1164, and Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) HB 743 pertaining to testing and curriculum standards; ATPE has supported both of those bills.

PAYROLL DEDUCTION

The House Committee on State Affairs held a limited public hearing today on SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill eliminating the payroll deduction option for school and state employees to pay voluntary dues to a professional association. ATPE opposes the bill. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for the hearing, which meant that many of the witnesses who signed up to testify – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. While the limitations on testimony upset some members of the committee, Cook stated that he was trying to strike a balance between “folks who think we’re going too slow and folks who think we’re going too fast” in considering SB 1968. Cook called the bill poorly drafted and said that SB 1968 had “languished in the Senate,” had arrived in the House “very flawed,” and would be subject to “a valid point of order” that would kill the bill if his committee sent it to the House floor as written. After hearing two hours of testimony, Cook announced that the committee was adjourning and leaving the bill pending. At this point, no plans have been announced for the committee to meet again prior to Saturday’s deadline for bills to be voted upon and reported out of House committees.

STATE BUDGET

Pieces of the budget puzzle are being filled out as the end of session nears. Conference committee meetings are continuing today on HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), which is the state’s budget bill. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson reports that the committee is recommending $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. HB 1 is the only bill the legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session. A deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching agreement on tax cuts. We reported yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee passed the House’s plan to reduce the business franchise tax. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election.

BILLS IN THE HOUSE PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The House Public Education Committee also held its last regular meeting today. Its agenda included hearing one bill that ATPE opposes, SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) to give the commissioner of education subpoena power. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222.

In addition, the committee took votes this evening on several pending bills that have already been heard, including SB 1200 and SB 1241 both by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). SB 1241 is Taylor’s bill to create deregulated “innovation zones” for some low-performing schools, which ATPE has opposed. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) educator preparation bill, SB 892, was approved tonight, as was SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require cameras in special education classrooms, and a handful of other bills.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

There have been major developments on a couple of bills ATPE supported this session pertaining to early childhood education. First, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Additionally, the House voted today to concur in amendments made by the Senate to HB 4, which is Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) high-profile pre-Kindergarten bill. Today’s unanimous vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

BILLS IN JEOPARDY

A pair of ATPE-supported community schools bills appear to be on life support. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14, but was only today referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage.

Most of the components of a package of priority legislation favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), including several high-profile bills pushed by the well-funded group Texans for Education Reform (TER), appear far less likely to pass this session. One of the bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April; the House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday night but left it pending. Neither SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) nor HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) to repeal the state minimum salary schedule for teachers has been voted out of the House Public Education Committee, which has a Saturday deadline to act on bills. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) virtual voucher bill, SB 894, has not garnered enough support for a floor vote in the Senate; Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and has already been approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Similarly, the House Public Education Committee has not heard SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), which is the TER-backed bill to create a statewide Opportunity School District. With TER’s “local control school district” bill (HB 1798) already defeated by the House, that means the reform group has had little success this session, despite an expensive marketing and lobbying campaign, in attempting to deregulate and privatize the management of public schools it deems to be unacceptable. Last but not least, there is SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the private school voucher tax credit bill lauded by Lt. Gov. Patrick, which has failed to gain traction in the House after passing the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21.


This is a critical time for education bills both good and bad. ATPE encourages you to remain actively involved in the legislative process and keep talking to your legislators about bills of concern. For the very latest updates, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Troubling bills in the 84th Legislature: Where do they stand?

With less than a month remaining in the 84th Texas Legislature’s regular session, the clock is working against several high-profile education bills. Next Monday, May 11, is the last day that House committees can report out House bills, which means that any House bill not voted out of committee this week is likely dead. However, it’s not time to let down our guard. Most bills have companion versions filed in both the House and Senate, the Senate has already passed a number of bad bills, and House committees have until May 23 to hear and report out Senate bills. Furthermore, as always occurs during the last few weeks of any legislative session, attempts will be made to amend dead bills onto other bills that are still moving through the process.

Most of the bills of greatest concern to educators this session are part of a controversial package of education reform legislation being pushed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) with the backing of well-financed business groups such as Texans for Education Reform (TER). They include a number of bills proposing various means of subjecting low-performing campuses to alternative management. Private school vouchers and reducing teachers’ rights and benefits have also been proposed. Here’s a rundown of several high-profile bills that ATPE has been fighting this session and where they currently stand:

Teacher salaries and evaluations

Two bills have been filed proposing to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers and change the way school districts conduct appraisals and make personnel decisions, calling for more emphasis to be placed on student performance as a factor in those decisions. SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) are both pending in the House and appear, fortunately, to be stalled. SB 893 passed the full Senate on a vote of 27 to 4, with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), and Royce West (D) casting the only votes against it. SB 893 has not yet been heard by a House committee. HB 2543 was heard by the House Public Education Committee but has so far been left pending, thanks to sustained opposition to the bill. Read ATPE’s most recent message to legislators on “The Truth about SB 893 and HB 2543.”

“A through F” grades for campus accountability ratings

Another bill ATPE has opposed is a measure calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The primary bill on “A-F” ratings, which were popularized a few years ago by former Florida governor Jeb Bush, is SB 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the Senate Education Committee. SB 6 is part of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s reform package. (Two identical House companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, have not been heard this session.) The full Senate passed SB 6 by a vote of 20-10. All Republican senators supported it, and all Democratic senators opposed it except Sen. Lucio, who was absent for the vote. A House committee heard the bill on April 28 and left it pending, but similar “A-F” language has now been added to another accountability bill that is on the move, HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who chairs the House Public Education Committee. HB 2804 is expected to undergo several changes when it is ultimately heard on the House floor. It remains to be seen what changes will be made to the “A-F” language in HB 2804; for now, however, SB 6 also appears to be stalled. Read ATPE’s statement in opposition to SB 6 here.

Parent trigger or “empowerment”

Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R) has also filed a bill to expand and speeding up existing “parent trigger” laws that make certain low-performing public schools more susceptible to private management. On April 15, the Senate passed an amended version of his SB 14, relating to “empowering the parents of students to petition for the reconstitution, repurposing, alternative management, or closure of low-performing public school campuses.”   As originally filed, SB 14 would make schools susceptible to a parent trigger petition and private management after only two years of unacceptable accountability ratings, but a Senate floor amendment pushed the timeline for a parent trigger action back to year three. Other favorable floor amendments were added before the full Senate approved SB 14 by a vote of 25 to 6. Those voting against the bill on third reading were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D); Jose Menendez (D); Carlos Uresti (D); Kirk Watson (D); John Whitmire (D); and Judith Zaffirini (D). SB 14 has been sent to the House for consideration but not yet heard by a House committee. A House companion bill, HB 1727, has not been heard this session. Many stakeholders believe the House has opted to consider other alternative management options for low-performing schools in lieu of changing the parent trigger laws as proposed in SB 14.

Home rule or “local control” school districts

A couple of bills have been filed this session, also supported by TER and opposed by ATPE, to amend the state’s existing home rule charter district laws in order to facilitate the creation of less regulated “local control school districts.” SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) change the name of the existing “home rule” statutes to refer instead to “local control school districts.” ATPE believes the proposed new name is a misnomer, given that locally elected school boards would actually lose – not gain – governing authority over their public schools upon conversion to a home rule or “local control” district. The bills would make it easier for voters to approve home rule proposals, such as one that faltered in Dallas ISD recently. Once approved by voters, home rule or “local control” districts can opt out of many state education regulations and be operated more similarly to charter schools with outside management companies hired to oversee them. The House Public Education Committee passed a substitute version of HB 1798 on a vote of 8 to 3 on April 28. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, but that bill remains pending in the committee.

Opportunity School Districts

In 2013, the Texas Legislature considered but did not pass a couple of bills calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be placed into a statewide Achievement School District and managed by outside entities such as charter operators. The same proposals have resurfaced this year but are now being referred to as “Opportunity School District” bills. They include HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). Many education groups have opposed these bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of public schools and exempting them from state education laws in much the same manner as charter schools, home rule charter districts, or parent trigger schools. ATPE believes the OSD bills diminish the governing authority and accountability of locally elected school boards, promote ineffective school turnaround strategies, and eliminate important quality control measures such as elementary school class-size limits and requirements that schools hire certified teachers.

Rep. Dutton’s HB 1536 was approved by the House Public Education Committee by a vote of 9 to 2 on April 28. On April 7, the Senate Education Committee heard Chairman Taylor’s SB 895, but the chair later announced his intent to sign on as a co-author for Sen. West’s OSD bill instead of pushing forward his own bill. A substitute version of West’s SB 669 was approved by the Senate Education Committee on April 23 by a vote of 6 to 1, with Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) voting against the measure. SB 669 is now on the Senate Intent Calendar, signaling that a floor debate is expected soon.

Innovation zones

Yet another variation on the theme of private management for low-performing schools is found in SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). Chairman Taylor’s bill also subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” As with the similar proposals for home rule districts or Opportunity School Districts, ATPE opposed SB 1241 when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 7, and we voiced our concerns about enabling private entities to manage public schools, the potential impact on educators’ contract rights, and the likelihood that parents and local voters would lose their ability to provide input in school governance decisions. The Senate committee approved SB 1241 on April 22 by a vote of 8 to 1, with Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) casting the only vote against it. The bill has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar making it eligible for a floor debate.

Vouchers

A bill calling for spending huge sums of state money to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network is SB 894 also by Chairman Larry Taylor (R). This bill would vastly expand the virtual school network in Texas by setting up a system of virtual vouchers with few requirements holding virtual education providers accountable to taxpayers. ATPE and many other education stakeholders opposed the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 12, pointing out that SB 894 would allow home-schooled and other children not currently enrolled in public schools free access to virtual courses on the state’s dime; the bill would cause the cost of the program to balloon and would further burden Texas’s already underfunded public school system. The committee approved SB 894 by a vote of 6 to 3 on April 27. Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), and Jose Rodriguez (D) voted against the measure. Sen. Royce West (D) was present not voting, and Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent. Those voting for the virtual voucher bill were Chairman Larry Taylor (R), plus Sens. Eddie Lucio (D), Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Don Huffines (R),  and Van Taylor (R). SB 894 was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar, signaling that a floor debate was expected soon, but the bill has since been removed from the calendar. It is believed that many legislators have had second thoughts about the bill’s enormous fiscal note.

SB 4, also by Chairman Larry Taylor (R), is the Senate’s signature voucher legislation. While not on the list of bills that TER is officially pushing forward this session, SB 4 is a major part of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s high-priority education reform package. In fact, Patrick has been one of the most outspoken proponents of vouchers since entering the Legislature. SB 4 as filed provided for both tax credits to educational assistance organizations that pay scholarships for students to attend private schools and education tuition grants to be awarded to parents of eligible children attending private schools. The Senate Education Committee heard the bill on March 26, and ATPE testified against it. The committee amended and voted to approve a substitute version of this bill on April 7 by a vote of 7 to 3. Sens. Garcia (D), Rodriguez (D), and West (D) opposed SB 4; while Sens. Larry Taylor (R), Lucio (D), Bettencourt (R), Campbell (R), Huffines (R), Kolkhorst (R), Seliger (R), and Van Taylor (R) all voted for the voucher bill. The new version incorporates elements of other private school voucher bills and sets up a voucher tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The full Senate passed SB 4 on April 21 by a vote of 18 to 12. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Lucio. Republican Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R) also opposed SB 4 on the Senate floor. Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent for the vote. While it is unlikely that the House will allow SB 4 to proceed, you can find talking points opposing SB 4 to share with your representatives here.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) has been called a measure to provide “equal opportunity” for home-schooled students to participate in UIL. Its supporters often refer to SB 2046 and similar legislation filed in other states as “Tim Tebow bills,” named after the formerly home-schooled NFL quarterback. SB 2046 requires school districts to enable local home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school, and it enables parents of the home-schooled students to attest that their children have met certain academic eligibility requirements. ATPE opposed the bill based on long-standing positions in our member-written Legislative Program that oppose the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to the same academic standards as their public school student peers. SB 2046 was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 23 and left pending.

Payroll deduction

Sen. Joan Huffman (R) has filed an anti-union bill that would also do away with educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations and for other conveniences. SB 1968 is not part of Lt. Gov. Patrick’s official reform package, but it has the support of many conservative senators who oppose unions and trade associations that represent public servants such as educators and state employees. SB 1968 does not have an identical House companion; there are a few related bills that have been filed by House members, but those have not been heard. As of today, SB 1968 remains on the Senate Intent Calendar but has not yet been brought up for a floor vote. Even if the payroll deduction bill makes it out of the Senate, it is unlikely to succeed in the House where there is greater opposition. Read ATPE’s talking points against SB 1968 here.

Educator preparation and certification

A pair of companion bills are pending that would lower the standards for entrance to the education profession. SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) were both originally conceived as measures to increase the rigor of educator preparation by adding a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. However, both bills have been amended with language requested by representatives of for-profit alternative certification programs and now have the effect of watering down the standards for becoming a teacher. Specifically, these bills would lower the individual GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. (The legislature raised the GPA requirement in statute from 2.5 to 2.75 in 2013, but the State Board for Educator Certification that is responsible for implementing the law complained that the new statute was vague and refused to raise its own admission rules to reflect the higher GPA requirement.) The state’s largest alternative certification providers are for-profit companies that seek to maximize their profits through high enrollment numbers; they would obviously benefit from putting lower GPA standards in law, but they also want the legislature to codify current practices that enable them to delay providing their candidates with significant training before they are hired as teachers of record. ATPE believes the watered down standards and weak training requirements do a disservice to would-be educators pursuing alternative certification, since they are placed into high-stakes teaching environments before they have received adequate preparation and often without the necessary content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching. We support higher standards for educator preparation to ensure that all new teachers are well-equipped to meet the rigors of their first classrooms. The Senate unanimously passed SB 892 on April 7. The House Public Education Committee heard HB 3494 on April 16 in its Educator Quality Subcommittee but has not yet voted out the bill.


ATPE appreciates all the members and public education supporters who’ve called and written to legislators asking them to oppose these harmful bills. We encourage you to keep up the pressure as we head into the home stretch of the 84th legislative session, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on any new developments. Don’t forget you can also follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for even more capitol coverage.

Legislative Update: Senate committee tackles teacher pay and pre-K, graduation bill heads to governor’s desk, anti-suicide bill gains support

Today the Senate Education Committee is hearing House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty, a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. ATPE supports HB 4, which Chairman Larry Taylor (R) says he expects the committee to vote on later today. The bill represents one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative priorities but has been at the center of recent tensions among state leaders after a panel advising Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) blasted the bill and referred to public schools as “Godless.” (For related content, check out this week’s op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman by Charles Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children responding to the group’s remarks about the pre-K bill and criticizing the Senate’s passage of several “bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers.”)

The Senate committee will also hear Senate Bill (SB) 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), a bill calling for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. Read ATPE’s press statement in support of SB 1303. Teacher salaries have been a hot topic for debate this session, as two high-profile bills to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers are languishing over on the House side.

Other bills on today’s Senate Education Committee agenda include SB 625 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) on prohibiting the use of tasers against public school students, SB 1004 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) regarding certain dual-credit courses offered by junior colleges in the Harris County area, and SB 1058 also by Sen. Hinojosa on superintendents’ requirement to report information about educators in their districts who engage in certain misconduct. The committee may vote out other bills that are pending and have already been heard when it reconvenes later today.


Following a motorcycle accident that necessitated surgery, Sen. Kel Seliger (R) returned to the Senate this week in time to see his SB 149 sent on its way to the governor’s desk. The bill allows for the creation of individual graduation committees to determine if certain students should graduate high school despite having failed a mandatory STAAR test. The Senate voted yesterday, April 29, to concur in amendments added to the bill by the House of Representatives. The final Senate vote on the ATPE-supported bill was 29 to 2, with Sens. Kelly Hancock (R) and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the motion. SB 149 now awaits the governor’s signature.


A bill to do away with educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations and for other conveniences remained on the Senate’s calendar, but did not get called up for a floor debate today. The bill is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R). Additionally, Sen. Larry Taylor’s virtual voucher bill, SB 894, was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar earlier this week but then removed. Senators appear to be having second thoughts about the bill’s hefty fiscal note and lack of accountability measures. ATPE has opposed both measures.


The House Public Education Committee held another nine-hour meeting on Tuesday, April 28, during which numerous bills were put to a vote. The committee heard lengthy debate on SB 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the bill calling for “A through F” accountability grades to be assigned to public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Most education groups offered testimony against the bill, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter who described SB 6 as worthless and emphasized the need to “dig down deeper than the indices” to make real changes to the accountability system before merely tinkering with labels. He added that “oversimplification in the name of transparency” would be “unproductive” for public school students. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) surprised some members of the committee by announcing that he was incorporating the “A through F” campus ratings into his accountability overhaul, HB 2804, which the committee then voted out favorably on a 7 to 4 vote. Aycock was later quoted as saying, “I’m personally willing to swallow ‘A through F’ if we get a better accountability system out of it.”

The committee also approved a duo of controversial bills that ATPE and similar education groups opposed based on concerns about privatizing the management of public schools and exempting them from state education laws. One bill is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for the establishment of a statewide Opportunity School District for low-performing schools, which passed on a vote of 9 to 2. The other bill is a substitute version of HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) relating to local control school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the existing home rule charter district law to make it easier for districts to opt out of state regulations; HB 1798 made it out of committee on a vote of 8 to 3.

Here are some of the other bills that got a nod of approval from the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday evening:

  • HB 18 by Chairman Aycock relating to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors.
  • CSHB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 1842 by Chairman Aycock relating to the assessment of intervention in and sanction of a public school that does not satisfy accreditation criteria.
  • CSHB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 3347 by Chairman Aycock relating to revocation of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school and procedures for the disposition of property owned by a charter school after revocation or surrender of a charter.
  • CSHB 3987 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to programs in public schools designed to facilitate planning and saving for higher education and facilitate personal financial literacy instruction.

The House Public Education committee also heard but left pending HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D), a bill that ATPE requested to ensure that charter school employees retain the right to participate in political activities and join educator associations, if they choose.


Childers Senate Ed 04-28-15Also on Tuesday of this week, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) relating to suicide prevention training for educators. The bill is very similar to HB 2186, which ATPE urged Rep. Byron Cook to file on behalf of our member, Coach Kevin Childers, who lost his son Jonathan to suicide two years ago. The Childers family was on hand Tuesday to testify in support of SB 1169, which the committee passed on a vote of 6 to zero.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to send to the floor SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D). The controversial bill would require schools to video-tape classrooms upon the request of a parent of a student with special needs. Video would have to be kept on file by the school district for at least a year, and the bill would cost millions to be implemented statewide. It is worth noting that school districts already have the ability to videotape classroom  interactions, and several of them already do so.


Ina_MinjarezFinally, ATPE congratulates Rep. Ina Minjarez, who was officially sworn in this afternoon as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Following a string of special elections, today’s ceremony marks the first time this session that the 84th Legislature has been full. San Antonio’s Minjarez won a special election to fill the unexpired term of former representative and now Sen. Jose Menendez, who gave up his HD 124 House seat in order to run for the Senate.

Full agenda today for House Public Education Committee with votes anticipated on bad bills

The House Public Education Committee is meeting now to hear several bills, including Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) calling for public school campuses to be rated with “A through F” accountability grades. While the bill contains improved language supplied in a Senate floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), many educators remain opposed to SB 6 and giving letter grades to campuses. Read more about SB 6 here.

Below are the other bills slated to be heard by the House committee today:

  • HB 233 by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D) relating to school social work services in public schools.
  • HB 1231 by Rep. Allen Fletcher (R) relating to the membership of school district and open-enrollment charter school concussion oversight teams.
  • HB 1783 by Rep. Joe Moody (D) relating to the right of a school employee to report a crime and persons subject to the prohibition on coercing another into suppressing or failing to report information to a law enforcement agency; creating a criminal offense.
  • HB 1935 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to additional state aid for tax reduction provided to certain school districts.
  • HB 2017 Rep. Rick Miller (R) relating to permissible locations of open-enrollment charter schools created by institutions of higher education.
  • HB 2151 by Rep. Tracy King (D) relating to consideration by the board of trustees of a school district of parental complaints concerning student participation in extracurricular activities.
  • HB 2156 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to requirements for providers of certain technology services in public schools.
  • HB 2218 by Rep. Garnet Coleman (D) relating to instruction regarding mental health, substance abuse, and youth suicide in educator training programs.
  • HB 2593 by Rep. Four Price (R) relating to the method of determining the average daily attendance in certain school districts.
  • HB 2928 by Rep. Ryan Guillen (D) relating to enrollment in public schools by a child without a parent, guardian, or other person with legal control of the child under a court order.
  • HB 3260 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D) relating to a study and report regarding the use of open-source instructional materials at public schools.
  • HB 3281 by Rep. James Frank (R) relating to public school accountability.
  • HB 3282 by Rep. Ron Simmons (R) relating to the establishment by the commissioner of education of an autism program to provide applied behavior analysis services to students with autism spectrum disorder and to the coordination of autism services in this state.
  • HB 3417 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D) relating to providing for endorsements for public high school students enrolled in special education programs.
  • HB 3546 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) relating to the provision of credit by examination for public school students.
  • HB 3815 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R) relating to instruction in positive character traits in public schools.
  • HB 3896 by Rep. Sylvester Turner (D) relating to access to school textbooks.
  • HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) relating to the extension to open-enrollment charter school employees of certain rights granted to school district employees. This bill was filed at the request of ATPE.

Later today, the committee is also slated to vote on a number of pending bills that have already been heard. These include two bills of great concern to the education community. First, House Bill (HB) 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) deals with the ability to convert public school districts to home rule charter districts that are exempt from many of the laws applicable to other public school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the name of the privatization mechanism under existing law to “local control school districts” and does away with the requirement in current law for at least 25 percent voter turnout in an election to convert a school district to a “local control school district.” Also scheduled to be voted out today is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for creation of a statewide Opportunity School District for certain low-performing schools.

Both of these bills, HB 1536 and HB 1798, would facilitate alternative management of public schools by private entities, and they are being pushed forward by the wealthy lobbying group, Texans for Education Reform (TER). The bills promote ineffective school turnaround strategies and eliminate important quality control measures that exist for most other public schools, such as elementary school class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The alternative management structure envisioned by both HB 1536 and HB 1798 would remove the governing authority of locally elected school board members, which serves to diminish true local control in the long run. Also, neither bill would provide for increased resources or even encourage a reallocation of resources to ensure that the campuses that are struggling the most will receive the most support, which is essential to any successful turnaround effort. For these reasons, ATPE urges members to ask their state representatives and especially members of the House Public Education committee, to vote against HB 1798 and 1536 today.

Fortunately, another TER-backed bill, HB 2543, is not expected to be voted upon by the House committee today. HB 2543 is Rep. Marsha Farney’s (R) bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve been calling their state representatives to oppose this bill.