Tag Archives: ATPE

Happy Thanksgiving

From all of us in the ATPE Governmental Relations department, we are thankful for your interest in our blog and your support of public education, especially during this challenging year for our schools, educators, students, and their parents. The ATPE state office is closed November 25-27, but we’ll be back Monday, November 30, with more great content for you.

In the meantime, we wish you a safe and peaceful Thanksgiving holiday.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 20, 2020

ATPE wishes every Teach the Vote reader a happy and safe Thanksgiving! Take a break from meal-planning to read this week’s education news highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations:


We reported last week that ATPE had again written to state officials urging a waiver of STAAR testing requirements this year. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to Fox 7 Austin about the issue Monday. “We’ve already got a lot of trauma and pressure,” said Exter, referring to the difficulties the pandemic has caused this school year. This week, Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) organized a bipartisan group of Texas legislators in writing a similar letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to ask that STAAR be cancelled for 2020-21. Bernal noted STAAR tests, if administered, should be used for diagnostic purposes at most. Read more about the letter in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

Rep. Gina Hinojosa

ATPE and Rep. Bernal aren’t alone. Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) also sent a letter with 791 signatures to Gov. Abbott, urging the state to request a federal testing waiver. The parent-led group Texans Advocating for Meaningful State Assessment (TAMSA) also sent a letter to Abbott this week, similarly asking the state to seek a federal waiver and requesting that the high stakes associated with the test be removed.

Not all members of the education community are on board with cancelling STAAR tests altogether, however. A group made up of 14 school superintendents, business leaders, and representatives from the groups Teach Plus and EducateTexas issued a letter to Commissioner Morath this week calling for this year’s STAAR tests to proceed. Citing learning losses caused by the pandemic, the group wrote, “We strongly believe that Texas as a state should keep the 2021 STAAR
administration assessment,” although the group believes “student, school and district accountability measures linked to testing should be suspended for this year.”


This week, ATPE released a report titled, “An Impossible Situation: Why Texas Educators Are Struggling to Serve Students During COVID-19—and Pathways State and District Leaders Can Follow to Correct the Course,” which analyzed three educator surveys conducted by ATPE over the course of the pandemic. The surveys show that educators are concerned with their health and safety, often feeling they are not a priority to state and district leaders. Educators are also experiencing mental health effects due to increased workloads and the stress of the pandemic. In its report, ATPE outlines actions the state could take the remediate the effects of the pandemic on educators and students, such as including educators in planning and providing resources to alleviate stresses associated with staffing and lack of cleaning supplies. Read more on the report in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and explore our interactive site with the survey data here.

Concerns expressed by educators in response to ATPE’s surveys are also reflected in a new article by The Texas Tribune‘s education reporter Aliyya Swaby, republished here on our blog today. The article shares parents’ frustrations as their children struggle in remote learning environments and highlights the difficulties exacerbated by state officials’ slow and often changing guidance to educators and school district leaders this year.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In a press conference held Thursday afternoon in Lubbock, Gov. Greg Abbott said there would be no further shutdowns in Texas, adding that he believes closing businesses and restaurants is not an effective method for curbing the spread of COVID-19. Instead, Abbott suggested that personal responsibility and self-regulation were important factors in keeping infections down.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated several documents on its Coronavirus Support and Guidance page this week, most notably its Attendance and Enrollment FAQ. Based on the changes, schools can now access a 14-day period of remote-only or hybrid instruction if the school determines that staff absences due to COVID-19 would make in-person instruction impractical. The simple application for the remote-only period is said to be “approved upon receipt.” As has been the case in prior guidance, TEA says students who do not have access to internet or devices and whose parents want them on-campus must be allowed to attend school in person.

Perhaps due to Halloween parties or just an increase in students on campus, the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard is showing a spike. For the week ending November 8, updates to the number of new weekly positive cases show a 48.0% increase among students and 38.7% increase among staff who participate in on-campus activities and instruction. Given that these values have gone up since last week’s incomplete data for the week ending in Nov. 8 was reported, the numbers for the week ending in Nov. 15 may be just as staggering after the dashboard’s next update post-Thanksgiving. (No new numbers will be reported next week on account of the holiday.)

Check out ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to educators’ questions, and visit Advocacy Central (for ATPE members only) to share your pandemic-related input with legislators and other state and federal officials.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met for its last meeting of the year this week. On Wednesday, members heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, who showed no signs of cancelling this year’s STAAR test. Morath did say the agency was considering changes to how the test interacts with the state’s A-F accountability system. Read more about the commissioner’s conversation with SBOE members in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives, Nov. 19, 2020.

Also on Wednesday, the SBOE approved its legislative recommendations, including one to expand the board’s authority to approve or reject charter school expansion amendments. On Thursday, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified in support of an ATPE-backed rule change that would eliminate the expiration of Legacy Master Teacher certificates. Read more about the SBOE’s Wednesday and Thursday meetings in this blog post by Wiggins.

The board on Friday gave its final approval for the Master Teacher fix, delivering a major win for Texas educators, and approved new curriculum standards for health, physical education, and science. The board also said goodbye to long-serving members Donna Bahorich, Barbara Cargill, Marty Rowley, and Ken Mercer. Read more about Friday’s meeting in this post by Wiggins.


On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Abbott, the Texas Education Agency (TEA), and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) announced that $420 million in federal CARES Act funds would be made available to school districts as a reimbursement for prior purchases of Wi-Fi hotspots and e-learning devices, such as laptops and tablets. Districts must apply for the funds by December 11 and will be reimbursed at a rate of 75%. ATPE issued a statement Wednesday calling the reimbursements a step in the right direction, but noting the need for additional relief. As districts only have three weeks to apply for the funds (one of which is a holiday week), ATPE also implored TEA to remove obstacles to completing the application.

The reimbursement program is one of the ways Texas officials have opted to spend the federal CARES Act money this year. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.


A newly filed bill to reform the state’s healthcare program for educators is raising eyebrows. Rep. Ken King (R-Hempill) pre-filed House Bill (HB) 430, which would shut down both the active and retiree healthcare plans that currently exist through TRS. In a letter to educators, King said he intends to file additional legislation to complement HB 430 in his efforts to improve educators’ retirement prospects in Texas. Read more about the proposal in this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.

SBOE Update: Board seeks more authority over charter expansion, ATPE advances Master Teacher rule fix

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is meeting this week for the last time this calendar year. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been attending the virtual meetings and reporting on them here on our ATPE advocacy blog. Here are the latest developments:

Wednesday highlights:

On Wednesday, November 18, the board began its day with a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the discussion between the board members and commissioner in this blog post from yesterday. Also on Wednesday, the board debated its legislative recommendations for 2021, and set the Permanent School Fund (PSF) distribution rate for the next two-year state budget.

The board held a preliminary vote to set a distribution rate of 4.18% from the PSF for the 2022-23 budget biennium, directing $1.17 billion per fiscal year and $3.34 billion for the biennium to fund public schools. Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the board’s Committee on School Finance/PSF, noted that the Legislature will ask the board to contribute as much as possible due to the financial strain on the state caused by the recession. In response to questions about why the board can’t contribute more than it does, Maynard explained that the nature of endowments is that they are limited in how much they can distribute while protecting the corpus and maintaining growth of the fund.

TEA staff updated the board on the results of the SBOE’s legislative recommendations for the previous session in 2019. Among the items included in the board’s recommendations last session were changes to PSF governance to address conflicts between the SBOE and the School Land Board (SLB), which manages the fund’s real estate assets and is housed within the General Land Office (GLO). The 86th Texas Legislature passed legislation in 2019 designed to mitigate those conflicts and requiring the two boards to meet together at least once a year.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis presides over the November meeting.

The board then considered its legislative recommendations for the upcoming 2021 legislative session, beginning with readopting recommendations that had not been addressed in 2019. The recommendations comprise legislation the board would like to support.

The board approved a legislative recommendation introduced by Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) to expand the SBOE’s authority to approve or reject charter school expansion amendments. The board currently has veto authority over the approval of new charter chains, but no authority over the expansion to additional campuses once a charter chain is approved. The commissioner is the sole authority who decides whether charter chains can open additional campuses; the current commissioner has allowed charter chains, including those with failing accountability ratings, to expand exponentially. The SBOE did not approve a recommendation, however, calling for a moratorium on new charter chains.

Perez also proposed a recommendation on reducing the number of high-stakes tests to only those that are required under federal law, as well as removing A-F grades used in the state’s accountability system for schools. ATPE has advocated for removing harmful labels from the accountability system that oversimplify educational factors and only serve to stigmatize schools and communities. Unfortunately, the SBOE did not adopt this recommendation today.

The board also did not approve a number of recommendations Perez proposed that explicitly expressed support for protecting the health and safety of educators and students by granting local districts the flexibility to make determinations about educational delivery, as well as requiring that local educators and parents have meaningful input into reopening decisions.

Members then resumed discussion on curriculum standards (TEKS) up for final adoption at this month’s meeting. The board will vote on the revised TEKS for health, physical education, and science during their Friday meeting.

Thursday highlights:

The board divided into its three standing committees Thursday morning, with the School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/PSF Committees holding separate hearings.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testifies before the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified before the Committee on School Initiatives Thursday morning in support of a new administrative rule that will allow Legacy Master Teachers to retain their certificates without expiration. ATPE’s Governmental Relations team approached Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff in the summer of 2019 with concerns raised by Legacy Master Teachers whose certificates were scheduled to expire as a result of language in House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE worked with agency staff and other stakeholders to develop a solution that would allow Legacy Master Teachers, including Legacy Master Reading Teachers, to continue teaching in their current positions. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) approved the final rule in October of 2020.

By law, all rules passed by SBEC must be reviewed by SBOE, which holds veto authority that is rarely executed. Wiggins thanked TEA staff, SBEC members, and House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) for their work to ensure that the expertise of Legacy Master Teachers remains in the classroom. After Wiggins’s testimony, the committee advanced the rule to the full board with a favorable recommendation. The rule will go into effect pending a favorable review by the full SBOE on Friday.

ATPE commends legislators for joining the push for STAAR waivers

Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), joined by 67 of his Texas House colleagues, sent a letter to the Texas commissioner of education today calling for the cancellation of this school year’s STAAR tests.

Today’s letter from the bipartisan group of state representatives echoes a similar letter ATPE sent to Gov. Greg Abbott last week and shared with legislative leaders and the commissioner in recent days. Both letters reference the “COVID slide” and the need for educators and policymakers to focus their efforts this year on remediation of students, along with prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff.

“At most, any administration of the STAAR exam during the 2020-2021 school year should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions under the current A-F accountability system,” wrote Rep. Bernal in the November 18 correspondence to Commissioner Mike Morath.

Texas laws and regulations link numerous high-stakes decisions to data derived from STAAR testing, including school accountability ratings, student promotion, and the evaluations and compensation of educators. Lawmakers who signed the letter to Morath expressed appreciation for the state’s decision to waive STAAR-related requirements for the Student Success Initiative this year, which ATPE also noted in our letter as a positive step. However, data from STAAR tests administered this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be unreliable and unfair measures to apply to a host of other decisions, as ATPE has repeatedly warned state officials.

The commissioner and governor have not yet signaled any intent to waive the testing requirements this year as they did in the spring. Morath previously has been quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.” As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, multiple members of the State Board of Education questioned Morath about STAAR testing during a meeting this morning. “Why do we even need the STAAR test this year?!” tweeted member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) during the SBOE meeting.

ATPE is hopeful that the growing pressure to waive STAAR testing requirements this year, including pleas from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, will persuade Governor Abbott and Commissioner Morath to provide the needed relief and do their part to request federal waivers of the testing and accountability mandates, as well. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for any new developments.

ATPE releases report on educator experiences during COVID-19

Texas Educators Find Themselves in an “Impossible Situation,” Worried about Health and Increasing Workloads—and Lacking Trust in State Officials’ Response

Educators find themselves in an “impossible situation” as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage the state of Texas and are increasingly dissatisfied with state and district leadership’s handling of the crisis.

On November 18, ATPE released a 14-page analysis of three educator-focused surveys designed to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Texas public education. The report, titled “An Impossible Situation: Why Texas Educators Are Struggling to Serve Students During COVID-19—and Pathways State and District Leaders Can Follow to Correct the Course,” breaks down the results of three surveys we conducted between May-October 2020.

View the ATPE survey data and analysis here.

Most respondents expressed that the health and safety needs of students, faculty, and staff are a top concern. The amount of mental stress and anxiety educators are experiencing in the return to school is at an all-time high. Respondents expressed a feeling that teachers “were an afterthought” in COVID-19 back-to-school planning at the state and district levels, and they said the implementation of safety protocols by their districts were, in their words, “inconsistent.” In addition, the responses showed that between May and October, educators began experiencing concerns about increasing workloads reflected in longer work hours and the need for extra planning time.

More than 75% of respondents were “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” (41%) with state leadership’s handling of the crisis, with many criticizing the state’s insistence on tying in-person learning to school funding.

“Many respondents felt district and state-level COVID-19 policies weren’t designed with educators in mind,” said Andrea Chevalier, ATPE lobbyist and author of the report. “This leads to impractical and unreasonable job expectations and extreme stress. Educators are concerned with students’ overall well-being and success, of course, but they believe that in-person instruction must be safe, well-resourced, and effective.”

As the name of the report implies, however, the surveys also offer indications of pathways state and district leaders can take to increase the number of educators who feel safe on campus and ensure a more effective teaching and learning environment. Some positive responses to the surveys indicate that certain districts are, in fact, navigating the pandemic successfully largely due to clear, transparent communication that involves educators in the process.

Based on the results and analysis of the surveys, ATPE shares the following recommendations:

  1. Educators should be included in school districts’ COVID-19 planning.
  2. Districts should be transparent and consistent about COVID-19 policies and their enforcement across all school programs, including maintaining a confidential, trustworthy line of communication between employees and district leaders.
  3. Class sizes should be limited to enhance the effectiveness of physical distancing in mitigating the spread of the virus.
  4. The state should ensure districts have adequate cleaning supplies and PPE.
  5. The state should provide resources, such as funding for substitute teachers, custodial staff, and additional teachers, to ensure districts can accommodate increased staffing needs to relieve educators from extra duties, both during the pandemic and after when students have increased learning needs.
  6. Districts should ensure educators who need medical accommodations are being appropriately served under applicable federal law, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  7. The state should not tie district funding to a requirement for in-person instruction and should instead allow districts to make the best decisions for their communities.
  8. Educators’ mental health must be prioritized through all policy decisions, including providing funding that affects staffing levels and the ability of districts to allow educators to focus on a reasonable workload.
  9. To reduce the risk of viral spread and alleviate fears of exposure, the state should reconsider current standardized testing requirements that will increase the number of students required to be on campus for testing days.

Find additional information and resources on ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page at www.atpe.org/coronavirus.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 13, 2020

From COVID-19 to Social Security and everything in between, check out this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team on this Friday the 13th:


ATPE continues to lobby for a waiver of testing and accountability requirements this year because of the disruption caused by COVID-19. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote to Governor Greg Abbott this week to again urge relief from state testing laws. COVID-19 has caused mounting stress for educators and students, which is only amplified by standardized testing and the likely negative implications of unreliable testing data. “Despite the increasing backlash against testing, state officials thus far have offered the education community little hope for relief,” wrote Holmes, urging the governor to grant waivers and seek flexibility from federal officials. Read ATPE’s letter here plus additional detail in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

In an interview with NBC Local 23, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter argued that teachers should be able to focus on serving their students rather than testing, especially with heightened academic, social, and emotional needs stemming from the pandemic. Exter also stressed that teachers are best-equipped to assess their own students in a much more accurate and effective manner.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is urging educators to contact their members of Congress about a new retirement bill filed recently in Washington by U.S. Congressmen Richard Neal (D – Mass.) and Kevin Brady (R – TX). The association is asking the bill’s authors to amend their high-profile bill with language to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces many public employees’ Social Security benefits. Both Brady and Neal have proposed a WEP fix in their previously filed bills, and ATPE is requesting the WEP language to be added onto their new legislation, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020, in order to give educators the relief they deserve.

ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send a quick message to the Texas congressional delegation about this legislation and the need for WEP relief.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard now shows that for the week ending November 1, the number of positive cases increased 4.5% among students and 5.4% among staff who participate in on-campus activities and instruction. More notably, however, the number of positive cases for the most recent week of data (ending November 8) appears to have risen a staggering 25.8% among students and 14.3% among staff. These numbers are alarming as data reported for the most recent week are usually incomplete and likely to increase with the next week’s update. It is unclear whether these trends are reflective of upward infection trends statewide or an increase in students participating in on-campus instruction as the school year progresses.

We reported here on Teach the Vote last week that ATPE sent a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath sharing educators’ complaints about how the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has handled local issues arising from the pandemic. To date ATPE has not received any response to that letter. Last week we also reported on TEA’s clarification of its guidance allowing districts to require certain students to attend school in person. The topic has garnered much media attention. On Friday, November 6, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins spoke with CBS Austin and stressed that the state should focus on investing in education and prioritizing relief from testing.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to numerous questions asked by educators. Also, don’t forget to visit Advocacy Central (for ATPE members only) to share your coronavirus concerns with legislators and other state and federal officials.


This week, The Texas Tribune’s education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel discussion about rural education in Texas. Swaby sat down with Donna Hale, superintendent of Miami Independent School District, Georgina C. Pérez, member of the Texas State Board of Education, and state Rep. Gary VanDeaver to talk about broadband access, teacher retention, and maintaining education funding, among other topics. Learn more and view archived video of the panel presentation here.


ELECTION UPDATE: With the election 10 days in the past, we have unofficial final results in Texas and just a couple races that may head to recounts, according to the Texas Tribune. This week on Teach the Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on Texas’ record-breaking turnout, the presumptive next Texas House Speaker, and other news. Read Mark’s Texas election roundup here, and see ATPE’s list of the full election results for Texas legislative and State Board of Education races here. Thank you to all who voted!



The Senate Education Committee met today to hear remote testimony from invited witnesses only on virtual schools, special education, COVID-19, and the implementation of two of the major education bills passed last session. Read more about the hearing, believed to be the last one the committee will hold before the 2021 legislative session begins in January, in this blog post today from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Related: Monday marked the beginning of the pre-filing period for bills to be considered by the Legislature next session. As of today, 745 bills have already been pre-filed. Search, read, and follow bills that have been filed at Texas Legislature Online.

Senate Education Committee discusses virtual schools, special education, and COVID-19

The Senate Education Committee met Friday, November 13, at the Texas Capitol to discuss an agenda including digital learning, special education, House Bill (HB) 3, and state assessments. Like the committee’s last interim hearing, senators met in person and sat separated by clear plexiglass dividers. The committee only accepted invited testimony, which was delivered virtually.

Most of Friday’s witnesses were school superintendents who testified about their various experiences with virtual learning. The brunt of the testimony was geared toward expanding virtual schools, which ATPE has long cautioned against. Research has consistently found that full-time virtual schools are a poor substitute for in-person instruction. ATPE submitted testimony to the committee warning that although educators have adapted to virtual learning for now in order to protect public health, it is unwise to expand full-time virtual schools on a permanent basis. ATPE recognizes that the pandemic has necessitated widespread virtual instruction this year in the short term, but it will be important in the long run for students to resume in-person instruction as soon as it is safe in order to minimize learning loss.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath presented the committee with an update on the implementation of HB 3, the school finance bill legislators passed in 2019. According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA), HB 3 added $4.9 billion in state funds while decreasing local funding by $2.2 billion in Fiscal Year 2020, for a net increase in total funding of $2.7 billion.

Thus far, 26 school districts are part of the first cohort of the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA), which is the performance pay program established under HB 3. Through the September settle-up process, TEA reported distributing $40 million to districts on the behalf of 3,650 teachers participating in that program. A handful of superintendents testified regarding implementation of the program. The bill also established a Teacher Mentor Program Allotment (TMPA), which had 67 districts approved as of August to provide stipends for mentor teachers in the 2020-21 school year.

The agency is also charged with tracking the unintended consequences of HB 3. Morath said one item for consideration by lawmakers next session is a quirk in the funding formulas whereby a district with 700 or fewer students may paradoxically lose net funding when adding CTE students who should qualify for additional funding.

Josh Sanderson from the Equity Center urged the state to use any additional federal stimulus money to ensure districts receive their anticipated funding. Sanderson pointed out that districts need consistent, reliable funding and face additional unanticipated costs as a result of COVID-19, including an increased need for transportation services. ATPE’s testimony urged the state to fully fund the commitments made under HB 3, including protecting gains to school funding and educator compensation.

The committee also heard updates on the implementation of HB 3906, which made significant changes to STAAR implementation. Most notably, the bill required TEA to transition to fully electronic administration of the STAAR by the 2022-23 school year. The agency is scheduled to report on its progress toward this objective at next week’s State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting. Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) cautioned that online testing could disadvantage students who are less comfortable with technology or have learning disabilities. A number of school administrators asked the committee to extend the timeline for the transition. ATPE’s testimony recommended that the state waive STAAR administration for the 2020-21 school year.

COVID-19 was another topic discussed in the hearing. TEA touted its response to the pandemic, including its extension of funding flexibility for remote instruction, providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to districts, and launching Operation Connectivity to provide technology and internet access to underserved areas. Morath suggested that determining how remote instruction will be funded in the long term will be a challenge for the legislature.

Morath also highlighted the challenge of tackling learning loss as a result of the disruption to the educational environment due to COVID-19. ATPE has consistently pointed out that this need for remediation should serve as a warning to those looking to expand full-time virtual schools outside of a pandemic setting. In written testimony, ATPE highlighted the resolutions ATPE members passed during the 2020 ATPE Summit urging the state to prioritize the health of educators and students.

Special education was the final topic of the day. TEA staff testified that the state has increased special education spending by 27% over the past four years. A 2016 investigation found that Texas had under-identified students who are eligible for special education services, and the U.S. Department of Education notified TEA in 2018 that it had violated federal law in doing so. According to TEA, special education enrollment went from 8.7 percent in the 2015-16 school year to 10.7% in the 2019-20 school year.

The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) testified that Texas must change the way special education services are funded so as to correspond to the costs of specific services provided. Disability Rights Texas noted that schools have lost contact with many students in special education over the course of the pandemic and echoed the need for special education funding reform.

Today’s hearing is expected to be the last for the Senate Education Committee before the legislative session begins January 12, 2021.

ATPE again urges state officials to waive student testing requirements during COVID-19

ATPE sent a letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott November 11 seeking relief for Texas public schools as they face rigid testing and accountability requirements while still dealing with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter from ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes reiterates requests ATPE made to state officials in July, specifically including a waiver of requirements for STAAR and TELPAS testing and related accountability laws.

Shannon Holmes

“A growing chorus of educators, parents, and elected officials have opposed standardized testing this year,” writes Holmes, citing concerns that the state-mandated tests create unnecessary added stress, take time away from instruction, and are unlikely to yield reliable data. “Despite the increasing backlash against testing, state officials thus far have offered the education community little hope for relief.”

The letter from ATPE notes the increase in educators’ workloads this year and the mental health effects of the pandemic on students. With Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath expressing his intent that testing continue this year in spite of the pandemic and that all students be required to take the tests in person, ATPE is concerned that test administration alone will contribute to health and safety risks already disrupting the educational environment. In addition, the letter highlights the numerous high-stakes decisions that are tied to standardized testing data, which may not be reliable under the circumstances surrounding this difficult school year.

Relief from standardized testing mandates is one of the needs most frequently expressed by ATPE members and was the subject of a resolution adopted by the ATPE House of Delegates in July. The association is also lobbying for a waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements similar to the flexibility granted during the 2019-20 school year.

Read the full letter from ATPE to Gov. Abbott here.

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

It’s been a long week, but the election isn’t the only thing happening. Catch up with these news highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ELECTION UPDATE: This week, we celebrated a long-awaited Election Day for the 2020 general election. Despite record turnout, Texas ended up seeing less of a “blue wave” than many polls had anticipated. Republicans maintained control of the Texas House and Senate, the State Board of Education and statewide offices on the ballot such as Texas Supreme Court seats.

While results are still up in the air nationally for the presidential race, we know more about what the election results mean here at home in Texas. Read this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a preliminary analysis of the election, including what the results mean for the election of a new House Speaker. ATPE will provide additional analysis of the election results in Texas once ballot counts are more complete.

ATPE is grateful to all who turned out to vote in this historic election!


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) made several updates to its Coronavirus Support and Guidance page this week. TEA’s public health guidance was updated to include instructions for when asymptomatic, test-positive individuals can return to school and a clarification that close contact can be 15 minutes over the course of the day rather than 15 consecutive minutes. This is a consequential change for teachers and students who are in intermittent close contact throughout the day.

TEA also updated its attendance and enrollment FAQs to allow districts to require a student to come back for in-person instruction (e.g., a remote student who is falling behind), following certain protocols. Additionally, as has been the case in TEA’s guidance on STAAR testing, students must be on-campus for STAAR testing. The agency has noted that the paper-testing window cannot be extended due to processing requirements. ATPE has been urging state and federal officials to waive testing requirements this year due to the pandemic.

ATPE also wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath this week asking the agency for more local help for schools that are struggling during the pandemic. Read more in in the next section.

Updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that for the week ending October 25, the number of positive cases increased 10.8% among students and 7.7% among staff. We are not reporting on the data for the week ending in November 1 because the most recent week’s data has consistently been incomplete, typically showing a marked increase the following week as districts input new information. Positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities. It is unclear whether these trends are reflective of upward trends in the state or an increase in students participating in on-campus instruction as the school year progresses.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to common questions asked by educators. Find additional ATPE resources related to the pandemic on our professional learning portal, and don’t forget to visit Advocacy Central where ATPE members can contact their legislators and other state and federal officials to share concerns about the coronavirus response or other issues.


This week ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to complain about the state’s recent handling of local COVID-19 issues. “As the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life, educators are disappointed with what they perceive as a lack of leadership shown by state officials and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as school districts across the state grapple with very real challenges,” wrote Holmes.

The letter cites two examples of local challenges stemming from the pandemic that TEA has failed to adequately address. The first example is in El Paso, where soaring COVID-19 cases prompted local superintendents to ask the state for additional time for remote instruction. TEA released revised guidance in a Region 19 School Safe Zones plan that would allow El Paso school districts to have fewer students on their campuses. ATPE lauded the agency’s decision use objective, virus-related metrics at the local level in determining when it is safe to reopen campuses, which we have long recommended, but we also shared recommendations on making the Region 19 plan more effective and expanding it for statewide use. ATPE’s letter also criticized TEA for failing to enforce its own COVID-19 guidance when some school districts have refused to implement health and safety precautions or neglected to report COVID-19 case numbers on their campuses. TEA has declined to take any enforcement action, saying instead that local school boards should decide what to do in those cases.

Read more in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, and read ATPE’s November 2 letter to Commissioner Morath here.


With the election now (mostly) in the rear-view mirror, more attention is turning toward the upcoming 2021 legislative session and the outlook for public education funding. With a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, the fate of funding and education policy will rest in the same hands (albeit with some new members and a new Speaker of the House) as during the 2019 legislative session.

The last legislative session saw major school finance reforms and an increase in public education funding that enabled a pay raise for many Texas teachers. But with the state facing a deficit, many have wondered if lawmakers will allocate resources to preserve the gains made last session. ATPE State Treasurer Jayne Serna and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke with KXAN news this week about school funding and the anxiety many educators feel about their pay.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins also spoke to the media this week about the need for increased resources to help public schools deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mark spoke about the anticipated need for remediation of students as a result of learning losses during the time that the pandemic has disrupted the school environment. Extra help for struggling students will necessitate additional financial resources. Watch Mark’s Thursday interview with Fox 7 Austin here.

For more on the funding needs for public education, keep reading below.


The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) held joint hearings this week regarding legislative appropriations requests (LARs) that have been submitted recently by multiple state agencies, including the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Education Commissioner Mike Morath briefly outlined his agency’s LAR on Thursday, which he said seeks to maintain current funding levels with the exception of two new “exceptional” items aimed at addressing COVID-19 issues. The first exceptional item is meant to alleviate learning loss that has disproportionately impacted students from low-income backgrounds, through targeted teacher and student-focused interventions. The second exceptional item would restore the 5% budget cuts made to the Windham School District.

Officials with the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also addressed the LBB at this week’s hearing. Executive Director Brian Guthrie testified that the TRS pension trust fund values decreased early in the pandemic, but they have since rebounded. TRS expects a 7.24% rate of return for this year. Guthrie also outlined his agency’s LAR, which includes requests for funding to hire additional TRS staff and open a regional office in El Paso.


 

 

ATPE criticizes state’s response to local COVID-19 issues

On Monday, November 2, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to complain about the state’s recent handling of certain local COVID-19 issues.  “As the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life, educators are disappointed with what they perceive as a lack of leadership shown by state officials and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as school districts across the state grapple with very real challenges,” wrote Holmes. The letter cites two recent examples of local challenges stemming from the pandemic that TEA has failed to adequately address.

The first example is in the El Paso area, where coronavirus-related hospitalizations have soared, leading a local judge to order a two-week shutdown of non-essential businesses, which Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton immediately sought to undo this week. The alarming increase in case counts also prompted Region 19 superintendents to ask state officials for additional flexibility on reopening their campuses for in-person instruction. TEA subsequently released revised guidance in a Region 19 School Safe Zones plan that would allow school districts in that particular region to have fewer students on their campuses than previously required. The state has limited the time that school districts can operate remotely without risking a loss of funding, but the Region 19 plan offers the possibility of additional flexibility for some districts.

ATPE lauded the agency’s decision to begin using objective, virus-related metrics at the local level in determining when it is safe to reopen campuses, which ATPE has recommended for months in previous communications with Morath and the governor. However, our letter this week also included specific recommendations on making the Region 19 School Safe Zones plan more effective. ATPE also urged TEA to apply the revised criteria statewide so that added flexibility could be used by any school district facing a surge in cases similar to what we have seen in El Paso.

In our letter, ATPE also criticized TEA for failing to enforce its own COVID-19 guidance and turning a blind eye toward some school district decisions to ignore recommended and mandated health and safety precautions. Some districts have neglected to report COVID-19 cases to the state as required or have refused to enforce other safety measures, including the governor’s order on wearing masks. TEA has declined to take any action in response to complaints that it considers to be “local in nature,” leaving them instead for school boards to decide. The letter from Holmes to Morath state, “ATPE feels compelled to speak out in condemnation of both a reckless disregard for safety in some districts and your inaction in the face of these situations.”

Read the full ATPE letter here.