Tag Archives: appropriations

House committee discusses school safety funding

The Texas House Committee on Appropriations met Tuesday in Austin to discuss funding for school safety, which Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) called one of the most important issues the legislature will take up next session.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 9, 2018.

Administrators from Santa Fe ISD, the site of the horrific school shooting earlier this year, were the first to testify. The district has since doubled its security staff, installed panic buttons in classrooms, and modified the design of certain instructional areas. The district indicated that funding for additional officers and counselors has come from the district’s fund balance, and leaders are concerned about long term budgeting.

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) called the amount of spending Santa Fe ISD has been forced to undertake “sobering,” and suggested that state lawmakers should not compound the burden on local property tax payers by leaving districts to fund school safety measures alone.

Lawmakers also heard from representatives from the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) and the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. Representatives indicated that while legislators have cut program budgets, demand for services has increased. Because of this, TxSSC has not been able to address 100 percent of the needs expressed by school districts. State Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) stressed the importance of training officers in de-escalation and in how to deal with special needs children.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath presented the agency’s plans to address school safety, including a $54 million exceptional item in the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR). Morath explained that the actions taken to date as well as the agency’s budget request are aligned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan. The commissioner said that federal funds would likely not help pay for school hardening efforts, which would fall instead to state and local taxpayers. Morath also suggested creating safety standards for facilities, such as new schools, that would force compliance.

State Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) questioned how far $54 million will go when spread statewide, given the testimony that Santa Fe ISD alone spent more than $30 million on safety improvements. Rep. Walle also suggested that if the state is going to gather data on students, lawmakers should also consider ways to ensure students faced with mental health emergencies do not have unfettered access to firearms.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also emphasized the need to address students’ emotional wellbeing in order to prevent tragedies. Along with state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Rep. Wu also discussed the need for access to counseling in particular in rural areas, and how telemedicine may be leveraged in some underserved locations. Morath noted that some rural schools are limited by lack of access to high-speed fiber internet. Chair Zerwas also indicated broad support for utilizing telemedicine in these settings. Zerwas credited Article III Subcommittee Chair Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Rep. Howard with working to provide $25 million in matching funds last session to implement telemedicine.

The committee heard additional testimony from the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD), the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). The LBB pegged the total of various agencies’ appropriations requests at around $100 million.

Finally, the committee received an update from the TEA regarding the agency’s implementation of corrective action to ensure students with special needs are being adequately served. This is a result of the U.S. Department of Education finding the state instituted a de facto cap on special education enrollment and failed to comply with federal law mandating the state provide special education services to all children who qualify.

Agency staff testified that districts are seeing an uptick in special education enrollment. As part of the corrective action plan, the agency is developing a rubric for schools seeking additional funding in order to provide special education services as they are required under federal law. Staff testified that each percentage point that special education enrollment increases will cost $342 million per year. In addition, staff said there are currently not enough trained staff in the state to evaluate all of the children who theoretically could be served.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 7, 2018

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


Testifying at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter advocated for an expansion of the list of free and near-free drugs covered by TRS-Care. The subcommittee, which met Wednesday, oversees the state’s education budget, including the Teacher Retirement System’s pension fund and health insurance. A persistent lack of funding over the years has lead to an increased burden on both active and retired educators who have seen healthcare premiums rise with no increase in the percentage contributed to their pensions. The urgent need for more funding and resources for the TRS system will be a hot button issue during next year’s 86th Legislative Session, one that ATPE lobbyists will be tackling head on. Find out more about Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing in this article by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


The 2018 general election is right around the corner, but even closer than that is a special election runoff in Texas Senate District 19 (SD 19). The special election was called when former Sen. Carlos Uresti stepped down following his felony conviction. While all Texans are not be able to participate in this one special election, all Texans will feel the effects of its outcome as San Antonio residents decide who will take one of the Texas Senate’s 31 seats.

Next Monday through Friday, Sept. 10-14, voters in the district that runs from the greater San Antonio metroplex to the tiny town of Orla, Texas, will have a say in whether Democrat Pete Gallego or Republican Pete Flores represents them in the state’s upper chamber when the legislature convenes in January. For those who miss early voting, the special election runoff for SD 19 will take place Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) this week ahead of formally presenting it to the Legislative Budget Board next Wednesday. LARs lay out all of an agency’s intended expenditures for the upcoming biennium and are, as a group, the basis for what will eventually become the state budget. TEA’s LAR includes not only agency-level spending but also all of the funding that flows through the Foundation School Program and out to school districts. As has been the case in the past, the TEA document includes a statement about reductions in the anticipated level of state spending based on the reliance on an assumed increase in local property tax collections. For the upcoming biennium, the agency is assuming the state will supplant $1.5 billion in state revenue by relying on these local dollars. ATPE released the following press statement in response.


The House Public Education Committee released its preliminary report on school safety this week. The report follows the release of similar interim documents by a Senate committee and Gov. Greg Abbott, but the House report is unique in its focus on directing state funding to accomplish a number of goals aimed at preventing future tragedies like the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

The report is the result of several interim hearings held over the summer at the direction of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and committee chairman  Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Read a summary of the report’s findings and take a look at the full report itself in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet Tuesday through Friday of next week, and the agenda includes a formal look at its Long-Range Plan for Public Education.

The plan is the result of more than a year of meetings and stakeholder input, which includes in-person conferences and an online survey seeking guidance from educators and community members all over the state. The final product includes recommendations related to attracting and retaining educators and lifting up the education profession. Follow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins on Twitter (@MarkWigginsTX) for updates on the plan, which will be discussed on Tuesday.

 

ATPE testifies on educator healthcare

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the public education budget, met Wednesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to TRS-Care. Chairman Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) began by noting the roughly $1 billion shortfall facing the system heading into the 2017 legislative session, which lawmakers only partially filled. Without those funds, the system would have been insolvent. The program faces another shortfall heading into the 2019 session, which begins in January.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifies before House Appropriations Article III Subcommittee September 5, 2018.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Executive Director Brian Guthrie estimated that the fiscal year ending in 2021 will face a roughly $410 million shortfall, which is down from previous projections. Guthrie explained that TRS-Care is funded as a percentage of payroll, which is not growing at the same rate as health care costs. This is the fundamental reason why TRS-Care has begun to face repeated shortfalls. Retirees have born additional costs as a result of the underfunding, and roughly 30,000 have chosen to leave the program because they can no longer afford to participate.

Guthrie suggested that the best case scenario for TRS-Care would be for the legislature to appropriate an amount more than is needed to simply keep the fund solvent, the excess of which could become the corpus of an investment fund that would be able to provide long-term funding stability, similar to the TRS pension trust fund.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter credited the House and Chairman Ashby in particular for preventing the collapse of TRS-Care last session. Exter suggested allocating additional dollars to the base funding formulas for TRS-Care, as opposed to providing supplemental funding each biennium. Exter shared a story from a retiree whose incontinence medication shot up to $500 after the most recent TRS-Care changes. To that end, Exter suggested expanding the list of free and near-free medications, particularly in maintenance drug categories. In addition, allowing retirees access to café plans or health savings accounts (HSA) would allow retirees to allocate tax-deferred dollars on the front to help with budgeting towards their annual deductible. Finally, Exter noted that preventing retirees from leaving TRS-Care or banning them from returning after testing other private plans violates free market principles and harms consumers.

Beyond TRS-Care, Exter warned of problems associated with TRS-ActiveCare and the pain experienced by active educators who are seeing health care costs rise more quickly than their paychecks. The 86th Texas Legislature will also be faced with issues relating to the TRS pension fund. Both will vie with TRS-Care for attention and resources.

Chairman Ashby indicated that the changes to TRS-Care have generated enormous attention, and voiced optimism that this will lead to positive outcomes for both active and retired educators’ health care next session.

Why March 6 Matters: School Finance

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at school finance.


Perhaps no issue impacts every Texan more than school finance. For all of the lip service politicians pay to reducing property taxes, the only way Texans will ever see meaningful property tax relief is if the legislature puts more state money into public education.

Journalists such as Texas Monthly‘s R.G. Ratcliffe and the Texas Tribune‘s Ross Ramsey have exhaustively reported how state lawmakers have gradually reduced the share of state dollars spent on schools, shifting the burden instead onto the backs of local taxpayers. School funding has gone from a roughly fifty-fifty split between state and local funding sources a decade ago to a situation in which local taxes make up more than half of the burden, with the state ponying up just 38 percent. That’s an inconvenient reality for some incumbent lawmakers who want to place the blame elsewhere for the rising costs on Texas homeowners, even going so far as to characterize well-documented reports of the decline in state funding as “fake news.”

The current school finance structure that relies so heavily on locally generated property taxes is a great deal for legislators: First, they run campaigns promising to lower property taxes and rein in government spending. Then they get points for reducing state spending, and let local officials face the music when they’re forced to jack up property taxes to make up for the state’s miserliness. The budget signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in 2017 actually reduced the amount of state dollars spent on public schools by $1.1 billion, and let the balance fall once again into the laps of local taxpayers.

Yet some legislators have shown an interest in restoring the balance. Under the leadership of House Speaker Joe Straus, the Texas House passed legislation during the 85th Texas Legislature that would have put as much as $1.9 billion in new dollars into the public education system. The infusion of new money was intended to begin the long process of fixing the state’s “lawful but awful” system of public school finance. The Texas Senate slashed that amount to $530 million, then ultimately killed the legislation as payback for the House’s refusal to pass a voucher bill.

Those hoping for school finance reform in 2017 had to settle instead on a new state commission created to study school finance. Some fear this commission could devolve into yet another vehicle for those pushing school privatization, and educators are watching closely.

The next chance to fix the school finance system and lighten the load on local taxpayers will come when the legislature meets in 2019, but public education supporters will have their work cut out for them. The next two-year state budget is expected to be even tighter, and lawmakers will have to carefully prioritize spending in order to meet even their most basic funding obligations.

What this means is simple: Texans will only see lower property taxes and better-funded schools if they elect legislators and leaders who will prioritize public school funding as a core principle. Without additional public education supporters in the Texas Capitol, the current leadership can be expected to continue the trend of defunding public schools and dumping the load onto local taxpayers.

Our kids deserve better.


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on school finance and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 6, 2017

Here’s the latest education news from Texas and Washington, DC, supplied by your ATPE lobby team:

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin today, Oct. 6,. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending the meeting and has provided this update.

The board is adopting a number of updates to the Texas Administrative Code (containing SBEC rules) both as part of the board’s regular rule review cycle and as the board pursues its role in active oversight of educator preparation programs and educator certification and assignment.

In addition to adopting rule changes, the board also considered today several items outside of their administrative rule review, including updating the Classroom Teacher Advisory Committee; approving modified principal and teacher surveys associated with the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP); and discussing updates to the board’s mission statement and statement of core principles for better alignment. At the conclusion of the discussion of rule items posted for action, the board heard presentations from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on 50 cases of pending or considered litigation.

Finally, the board is considering today four agenda items that were posted for discussion only:

  • A proposed amendment to rules in 19 TAC Chapter 227, implementing statutory requirements of SB 1839 and HBs 2039 and 1508 from the last regular legislative session, dealing with educator preparation candidates;
  • Proposed amendments to rules in Chapter 228, implementing SBs 7 and 1839 as well as HBs 2039, 3349, and 1963 with regard to requirements for educator preparation programs;
  • Proposed amendments to Chapter 233 rules regarding categories of classroom teaching certificates; and
  • Implementation of SB 1839 with regard to requirements to provide data to educator preparation programs to help those programs assess their impact and improve program design and effectiveness.

For additional information on the topics above, view the full board agenda and its related materials here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177533853Are you curious about efforts to reform Social Security laws that have had a negative impact on some educators when they retire? Read the latest update on our blog from David Pore, one of ATPE’s lobbyists representing our members on Social Security and other federal issues in Washington, DC.

 


Hurricane Harvey remains the focus of interim legislative hearings. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee met in Houston to discuss the state’s response to the massive storm. The committee heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other state officials about Harvey’s impact and the recovery efforts. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Next Thursday, Oct. 12, the House Public Education Committee will meet to investigate the hurricane’s financial impact on schools and their facilities. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteTexans have only a few days left to register to vote in the next election. Next Tuesday, Oct. 10, is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming election on Nov. 7, 2017. In that election, voters will be asked to weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments, as well as several local ballot measures. Below are some tips from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter on what you can do to prepare for upcoming elections.

While the big election isn’t until March 2018, now is the best time to begin, or continue, developing a culture of voting within the education community. Voting is more than just a right that has been handed down to us through the spilled blood of our forefathers and –mothers, it is also a responsibility of good citizenship, and like all positive behaviors, voting is learned by your students and colleagues through modeling and discussing good habits.

The best way to ensure that your voter registration is complete and up to date is to get into the habit of annually checking your voter status with the Secretary of State. Thankfully, this is as easy as going to the Am I Registered web page, entering one of three simple sets of information, and hitting submit. The site will then pull up your voter registration data and let you confirm that your “voter status” is active and that your name and address information are up to date.

If you have moved within the same county, you can update your address by simply clicking the “change your address” link. If you have moved to a new county, or if your voter status is not listed as active, then you will need to complete and submit a voter registration form. You can complete your voter registration on the Secretary of State’s voter registration page. After you fill out the web form, you will need to print it and drop it in the mail.

ATPE members with questions about voter registration are always encouraged to contact the ATPE Government Relations team at government@atpe.org. Happy voting!

 

Both chambers release versions of proposed Texas budget

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed yesterday that Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) will continue to serve as the chair of the Senate Finance Committee for the 85th legislative session. Upon her reappointment, Sen. Nelson filed the Senate’s budget bill, Senate Bill 1.  SB 1 spends $103.6 billion in state revenue over the next two years, which is $1.3 billion less than the Comptroller’s 2018 and 2019 revenue projection.

The Senate issued a press release highlighting the fact that the budget includes “$2.65 billion to cover enrollment growth in public schools and $32 million more for high-quality pre-k programs.” This is $86 million less than the additional $118 million that would be needed to extend current pre-k funding to cover both years of the upcoming biennium.

Girl showing bank notesAs filed, SB 1 represents a continuation of current school funding formulas. However, according to the Senate press release, Nelson calls  “making sure the school finance system better meets the needs of students” a critical decision to be made by lawmakers this session.

Other specific items outlined in the budget per the SB 1 press release include:

  • $1 billion to address state hospital and mental health facility needs;
  • $63 million to clear the waitlist for community mental health services;
  • $20 million for a program to help veterans dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues;
  • $260 million to improve Child Protective Services;
  • $25 million for high caliber bulletproof vests for Texas law enforcement officers;
  • $800 million for border security measures approved last session; and
  • A 1.5 percent across-the-board spending reduction for all expenditures not related to public education.

The Senate press release on SB 1 can be found here.

On the House side, Speaker Joe Straus has not yet named which representative will replace former Rep. John Otto (R – Dayton) as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Otto did not seek re-election in 2016. Still, the House did release its version of a plan for the base budget yesterday, too. The Speaker’s press release touts the House budget plan as one that “puts additional resources into public education, child protection and mental health while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.”

The House budget proposal:

  • Funds enrollment growth of about 165,000 students over the next two years;
  • Includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system; and
  • Includes $108.9 billion in general revenue.

The Speaker’s press release can be found here.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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

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

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

 


The United States Capitol building

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

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

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

 


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

 


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

 


 

85th Texas Legislature will face tight budget

Get ready to tighten your belts.

Before each session, legislative budget writers wait with bated breath to hear the state comptroller hand down from on high the magic number that will guide their spending for the next 140 days. That number comprises the core of the biennial revenue estimate (BRE).

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashThe comptroller is basically the state’s top accountant, and crafting the BRE is the office’s biggest responsibility. Divined from tax receipts and economic trends, the BRE is a best guess as to how much tax money will be available for lawmakers to spend over the next two years. The legislature is legally bound to keep spending within that number, which makes an austere forecast about as welcome as a skunk at a garden party.

At a formal press conference this morning at the Texas Capitol, Comptroller Glenn Hegar’s BRE presentation for the 2018-19 biennium was marked by a subtle, yet unmistakably skunky fragrance.

Hegar announced the 85th Texas Legislature will have $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending, roughly $8 billion less than lawmakers got the green light to spend in 2015. Factors contributing to the pinch include sluggish growth in tax revenues – due in no small part to stubbornly low oil prices – and lawmakers’ decision last session to dedicate $5 billion in sales tax revenue to the highway fund.

According to the Texas Tribune, state Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), who appears poised to chair the House Appropriations Committee, suggested the number is $5 billion to $6 billion less than it would take to fund state services at current levels. Combine that with the governor’s directive that each agency cut its budget by four percent, and a picture of a penny-pinching budget battle takes shape.

Girl showing bank notes

When money is tight, we find out what our priorities are. We at ATPE believe investing in future generations should be at the top of the list.

Public education still hasn’t fully covered the $5.4 billion cut by the legislature in 2011. With enrollment growth outpacing teacher hiring, class sizes continue to increase, to the detriment of students. Per-student funding still lags 2011 levels in some districts. To top it off, the state has steadily decreased its share of school spending, forcing school districts to rely more and more on local property taxes to make up the difference.

But there is still room for optimism.

Even without a court mandate, House leadership under Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has expressed a strong desire to fix the school finance system this session. There’s been growing talk of increasing the basic per-student allotment. If a friendly Republican administration in Washington, D.C. provides relief in previously disputed areas of the budget, such as health care and border security, the result could be more state money freed up for other priorities.

It’s a matter of deciding what’s important.

Our children deserve a world-class education that doesn’t cost parents their home. If lawmakers truly want to cut property taxes, there’s a simple fix: Shift the burden of education funding back to the state. It will require taking a hard look at the budget and making tough choices about public spending, but it can be done. We’re optimistic that Texans will keep their eye on the ball this session and not be distracted by repackaged voucher schemes, teacher bashing bills, and smoke and mirrors tax cuts.

If we can maintain that focus, then we’ll end up with a budget that reflects our values as Texans.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 30, 2016

Here is this week’s Teach the Vote wrap-up of education news:


School funding was the center of attention at the Texas State Capitol this week as legislators held interim hearings to consider education-related budget requests and the possibility of changes to the state’s school finance system next session.

Education related hearings began on Tuesday this with week with the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s education staff holding a series of joint budget hearings where they heard from TEA, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and TRS. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath laid out TEA’s appropriations request including exceptional items. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie delivered a presentation on his agency’s appropriations request which covered the trust fund, TRS-Care, and TRS ActiveCare.

Budget related hearings continued on Wednesday and Thursday as the House Appropriations and House Public Education Committees held a two-day joint hearing on school finance. On day one of the hearing, the committees heard from four panels of invited witnesses covering the following topics: an overview of the school finance system, litigation, and revenue; additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR); recapture; and district adjustments. On day two, the committees heard from an additional three panels of invited witnesses as well as approximately 60 public testifiers, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. The final three panels of invited testimony covered student adjustments, facilities funding, and school finance options for the 85th session.

Note: we will update this post with a link to footage of day two of the joint hearing on school finance as soon as archived video becomes available from the state.


RegisterToVoteOctober 11 is the last day to register to vote (or update your registration if you’ve recently moved) if you plan to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. On our blog this week, we shared a post from ATPE with recommendations from a Texas teacher on how to engage students this election season. Don’t forget that students who will be 18 years old on Election Day can register, too!

Find out more about the candidates running for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by visiting our 2016 Races page here on Teach the Vote. Our candidate profiles are designed to inform voters about the candidates’ views on public education. They include incumbents’ voting records and candidates’ responses to our survey about major education issues. Several candidates vying for contested seats this fall have recently answered our survey, so check out the profiles for races in your area to find out where your candidates stand. Remember also that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for candidates of any party or independent candidates in the November general election.

Your vote is your voice!


Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) announced this week plans to resign from her House seat in January. Dukes cited lingering health problems following an automobile accident in 2013 in which she injured her back. She has recently been the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that she misused state funds and her legislative office employees for personal work. Dukes has had a long record of supporting pro-public education legislation since taking office in 1994, but health issues resulted in her being absent for a good part of the last legislative session. ATPE thanks Rep. Dukes for her service and wishes her a full recovery. If Dukes is re-elected in November, Gov. Abbott will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy upon her resignation.

 


With the legislative session just a few months away, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is among a host of elected officials making the rounds to tout private school vouchers as a civil rights imperative. He and other Republican senators have given public speeches, appeared on panels at recent events such as the Texas Tribune Festival, and implored their legislative colleagues to support an especially alarming form of voucher known as an Education Savings Account (ESA). ESA programs call for the state to give public funds directly to parents, often in the form of debit cards that can be used for any education-related expense on behalf of their children, including paying for home schooling or private school costs.

Dr. Charles Luke, who heads the Coalition for Public Schools of which ATPE is a member, penned an opinion piece for the Waco Tribune this week in which he debunks the “school choice as a civil right” myth. Luke writes that “vouchers disguised as ‘school choice’ have repeatedly been used to further segregation around both race and income,” citing voucher programs that began shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in 1954.

NO VOUCHERSESAs and other voucher proposals fail to create any legitimate options for educationally disadvantaged students, as Luke points out, especially without any requirement that private schools accepting vouchers adhere to state and federal laws that prevent discrimination, protect students with special needs, and impose accountability standards. Private and parochial schools have generally balked at the notion of complying with the same laws as public schools — such as requirements for student testing, providing transportation, and admitting all students regardless of disability, race, or other factors — in exchange for taxpayer funds. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), sitting on a panel at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival, pointed out the practical impossibility of ensuring that ESA funds are spent appropriately. She expressed serious doubt that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and his staff would have the necessary resources to scrutinize receipts submitted by parents to back up expenditures made using an ESA.

A much more realistic plan for helping all students, and especially those living in poverty, would be to improve the state’s school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional but deemed only “minimally” acceptable. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter wrote on our blog this week about the need for lawmakers to increase the weights in our state’s current school finance system, along with creating a new funding weight that would account for campuses with particularly high concentrations of students with greater needs. Campus-based weighted funding of this nature would help districts such as Austin ISD that are forced to share their local tax revenue through the current recapture system on account of having elevated local property values but also include campuses with high populations of students in poverty and English language learners.  Houston ISD, another district negatively affected by recapture, is waiting to see if its voters will reject a local property tax increase next month, which would force the state to reallocate Houston’s tax base toward other school districts. An HISD representative testified at Wednesday’s school finance hearing that nearly 80 percent of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged. Read more about the Houston district’s dilemma here.

With marathon hearings on school finance taking place at the Capitol this week, stay tuned to find out if lawmakers are receptive to making any significant changes next session.

 


Joaquin_Castro_TribFest16

Members of the ATPE lobby team met with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) during last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival to discuss Social Security and other education issues. Pictured from left to right are ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, Castro, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Educating children of poverty: policy considerations for this week’s school finance hearings

Starting tomorrow, Sept. 28, the House Public Education and Appropriations committees will spend two days hearing from education stakeholders and finance experts on interim charges related to how Texas funds its public schools. These joint interim hearings come on the heels of a state supreme court ruling that our state’s school finance system is constitutional, albeit deeply flawed, as we have reported here on Teach the Vote.

Girl showing bank notesWhile it is true that money alone doesn’t solve every problem, adequate funding distributed equitably certainly makes dramatic system-wide improvements much more achievable. Is there currently adequate money in the state school system to meet the constitutional requirement for a general diffusion of knowledge? Maybe, maybe not. Is there enough money in the system to ensure a general diffusion of knowledge for all children while also meeting the legislature’s mandates on things like cameras in the classroom, a host of social and safety issues, and the accountability system; and meeting parental expectations to provide value-added offerings such as Latin classes and ever increasing levels of technology? Moreover, is there enough money in our coffers to do these things against the backdrop of our current inequitable method of distribution, which some interests in our state would prefer to maintain? Almost certainly not.

With regard to addressing the many deficiencies of the Texas school finance system, where should state policymakers start? If the goal is to have the most widespread impact on improving student outcomes, they should begin with equity. The U.S. ranks near the bottom among developed nations in terms of the education gap between high- and low-socioeconomic status (SES) students. Further, Texas ranks in the bottom five among all states in terms of funding gaps between districts based on either wealth or race. In other words, we are one of the worst states in one of the worst countries where equity is concerned.

Many high-performing education systems around the world actually spend less than the U.S. on average per pupil spending. (Note: Texas also spends well below the national average.) However, the way that other nations distribute the education funds they spend is also vastly different. Most, if not all, of these systems recognize that regardless of system-wide funding levels, some children require more — sometimes significantly more — support than their peers to be successfully educated. These children often include those with limited proficiency in their country’s primary language, high mobility rates, learning disorders, and children with a high degree of childhood traumas or adverse childhood experiences.


For related information, read about research on how assessments of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) can help educators support and instruct students who are at an increased risk.


Because many of these obstacles to learning tend to be much more prevalent in impoverished populations, poverty tends to be a proxy, though an imperfect one, to identify these populations of at-risk children. (For the purpose of characterizing students in the U.S., poverty is often expressed by admittance into the federal free and reduced lunch program.) High-performing education systems around the world have come to recognize that if student outcomes are to be significantly and positively affected, these kids not only need more support individually, but the need to modify the entire educational environment also becomes exponentially increased when significant numbers of children with these obstacles are concentrated at a single campus. As such, they have organized their school funding systems to provide the educational and non-educational supports these children need, which are supports their peers often don’t need in order to reach the same levels of educational mastery.

In order to most effectively provide for a general diffusion of knowledge to all students, the Texas Legislature should consider increasing the current funding weights such that they more adequately reflect the cost of supporting students across a spectrum of need. Additionally, the legislature should develop a new weight that takes into account the impact of concentrations of high-needs students on a single campus. These recommendations would go a long way in addressing concerns about inter-district equity and insure that discussions around issues such as recapture stay focused on student outcomes. When recapture and hold harmless provisions are considered without also considering student weights, there is a tendency to over-focus on funding changes to individual districts in a way that can be divorced from what student populations look like and how students’ needs may be differentiated from their peers in other districts.

In addition to inter-district equity, the Texas Legislature should also consider how to best address intra-district equity. Legislators should have an in-depth policy discussion about how to best ensure that resources are flowing to campuses within a single district in a truly equitably manner, particularly in large urban and suburban districts. Legislators should consider the pros and cons of impacting district behavior, with regard to significantly prioritizing resources toward campuses with larger concentrations of high-needs students directly through the school finance laws in addition to research-based direct interventions. Currently, we attempt to indirectly encourage districts to prioritize resources through a school accountability system that is largely punitive.

As the House Public Education and Appropriations committees meet on Wednesday and Thursday of this week, we hope legislators will focus on creating a system that best serves all Texas students with the resources available.