Tag Archives: appropriations

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 3, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are some of this week’s blog highlights from Teach the Vote:

 


Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

On our blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann writes about ongoing efforts to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Washington. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) has proposed new federal rules to implement certain accountability aspects of the law, which would require states to respond by implementing their corresponding accountability systems in the 2017-18 school year. ATPE has also written to ED Secretary John King offering input on testing and educator quality issues affected by ESSA. Read Kate’s blog post to learn more.

A delegation of ATPE state officers and staff members will be traveling to D.C. this month for meetings with the Texas congressional delegation and ED officials. Talks will focus not only on ESSA implementation but also on the continuing efforts to address Social Security reform and the unfair Windfall Elimination Provision through Congressman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) ETPSA bill.

 


Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

In the wake of a disappointing ruling from the Texas Supreme Court that our state’s school finance system is constitutional, education stakeholders are wondering if there will be any impetus for lawmakers to take steps to improve the flawed system next session. This week, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) called for two House committees to add new interim charges to their agenda this year in an effort to keep school finance at the forefront of legislative planning for 2017. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson wrote about the new interim charges on our blog this week, noting that insufficient school funding leads to “immense pressure on local taxpayers, classroom teachers, and students.”

Under the directive this week from Speaker Straus, the House Appropriations and Public Education Committees are jointly being asked to study the following:

  • Current law requires the elimination on September 1, 2017, of Additional State Aid for Tax Relief (ASATR), which was intended to offset the cost of tax-rate compressions enacted in 2006. Review how this loss of funding would impact school districts.
  • Study the use of local property taxes to fund public education and its effects on educational quality and on Texas taxpayers. Specifically, recommend ways to reverse the increasing reliance on recapture payments to fund public education statewide.

On the Texas Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) responded to the new House interim charges by issuing a statement emphasizing his focus on education reform priorities, which include private school vouchers. Advocating a reform package deal, Patrick wrote, “Everyone knows education policy reform and school finance reform must go hand in hand.”

Read more about the school finance interim studies in Josh’s blog post from yesterday.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteThere is news out today regarding last week’s primary runoff elections, including a few contests that were close enough to result in calls for recounts.

As we reported following the May 24 runoff election night, Rep. Wayne Smith (R-Baytown) lost his election to challenger Briscoe Cain (R) by a mere 23 votes. That prompted a request for a recount, which Harris County election officials completed today, confirming Cain as the winner of the runoff for House District 128. Meanwhile, another recount request is still pending in House District 54, where Killeen mayor Scott Cosper (R) defeated Austin Ruiz (R) in the Republican primary runoff by a margin of only 43 votes. We’ll bring you the results of that recount when it’s completed.

Related: The Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS) shared a voting update today with fellow members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, including ATPE. In the update, TACS’s Laura Yeager writes about the low turnout in the recent runoff elections as well as how much some groups spent to try to defeat pro-public education candidates this year. Laura writes, “A recent article in the Quorum Report stated that education reformers spent $3.2 million to defeat pro-public education candidates, including those that support Speaker Joe Straus. While educators generally don’t have millions of dollars to throw into elections, they do have upwards of 700,000 votes, which can and should carry as much weight as pure dollars. We are grateful for the culture of voting that has been developing across the state, and we will need to continue to cultivate it for the general election and in years to come. Only when all educators use their hard earned right and privilege of voting, will we be able to fight the vast amount of money being poured into elections by education reformers that lines the pockets of business and slowly kills public education as it is imagined in the Texas Constitution.” We agree wholeheartedly with Laura’s assessment, and we hope that Texas educators’ participation in the 2016 elections will be enough to counter the privatization and other dangerous reform proposals that are certain to arise in the 2017 legislative session.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is gearing up to make significant changes to educator preparation and certification rules over the new few months. First, on Thursday, June 9, the board will convene for a work session to consider the role of educator preparation programs (EPPs), the educator preparation experience through both traditional and alternative EPPs, national trends, and other matters relating to educator preparation and certification. No public testimony will be taken on Thursday, but SBEC will hold its regular board meeting on Friday, June 10. View the agenda here, which includes anticipated rule changes for the criteria to enter an EPP and the accountability system for EPPs. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on SBEC rulemaking actions from ATPE’s lobby team.

On Monday, June 13, the House Pensions Committee is holding an interim meeting in Houston, TX; the Texas Education Agency is conducting a public hearing on proposed changes to rules for the Performance-Based Monitoring Analysis System (PBMAS); and the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability is holding yet another work session to develop its recommendations to the 85th Legislature. We’ll have updates on these and other events affecting public education on our blog.

16_Web_SummitSpotlightHave you registered for the ATPE Summit, taking place at the Austin Convention Center, July 20-22? This year’s summit will feature professional development and leadership training sessions, including advocacy updates from the ATPE lobby team; an opportunity for ATPE members to shape our organization’s legislative program and bylaws; plus plenty of other lively, informative, and entertaining activities. Learn more at ATPESummit.org

House speaker directs committees to keep school finance on the front burner

ThinkstockPhotos-185034697_gavelcashIn May, the Texas Supreme Court issued a long-awaited ruling in litigation over the way Texas funds our public schools. Finding the school finance system to be (barely) constitutional, the court emphasized in its ruling that it is the primary responsibility of the legislature – not the courts – to address how the state’s school funding needs are to be met. In the absence of a court ruling compelling the legislature to make changes, many have wondered if any significant improvements will be proposed next session.

Today, Texas House of Representatives Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) directed two committees to jointly study two broad-reaching aspects of the Texas school finance system. More specifically, the House Appropriations Committee and the House Committee on Public Education are tasked with working jointly to study state funds that are used for paying to reduce school district property taxes and how local property taxes that are used for public education affect educational quality and taxpayers.

In its recent school finance ruling, the Texas Supreme Court stated that while the system meets minimum constitutional standards, it “is undeniably imperfect, with immense room for improvement.” Since that opinion was released, Speaker Straus is the first of our state leaders to take action in furtherance of the daunting task of improving funding for the public education system available to over 5 million Texas children. Funding provided by the Texas legislature, local taxpayers, and the federal government determines whether students are in portable buildings or permanent classrooms, whether students have up-to-date instructional materials, whether employee benefits such as salary and health insurance premiums are competitive with other industries, and whether school administrators have the resources necessary to address the many safety precautions that must be considered on campuses.

Aside from the new studies announced this week, Speaker Straus had earlier issued interim charges for House committees to study the Cost of Education Index (CEI) and school districts’ facility needs. When underfunded and mismanaged at the state level, all of these funding factors place immense pressure on local taxpayers, classroom teachers, and students. Our system can and should be improved, and the direction given by Speaker Straus sets the tone for what public education supporters hope will be a productive legislative session beginning in January 2017.

Legislative Update: TX Congressman pursues Social Security fix, NCLB talks continue in Washington, plus more TX Legislature news

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has re-filed his “Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act” this week. H.R. 711 is a bill to address the controversial Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) in federal law that reduces the amount of Social Security benefits some educators may receive. As we reported when it was first introduced in November, Brady’s legislation would replace the WEP’s arbitrary and punitive formula with a revised calculation of benefits and result in a significant benefit increase for numerous retirees. ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association have worked closely with Congressman Brady on this proposed legislation. Read our most recent letter in support of the bill, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as we work to get the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act passed.


Congress continues to discuss reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There is strong bipartisan support for giving states more spending flexibility and room to construct their own policies around issues such as accountability system designs, educator qualifications, and evaluations. Despite the public backlash over standardized testing, many in Congress still favor keeping the requirement for annual testing of most students, which is expected to be the key focus of the ongoing debates.

ATPE has submitted testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in conjunction with its recent hearings, entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” and “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.” We also weighed in on the discussion draft of a reauthorization bill proposed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), deemed the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” Earlier this week, the Senate committee also hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” Testimony included a discussion of various innovative ideas that have been tested in schools around the nation, including alternatives to traditional school environments, professional learning communities for teachers, improving students’ morale in order to foster discipline, blended learning models, and dropout prevention strategies.

On the House side, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has filed another proposal to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB. The bill is H.R. 5, coauthored by Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), and known as the “Student Success Act.” It is a revival of a 2013 House proposal that similarly aims to give states more control over school accountability and funding decisions, while also promoting charter school expansion. Kline’s bill is scheduled for a committee markup on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Watch for additional information about the House proposal on Teach the Vote next week.


As we reported Wednesdaythis week, members of the Texas House of Representatives learned their committee assignments for the 84th session. While the House Public Education Committee chairmanship remained unchanged from last session, there are some new faces heading other important committees that handle education-related bills. Rep. John Otto (R–Dayton), an accountant by profession, takes over the House Appropriations Committee, which has budget oversight. Speaker of the House Joe Straus also tapped Rep. Dan Flynn (R–Van) to chair the House Pensions Committee, which oversees matters related to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE looks forward to working with all the new and returning chairs this session.


Early voting begins Monday for special election runoffs in four legislative districts with vacancies. Voters in House Districts 13, 17, and 123, along with Senate District 26, are urged to familiarize themselves with the candidates and cast an early vote. Visit our 2014 Races pages to view profiles of the candidates.

From the Texas Tribune: Analysis: The Politics of the State Growth Rate

by Ross RamseyThe Texas Tribune
Dec. 1, 2014

A small group of Texas legislators will meet this week to decide how much they think the state’s economy will grow in the next two years.

The growth rate adopted two years ago was 10.71 percent. Two years before that, it was 8.92 percent. This year, the Legislative Budget Board will choose from four growth forecasts ranging from 11.68 percent to 15.71 percent.

This is dry stuff, but it carries a potent political charge. Whatever number is picked will effectively set the upper limit on state spending in the next budget, which lawmakers will write during the session that begins in January.

It is known as the cap, and the phrase to watch for is “busting the cap” — what lawmakers and others call it if and when they exceed the spending limit, or think about it, or want to block some program that would force them to spend beyond it.

Busting the cap is a matter of getting enough lawmakers — not an easy thing — to vote to spend more than is allowed to keep pace with the state’s adopted growth limit.

Because they are experienced with budget arithmetic and because they are (and this is intended in the most positive way) scheming politicians, there are ways to cheat. Those could come into play later in the session — in late April or early May — if the people in charge decide to push the limits set this week.

Conservative groups have tried to get rid of loopholes in the spending limits by applying them to the budget as a whole instead of to parts of it, and limiting the total to what is needed to cover inflation and population growth. The current cap does not apply to federal funds, or even to all state money, but only to growth in spending from tax revenue that is not dedicated by the state Constitution. In plain language, that means more than half of the state budget operates outside the cap. Expect those groups to be back next year with harder limits in mind when the full Legislature returns.

In the meantime, the cap will serve as a warning sign for agencies and others coming to budget writers looking for money. It makes denial a bit easier to take, if you think about it. Without a cap, budget people deciding not to spend money on a particular project have nothing to soften the blow.

This time around, it appears that there will not be a shortage of money. A booming economy and energy industry have made the state government prosperous. The comptroller will put actual numbers to the revenue forecast soon, and the spending limit has not yet been set, but it seems safe to say that more money will be available to lawmakers than the spending cap will allow them to spend.

Unresolved litigation over state financing for public schools offers one reason to keep the doors to the state treasury closed. A state district court ruled earlier this year that Texas lawmakers have not put enough money into public schools to reach the standards they themselves set, and have not ensured each student a shot at the same quality of education. The state appealed to the Texas Supreme Court. Depending on the outcome, lawmakers could be called upon to spend some money on schools.

In the long term, that could strain the budget. In the short term, it offers a handy excuse for budget writers trying to explain why they will not open the treasury while the state is so flush. Between that and the spending cap, they have the brakes they need, should they wish to use them.

Unless, of course, somebody wants to bust the cap.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/12/01/analysis-dry-potent-political-charge/.

Interim charges for House committees released

Earlier today, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R–San Antonio) issued interim charges—topics legislative committees are asked to study and report on before the next legislative session begins in January 2015—to the 83rd Legislature.

The charges to the House Public Education Committee are as follows:

1. Monitor the implementation of House Bill 5 (83R) and report on recommendations for improvement. Work with the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the State Board of Education (SBOE), and public and higher education stakeholders to ensure the creation of additional rigorous mathematics and science courses needed to address the current and projected needs of the state’s workforce.

2. Explore innovative, research-based options for improving student achievement beyond standardized test scores. Evaluate standards for effective campus management as well as teacher preparation, certification and training. Review current teacher evaluation tools and instructional methods, such as project-based learning, and recommend any improvements that would promote improved student achievement. Engage stakeholders on how to recruit and retain more of our “best and brightest” into the teaching profession.

3. Solicit input from leading authorities on the traits and characteristics of good governance, effective checks and balances between the board and administration and the effective relationship between a board and the superintendent. Review current oversight authority by TEA over school board policies on governance. Make recommendations on trustee training, potential sanctions and means of grievances, as well as recommendations on whether the role of trustee or superintendent needs to be more clearly defined.

4. Review successful strategies and methods that have improved student achievement at chronically underperforming schools. Identify alternatives that could be offered to current students who are attending these schools and determine how to turn these schools around. Identify the benefits and concerns with alternative governance of underperforming schools.

5. Review the broad scope and breadth of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) in the tested grades, including the format, testing calendar and the limitation on instructional days available. Recommend options to streamline the assessment of TEKS and focus on core concepts. Review current federal testing requirements in grades 3–8 to determine if testing relief is possible.

6. Examine the role of the Harris County Department of Education (HCDE) in serving school districts. Review the programs and services of HCDE, specifically the department’s ability to assist school districts to operate more efficiently. Report any costs or savings the HCDE provides districts and taxpayers. Make recommendations to improve the operation of the HCDE.

7. Review the state regulatory and administrative systems related to public school bond issuances. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Investments and Financial Services.)

8. Study the impact of Senate Bill (SB) 393 (83R) and SB 1114 (83R). Assess the impact of school discipline and school-based policing on referrals to the municipal, justice and juvenile courts, and identify judicial policies or initiatives designed to reduce referrals without having a negative impact on school safety. (Joint charge with the House Committee on Corrections.)

9. Conduct legislative oversight and monitoring of the agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction and the implementation of relevant legislation passed by the 83rd Legislature. In conducting this oversight, the committee should:

a. consider any reforms to state agencies to make them more responsive to Texas taxpayers and citizens;

b. identify issues regarding the agency or its governance that may be appropriate to investigate, improve, remedy or eliminate;

c. determine whether an agency is operating in a transparent and efficient manner; and

d. identify opportunities to streamline programs and services while maintaining the mission of the agency and its programs.

The charges for the House Appropriations Committee include reviewing public education funding formulas. The Appropriations and Pensions Committees will jointly study the fiscal impact of TRS-Care and health care affordability for public school employees.

View the entire packet of House interim charges.