Tag Archives: ATPE

Compensation, testing, and TRS top issues in ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey

From November 2019 through early January 2020, ATPE members had the opportunity to take a short, three-question survey through Advocacy Central. Powered by a service called Voter Voice, Advocacy Central is a tool that ATPE members can use to be active advocates for Texas education policy.

Respondents were asked to choose their three top education policy issues from a comprehensive list. These issues were ranked most important by survey respondents:

#1 – Educator Compensation and Benefits

#2 – TIE: Standardized Testing / Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

In this blog post, we dive deeper into each of these issues, highlighting recent legislative actions and policy considerations. Then we’ll look at what’s next and pinpoint specific ways that educators can actively influence the treatment of these issues in the future.

Educator Compensation and Benefits

The issue of teacher pay skyrocketed as a priority among Texas legislators and state leaders after educators hit the polls in 2018 – from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick including teacher pay raises in his campaign messaging, to Governor Greg Abbott declaring teacher pay an emergency item, to a non-negotiable inclusion of teacher pay into school funding proposals. Teacher pay is obviously a major factor in the state’s ability to recruit and retain a high-quality teaching workforce. Also, with healthcare costs on the rise, educators’ take-home pay has a direct influence on their health and wellness, which impacts productivity and absenteeism along with costs to the employer.

Due to its far-reaching importance in the short- and long-term, increasing educator compensation has been an ATPE legislative priority. In the 2019 legislative session, the ATPE lobby team advocated for compensation plans that included educator input, meaningful factors other than students’ standardized test scores, and alignment with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the major school funding proposal passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019, did several things that impact educator compensation and benefits. The bill made it possible for many school districts to access substantial additional funding, such as through allotments for mentoring and incentive pay for teachers,  money for extending the school year, and an increase in the basic allotment to facilitate pay increases for classroom teachers and other full-time employees in non-administrator roles. HB 3 also raised the state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS) for teachers and other certified educators, up to $5,500 to $9,000 per year of service. This change to the MSS lifted the base pay for many educators, provided raises for some, and increased the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

As it stands, most (but not all) Texas public school teachers received a pay raise due to increased school funding under HB 3. The bill mandated that districts use 30% of their state funding increase on compensation, with a special priority for teachers with more than five years of experience. The jury is still out on what those raises looked like across the state and whether teachers feel positively impacted by their raise, if any. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is expected to begin gathering data from districts on compensation with a report to legislators in March of 2020. See what some districts have done for their teacher raises in this blog post from our “New School Year, New Laws” series.

HB 3 also included the “teacher incentive allotment” (TIA), which began as strictly merit pay but was eventually modified to specifically prohibit school districts from being required to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers for purposes of this funding. For districts that are ultimately approved to participate in the TIA, they must create local designation systems that will allow for additional state funding ranging from $3,000 to $32,000. The additional funding from this allotment flows to the district, not directly to the teacher, and is based on the number of teachers in the district who receive certain designations as determined by the district (Master, Exemplary, or Recognized) and where those teachers teach (high-needs or rural campuses draw down more dollars). TEA recently released correspondence to districts regarding their TIA applications to the agency. Some districts that already have incentive programs in place, like Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, will likely apply to TEA to be in the first cohort to receive funding in the fall of 2020.

Learn more about the intricate ins-and-outs of HB 3 in this blog post here on Teach the Vote and in TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which details several aspects of the bill relating to compensation.

Standardized Testing

Testing is a major issue for teachers, especially when there is so much riding on the results, such as school grades, closures, sanctions, and even teacher pay. Testing also seems unfair for many students who have special needs, are learning English, are new to the country, or have test-taking anxiety. Teachers know that an entire year of their students’ hard work and social, emotional, and academic growth could never be captured on a single day’s standardized test.

The largest testing bill that passed during the 2019 legislative session – HB 3906, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) – made several changes to state assessment administration and content. Here are highlights of what the bill prescribes:

  • Multiple smaller test sections that can be administered over multiple days (operational by the 2021-22 school year).
  • Elimination of writing tests in grades 4 and 7 (beginning with 2021-22 school year).
  • Prohibiting the administration of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests to students on the first instructional day of the week.
  • Districts will transition to electronic assessments by 2022-23.
  • By Dec. 2020, TEA will create and share with lawmakers a plan to transition districts to electronic assessments.
  • No more than 75% of any STAAR test can be multiple choice by 2022-23.
  • TEA will establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments (with a pilot program to launch in the spring of 2021).
  • TEA will develop interim assessments for districts to use as actionable test data.
  • The educator assessment advisory committee, still awaiting commissioner appointment, will provide recommendations to TEA on assessment development.

Read more about HB 3906 from the TEA website here, and learn more about changes to testing that occurred due to the last legislative session in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE.

The merits of the STAAR test itself were also questioned heavily by parents, educators, and other stakeholders this past session. As a result, HB 3 mandated that a “readability study” be conducted to ensure that the test items and passages on the STAAR tests are at an appropriate level for the test-taker. The University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the study at the beginning of December. In a nutshell, the study (which was not peer-reviewed) was lauded by Commissioner Mike Morath as proving that the tests were on-level, but it left many questions unanswered. Specifically, the study was inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items, it found that some STAAR test questions did not adequately assess the standards they were meant to address, and the authors noted that a majority of STAAR passages were within or below specified levels for narrativity (which has to do with the use of common vocabulary for a certain age/grade). We expect the second part of this study to come out by Feb. 1, 2020. Read more in this blog post here on Teach the Vote.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

After accounting changes adopted by the TRS board of directors in July of 2018, the TRS pension fund was in need of additional funding going into the 2019 legislative session. The 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which reduced the funding window for the TRS fund from 87 years to 29 years, and allowed for a supplemental payment or “13th check” to be issued to retirees in September 2019. SB 12 functions by slowly increasing the state’s contribution to TRS up to 8.25% by the year 2024. Additionally, the school district contribution will increase from 1.5% to 2%. Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at the existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years and eventually increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

SB 12 also requires that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. Additionally, the few school districts that pay into Social Security will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS.

Read more about TRS and the 86th Legislature in this ATPE blog post here on our blog.

What’s next?

We are not finished with compensation. While HB 3 made great strides in improving school finance, many aspects of the bill that could raise educator pay are left at a school district’s discretion. Compensation and benefits should be increased for educators across-the-board to bring the profession to an appropriate level of pay, ensuring that educators can live balanced, healthy lives.

Likewise, we are far from done with testing. However, this topic has been heavily dictated at the federal level since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state is limited in how much it can reduce testing and remain in compliance with federal accountability requirements. That being said, there is flexibility built into ESSA that would allow Texas to alter its assessment structure in ways that are more holistic, such as through the use of portfolio or performance assessments. Additionally, we must be vigilant in resisting the use of standardized tests for purposes of teacher evaluation and pay, as these tests have been shown to indicate more about poverty and other student factors uncontrollable by educators than how well students are learning in any given school year.

TRS is not a done deal either. Educators still face exorbitant healthcare costs and family needs. Prioritizing investments in healthcare, particularly with an emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, can pay great dividends in the form of a healthier school employee population. The state needs to increase its share of healthcare costs for both active and retired employees.

One of the most effective ways for educators to influence future legislative actions around these and other issues is to stay in touch with their own legislators. ATPE members can use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send messages to their lawmakers at any time.

Your Vote is Your Voice

As the 2020 election cycle proceeds, it is important for voters to be aware of candidates’ positions on these issues, as well as incumbent legislators’ voting records on education bills like the ones mentioned above. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has invited all candidates for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year to participate in our education-specific candidate survey. On TeachtheVote.org, find candidate and legislator profiles to view their survey responses and voting records, where available. Learn more about which of the legislature’s 2019 votes were included on our site and why in this blog post.

As an additional resource, if you’d like to hear directly from candidates and maybe even ask a question, attend a free, public education-focused candidate forum being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation in several Texas cities this year. Find one near you here.

Voter registration for the Texas primary elections on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020, ends on February 3. Find out if you are properly registered here. Educator Voting Day is slated for the first day of early voting, February 18, 2019.

Find more voting resources and take the Educators’ Oath to Vote on TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 17, 2020

As you slip into the three-day weekend and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, take a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have just over a month until the Texas primary election on March 3, 2020. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s most recent election-related blog post for the latest campaign finance insights and other tidbits. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in the Texas Tribune’s five-week crash course called “Teach Me How to Texas.” It’s free and fun! Click here to sign up.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

RELATED: If you live the Houston or Dallas area, don’t forget about the upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registered voters in those districts can vote in the runoff even they skipped the first special election back in November. Learn more about the special election candidates on our Resources page.


ATPE’s Monty Exter

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing on Monday regarding proposed new commissioner’s rules affecting expansion of charter schools in Texas. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter joined other education stakeholders, including school district leaders and parents, at the hearing to testify on proposed revisions to the charter performance framework and charter expansion amendment process. Their input focused on concerns about the potential for significant expansion of charter schools with little state oversight or consideration of the fiscal consequences or impact on students.

Specific points offered through the testimony included the following:

  • TEA does not consider proximity to existing campuses when approving new charter school campuses, which can lead to duplication, waste, and inefficiency. Existing school districts near the new charter campus retain fixed costs but receive less funding.
  • State law requires TEA to consider the impact on all students served by the Texas public school system when proposing rule changes like these. This includes the economic impact of a program serving only a small subset of students and the educational impact on students, especially if the local population is not large enough to support robust programming at both the existing school(s) and the added charter campus in the same location.
  • TEA already has approved more than 557,000 seats at charter schools, which exceeds the enrollment level on which the state’s budget is based. If all those seats were filled, it would cost the state more than $11 billion over a two-year period s and consume more than a quarter of the funding under the Foundation School Program. Moreover, this maximum approved enrollment capacity of 557,000 would grow even larger under the commissioner’s proposals.
  • The state’s performance framework should not reward charter operators for things like maintaining their status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is already required by law.
  • A charter operator should not be labeled “high quality” if its performance is based on excluding students with disabilities or filtering out other students who are harder to teach. Under federal law, TEA must ensure all public schools identify, enroll, and serve special education students.

ATPE joined more than a dozen other education advocacy groups in submitting formal written comments to the commissioner, as well. Click here and here to read the text of the proposed rule changes that were published in the Texas Register on Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, 2019, respectively.


Thank you to all ATPE members who took our very first “Your Voice” survey this winter. The results provided valuable insight into what our members’ top policy issues are, such as standardized testing, educator compensation and benefits, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Look for a blog post diving deeper into these issues on Teach the Vote next week.


On Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, President Donald Trump announced from the Oval Office that nine federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education (ED), would release new guidance regarding religious expression. In public schools specifically, the new guidance clarifies protections for students who want to pray or worship in school and eases access to federal funds for religious organizations that provide social services. The guidance also requires that, in order to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school districts must certify with their state agency that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students’ right to pray. Additionally, states must have a process in place to receive complaints against school districts regarding religious expression and must notify ED about such complaints.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students and teachers have a right to pray in public schools. However, while acting in their official capacities, teachers, administrators, and other school employees are not permitted to lead, encourage, or discourage students from participating in prayer. Read more about the new rules in this reporting by the Washington Post.


On Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 three Texas voters, the League of Women Voters, and the Move Texas Civic Fund filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Texas’s lack of online voter registration when residents update or renew their driver’s licenses online. Under The federal motor voter law allows for voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license, but in Texas, the law is only carried out in face-to-face interactions. This is the second iteration of the case, which was originally dismissed by a federal court because the plaintiff had become re-registered to vote before a verdict was reached and lost standing to sue. Should the plaintiffs ultimately win this latest case, Texas would have to allow online voter registration through the driver’s license process. Read more about the new case in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


As ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reported earlier today on our blog, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) has announced his appointment of Rep. Giovanni Capriglione to chair the powerful House Appropriations committee. Read more about the announcement here.


 

Texas election roundup: Finance reports coming in

Early voting for the March 3 Texas primary elections is just over a month away now, and special runoff elections in three House districts will have some voters heading to the polls even sooner. ATPE’s Governmental Relations team has been busy researching and meeting with candidates and updating our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles are a great way to find out how your legislators voted on education bills in recent sessions and to learn more about the candidates running for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education (SBOE) this year. We’ll be uploading candidates’ survey responses on the website as we receive them throughout this election cycle. Make sure you’re aware of all the upcoming election-related dates and deadlines this year.

Candidates for various elected offices in Texas submitted their campaign finance reports this week, detailing their fundraising and campaign spending over the last half of 2019. This provides a bit of insight not only into how much financial strength each campaign has mustered, but who exactly is funding them.

In the special runoff election for House District (HD) 28 in Ft. Bend County outside Houston, Texas Parent-PAC endorsed candidate Eliz Markowitz, a Democrat, raised $244,000 and spent $240,000 between October 27 and December 31, ending the period with $118,000 cash on hand. Republican Gary Gates raised $25,000, spent $323,000, and ended with $60,000 in the bank. The winner of the Jan. 28 runoff will hold the HD 28 seat for the remainder of this year. The same is true in Dallas’s HD 100, where Democrats James Armstrong, III and Lorraine Birabil are in a runoff, and in Houston’s HD 148, where the two runoff candidates are Republican Luis LaRotta and Democrat Anna Eastman. All six of the candidates competing in this month’s runoff elections are also on the ballot for the 2020 primary elections in March, seeking to become their respective party’s nominee to vie for a full term in the office starting in 2021. Click the links on the candidates’ names above to find out more about them and others appearing on the 2020 ballot.

Leading Texas Forward, a PAC led by Karl Rove with the aim of maintaining the Republican majority in the Texas House, reported raising $505,000 from August through December. State Rep. Chris Turner (D-Dallas) reported raising $321,000 to help Democrats take control of the House. State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio) told The Quorum Report he’s transferring $350,000 to his One Texas PAC with the same goal.

In the Democratic presidential primary, Mike Bloomberg announced he has hired 37 organizers in Texas and plans to have 150 in place before the end of January, according to the Texas Tribune. Bloomberg is hoping to score a sizeable chunk of delegates from Texas in the March 3 primary. Elizabeth Warren meanwhile announced several Texas endorsements this week.

Here’s our weekly reminder that voting is the single most important thing you can do in order to lift up our public schools. ATPE and our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition are working to encourage a culture of voting that will ensure public education remains a top priority at the Texas Capitol. Here is a great video by Palmer ISD explaining the powerful impact that creating a culture of voting has made on public education in 2019. Check it out!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 10, 2020

Happy New Year! We hope your holiday break was filled with rest and relaxation. Please enjoy this week’s education update from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have less than two months until the Texas primary election on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins shares the latest election news, including new endorsements and presidential race updates, in this blog post. Don’t forget that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

The upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in the Houston and Dallas areas is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2020. The seats are Texas House District 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registration to vote in these elections closed on Dec. 29, 2019. Remember that as long as you are a registered voter residing in one of these districts, you can vote in the upcoming runoff even if you missed out on voting in this election back in Nov. 2019. Since voter turnout is typically even lower for special elections and runoffs, these House races could be decided by a very small group of voters. Make sure you are among them!

ATPE joins our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition in thanking educators for their involvement and helping us spread our “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) messages around the state. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many election resources available at TexasEducatorsVote.com and prepare to be an informed voter in 2020 by learning about the candidates. Join educators around the state in taking the “Oath to Vote” and be sure to vote on Educators’ Voting Day – February 18, 2020!

ATPE’s Governmental Relations team members are currently updating our Teach the Vote website with profiles of all candidates running for the Texas House or Senate, plus the State Board of Education. In the coming weeks you’ll be able to view their responses to the 2020 ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) plus additional information about the candidates. ATPE also provides voting records for all incumbent legislators, showing you how they voted in the 2019 legislative session and prior sessions on education issues. Check out the candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.


ATPE is helping our friends at The Texas Tribune to promote a new resource for Texans to learn about voting in the Nov. 2020 general election: Teach Me How to Texas. Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in The Texas Tribune’s free five-week crash course. You’ll learn interesting facts about Texas’ past and culture, how different communities and regions in Texas vote, how candidates raise and spend money, how to spot a good poll from a bad one, and how to decode your November ballot. Click here to sign up!


The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation has launched “For the Future”, which is a series of candidate forums and town halls focused exclusively on public education. Over the course of 40+ events all across Texas, interested educators and community members will have the chance to learn more about candidates’ positions on public education before voting in the 2020 primary elections. Below, please find the dates and locations of candidate forums that are currently planned for January, and find additional information on all the town hall events here.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) kicked off the new year with a new video in its “HB 3 in 30” video series, which aims to explain the many different parts of House Bill (HB) 3, the school finance reform bill the Texas Legislature passed in 2019. This week’s video focuses on tax compression, which is a major component of the bill. Without getting into too many technocratic details, HB 3 aims to slow the increases in local property taxes in order to get closer to a reasonable balance between school funding that comes from local taxpayers and funding that comes from the state. Legislators promised that the state would put in enough additional money that the local tax compression under HB 3 would not reduce the amount of funding schools currently receive. You can read this set of slides from TEA that explain how this is supposed to work. The agency also released this guidance to districts explaining how tax rate changes will be implemented in 2020 and announced it will begin collecting local tax data in May 2020.

The agency also released 2018-19 School Report Cards under the A-F system in late December. Under the new accountability system, some schools are able to assign themselves a grade based upon a local accountability system. The agency is hosting webinars in February and March to explain the requirements and how to start up a local accountability system.


 

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

As you end the school year and cozy up for the holidays, please enjoy the last weekly wrap-up of 2019 from the ATPE Governmental Relations team. The ATPE state office will be closed from Dec. 23 to Jan. 4, reopening on Jan. 6, 2020. Expect our next Teach the Vote weekly wrap-up blog post to be published on Jan. 10, 2020.


ELECTION UPDATE: With candidate filing seemingly complete – after a few extensions in races where there were late withdrawals – we’re now getting a good picture of the match-ups that will be on the ballots for the Texas primary election on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins shares some of the insights plus endorsement news in his latest election roundup blog post here. Don’t forget that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

In the Houston and Dallas areas, candidates will be busy trying to garner voters’ support over the holidays for an upcoming runoff election on Jan. 28, 2020. The runoff is for special elections deciding three vacant House seats: Texas House District 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you live in one of those three districts and are not yet registered to vote, you have until Dec. 29, 2019, to register to vote in the runoff, even if you did not vote in the original special election in November.

We at ATPE join our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition in thanking educators for their involvement and helping us spread our “Get Out The Vote” (GOTV) messages around the state. We hope you’ll take advantage of the many election resources available at TexasEducatorsVote.com and prepare to be an informed voter in 2020 by learning about the candidates. ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website in January with profiles of all candidates running for the Texas House or Senate, plus the State Board of Education. In the meantime, learn more about your incumbent state legislators, including how they voted in the 2019 legislative session on education issues, by viewing their profiles on Teach the Vote.


ATPE is helping our friends at The Texas Tribune to promote a new resource for Texans to learn about voting in the Nov. 2020 general election: Teach Me How to Texas. Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in The Texas Tribune’s free five-week crash course. You’ll learn interesting facts about Texas’ past and culture, how different communities and regions in Texas vote, how candidates raise and spend money, how to spot a good poll from a bad one, and how to decode your November ballot. Click here to sign up!


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin last week, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings. The board discussed space planning needs for the TRS agency, a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and a funding policy that will affect future benefits, on which ATPE provided testimony. Read more details about the meeting in this week’s blog post from Exter.


When you have some free time over the holiday break, ATPE encourages all of our members to take a few minutes to log into the ATPE website and answer our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. It’s a quick, three-question survey about which education issues are most important to you. Let us know which legislative issues you care about the most and want ATPE to work on in 2020 and beyond!

Click on the photo to hear a quick message from ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes about the survey.

 


 

Texas election roundup: Endorsement news and more

Now that the filing deadline has passed, candidates are turning to the business of campaigning in earnest. This often begins with racking up endorsements from influential people or organizations in order to signal the strength of their candidacy.

A significant endorsement this week comes from the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which endorsed M.J. Hegar in the crowded Democratic primary for U.S. Senate here in Texas. Hegar’s primary opponents include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and former gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, among others. The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the general election.

Elsewhere, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner won reelection to another four-year term as leader of the state’s largest city. Turner previously served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee as a member of the Texas Legislature.

At this point, it appears much of the action in the 2020 primaries will be on the Democratic side of the ticket. In addition to the presidential primary, more than twice as many Democratic state legislators face primary opponents than Republicans this time around. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information on specific candidates running in your neighborhood coming soon!

As we wrap up the 2019 calendar year, we in the ATPE Governmental Relations Department and our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to thank you for your hard work advocating for your profession this year. The 2019 legislative session was a major turnaround from previous sessions, and it was entirely because Texas educators showed up at the polls in 2018 and elected pro-public education candidates. We will need to do the same thing in 2020 to improve upon our gains and keep from losing the incredible progress we’ve made. Congratulations on a successful year, and here’s to an even better 2020!

More detail on the last TRS meeting of 2019

As we mentioned here on Teach the Vote last week, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) board of trustees met last Thursday and Friday, Dec. 12-13, 2019. The board opened its final day of meetings for 2019 with public comments before taking up an agenda that included adoption of a new funding policy and considering where the TRS agency should be housed in the future. The TRS board heard testimony last week from ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) as well as some individual retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter addressed the association’s concerns with language in the proposed funding policy to be considered for adoption later in the meeting.

Senate Bill (SB) 2224, as passed during the last regular session of the legislature, requires the TRS board to adopt a written funding policy detailing its plan for achieving a funded ratio equal to or greater than 100 percent for the pension trust fund. The original language proposed to the board could have been interpreted as creating a policy that was more prescriptive than current law with respect to cost of living adjustments (COLAs), potentially putting the board at odds with mandates from future legislatures. The legislature, not the TRS board, determines whether or not TRS should grant a COLA to retirees.

After considering the concerns voiced, the board struck the objectionable language before adopting the remainder of the proposed policy. The new funding policy as adopted will require TRS staff to include additional requests for funding in the agency’s legislative funding requests anytime they determine that current funding is not sufficient to keep the pension fund on track toward paying off the balance of its unfunded liability in less than 30 years.

Currently, the $160 billion TRS trust fund is on track to pay off its unfunded liabilities in 29 years. This is largely due to this year’s passage of SB 12, which phases in higher contribution rates for school districts, educators, and the state over the next five years. Prior to SB 12, the fund’s payoff date was more than 87 years into the future, cutting off the possibility of benefit enhancements for retirees for nearly six decades.

With the state of the TRS pension fund significantly shored up after the 2019 legislative session, it is likely that lawmakers will return their focus to improving TRS health insurance. In fact, the Texas House of Representatives recently appointed a new special committee to study statewide healthcare to be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, a neurosurgeon from League City and the co-sponsor of SB 12. Chairman Bonnen was present at the TRS board meeting last Thursday  for a discussion by its Benefits Committee regarding primary care directed models and how to improve outcomes and costs associated with TRS-Care and TRS-Activecare. As the largest single insurer and one that covers members both during their working years and into retirement, TRS is in a unique position to influence a new round of early discussions on improving healthcare in Texas.

TRS has come a long way over the last 30 years. The fund has grown from less than $20 billion to just over $160 billion. Over that same time TRS staff has grown from around 300 employees to more than 700, at the same time that the number of TRS members has increased from around 500 thousand to more than 1.6 million. TRS has moved six times since 1937 before locating the agency in its current home in 1973. Growth in the number of members and exponential growth in the size of the trust fund has pushed TRS’s staffing needs beyond what its current physical location can accommodate.

As the TRS board and staff seek a new home for the agency, they are keeping certain priorities in mind. The space should be centrally located and user-friendly for the members; the new space should provide a long-term solution; and the move away from the current space to a new one should result in a net positive for the fund. These priorities translate into building a new space in central Texas, but outside the downtown Austin business district. Additionally, it means leasing the current TRS space in order to maximize profits for trust fund.

For more on last week’s TRS meeting, click here to view the board materials or watch archived footage.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 13, 2019

Gearing up for the holidays? Take a break from shopping to catch up on this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: The candidate filing period has ended, bringing us one step closer to the Texas primary elections on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, 2020! Check your voter registration status here. Read more of the latest election news in this week’s election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

If you live in House District 28, 100, or 148, don’t forget that you’ve also got a special election runoff coming up on Jan. 28, 2020. Early voting begins Tuesday, Jan. 21. If you are registered to vote in one of these districts, you may vote in the runoff regardless of whether you voted in the original special election in November. The deadline to register to vote in that special election runoff is Dec. 29, 2019.

Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to get involved, find activities you can do to drive more participation in elections, and sign up for voting updates. Also, be sure to check out your state legislators’ profiles on our Teach the Vote website to find out how they voted on education bills in 2019. Read our recent blog posts to learn more about which education bills are featured and takeaways for using the record votes featured on our site. Teach the Vote will soon include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education.


Reps. Steve Allison and Ernest Bailes chat with ATPE’s Shannon Holmes on Dec. 12, 2019

A group of educators gathered near Austin this week at the Texas Association of Midsized Schools (TAMS) annual conference. Attendees heard from legislators and education advocates on a number of important topics including school funding, accountability, and educator retirement issues.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes moderated a conversation about teacher pay in the wake of this year’s passage of House Bill 3. The teacher compensation panel featured state representatives Steve Allison (R-Alamo Heights) and Ernest Bailes (R-Shepard). House Public Education Committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) and Senate Education Committee chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) also participated in a panel during the conference.


The preliminary results of ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey are starting to take shape. Our members are telling us that standardized testing is their number one policy priority. Want to chime in? You still have time to participate in this short, three-question survey, which is meant to gather ATPE members’ opinions on education issues, including results of the last legislative session. ATPE members are encouraged to take our “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. Call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you need help logging into Advocacy Central.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees met in Austin for the last time this year on Thursday and Friday of this week. The board contemplated space planning needs for the TRS agency, reviewed a recent actuarial valuation of the TRS Pension Trust Fund, and discussed a funding policy. For more detail, check out this teaser post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter and check back on Teach the Vote next week for a full summary of this week’s TRS meetings.


Last Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held its final meeting of the year. The board discussed several items, including new teacher and principal surveys, enabling high school students to become certified as educational aides, and other changes to implement bills from recent legislative sessions. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the meeting asking the board to help Master Reading Teachers retain their teaching assignments once their Legacy Master Teacher certificates expire under HB 3. Read a full meeting summary in this blog post and watch video of ATPE’s testimony here (located at the 41:00 mark on the archived broadcast).


A new report by the Center for American Progress describes the nationwide trend of declining enrollment and completion in educator preparation programs. The authors dive into Texas and California specifically to explain two different approaches to this issue. In Texas, enrollment has increased due to the proliferation of alternative certification programs, while completion has declined. Read an analysis of the report by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here.

Texas enrollment in ed prep programs is up, completion is down

A new report released by the Center for American Progress, an independent, nonpartisan policy institute, provides an analysis of the enrollment and completion decline impacting educator preparation programs (EPPs) nationwide, as well as a special inside look at what California and Texas are doing to address this issue.

In Texas, more aspiring teachers are enrolling in EPPs but fewer candidates are completing them.

From 2010 to 2018, EPPs experienced a nationwide decline in enrollment and program completion. Despite this trend, Texas saw just under a 10 percent increase in enrollment from 2010 to 2018. This was due to massive gains in the non-IHE (institution of higher education) alternative certification industry, which grew by nearly 30,000 students.

Source: Center for American Progress.

Texas’s increase in enrollment was not met with a matched increase in completion. In fact, EPP completion in Texas declined more than 15 percent during the 2010-2018 time period. Furthermore, the percentage change from 2010 to 2018 in completion rates for non-IHE alternative programs is only slightly above 0%, which means that even though these programs enroll the most students, they are getting demonstrably worse at helping them reach the finish line.

The enrollment boom in Texas can be attributed to the largest non-IHE alternative certification program: Texas Teachers of Tomorrow, formerly known as A+ Texas Teachers. But enrollment and completion numbers simply don’t match up, according to the report. The authors point to the model of the for-profit Texas Teachers program, which requires a small fee upfront and then thousands of dollars from future paychecks. As noted in the report, the Texas Teachers program is entirely online and self-paced.

Source: Center for American Progress.

In contrast to Texas, California has experienced proportional declines in enrollment and completion across all program types. California has far fewer alternative certification programs and has implemented policies to improve teacher preparation and retention. These efforts include teaching residencies, a required state-approved induction program, stipends for teachers in high-needs schools, and university partnerships with STEM organizations and nonprofits to aid in the recruitment of math and science teachers.

These findings regarding educator preparation are crucial to keep in mind as we address teacher recruitment and retention in Texas, which has long been an ATPE legislative priority. Texas has incubated a pathway to teaching that despite its popularity may be associated with lower outcomes with respect to long-term employment opportunities, considering that teachers trained in alternative certification programs in Texas have a lower retention rate than those from traditional EPPs, at 65.8 percent compared to 75.2 percent according to the Texas Education Agency. The increased funding for teacher compensation in this year’s House Bill 3 was necessary for current teachers, but there is no pay raise that can turn an under-prepared teacher into an effective teacher. It remains important for Texas policymakers to ensure that new teachers are prepared to face the rigors of the classroom, whether they have chosen a traditional route to teaching or an alternative route in which so much of their training takes place online. Additionally, improving recruitment into traditional teacher training programs, which could start as early as high school, is a shift that must happen to generate a well-prepared, lasting educator workforce.

Here are some of the other highlights of the report regarding nationwide trends:

What is the extent of the 2010-2018 decline?

  • More than one-third fewer students enrolled in EPPs.
  • There was a 28 percent decline in program completion.

Is the decline consistent across race, gender, and academic discipline?

  • Male, and Black, Latinx, and indigenous teacher candidates experienced steeper enrollment declines.
  • Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and special education subjects experienced completion declines.

Were there any cases of increase in enrollment and/or completion, despite the overall decline?

  • Non-IHE alternative certification programs experienced an enrollment increase of 42 percent, which was driven mostly by Texas.
  • There was a 30 percent increase in completion for credentials relating to teaching English-language learners or bilingual education.

What policy recommendations can we take away from these findings?

  • The federal government should use Title II reporting to collect data that can be used to generate more specific information about the decline in order to target policy.
  • States should improve data collection and reporting on teacher supply and demand to develop specific solutions.
  • States should approach non-IHE alternative certification programs, and particularly those operating as for-profit programs, with a critical eye.

Recap of the Dec. 2019 SBEC meeting

Certification board discusses educational aide certificates, teacher and principal survey data, and more at the fifth and final SBEC meeting of 2019.

Last Friday, Dec. 6, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met for the last time this year. The board discussed several agenda items, including reader teacher certifications, allowing high school students to obtain the educational aide certificate, an update on various educator certification statistics, and the latest on the EdTPA and T-TESS pilots. The board also elected a new Chairperson, Dr. Arturo Cavazos (Superintendent of Harlingen CISD), Vice-Chairperson, Rohanna Brooks-Sykes, a counselor in Klein ISD, and Secretary, Jose Rodriguez, an elementary school teacher in Leander ISD.

Master Reading Teachers

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified before SBEC on Dec. 6, 2019

The board is undertaking a standard, four-year rule review of 19 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 239, Student Services Certificates. These rules pertain to the school counselor, school librarian, educational diagnostician, and reading specialist certificates. Under House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature, the Master Reading Teacher (MRT) certification was repealed and replaced with a “Legacy Master Teacher” designation. For affected teachers, the Legacy designation will disappear when their existing Master Teacher certificate expires, leaving some teachers unable to maintain their current teaching assignments.

ATPE is urging SBEC to honor the work that MRT certificate holders have accomplished by allowing them to transition over to the Reading Specialist certificate, which has identical teaching assignments. ATPE previously submitted written testimony to the board on this topic at its October SBEC meeting. At Friday’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier again provided written and oral testimony (watch archived video here at the 41:00 mark) in support of MRTs who may be negatively affected by this aspect of HB 3 and the elimination of their certificate.

Potential changes to the language in these SBEC rules will be acted upon at a future meeting. The board will accept public comments on this topic from Jan. 3 to Feb. 3, 2020, through the Texas Register. Additionally, interested educators can testify or submit written comments to the board at its next meeting on Feb. 21, 2020. (Witnesses must submit comments or register to testify at least 48 hours before the meeting.)

Other action items on the agenda:

The board voted to amend disciplinary rules contained in 19 TAC Chapter 249, implementing several educator misconduct bills passed during the 2019 legislative session, including Senate Bill (SB) 1230, SB 1476, and HB 3, as well as SB 37, which eliminates student loan default as a ground for SBEC discipline. This agenda item originally included proposed rule changes to allow SBEC to deny certification to someone who had abandoned a contract within the preceding 12 months. The proposed amendment sought to address intern and probationary certificate holders who abandon their contracts before SBEC can take disciplinary action against them, since their certificates are only valid for one year. The board voted to postpone discussing the contract abandonment language until after a planned stakeholder meeting in January, which ATPE will attend.

The board also adopted the required four-year rule review for two more sets of SBEC rules: 9 TAC Chapter 232, General Certification Provisions, which regulates certificate renewal, continuing education, and criminal history records; and 19 TAC Chapter 230, Professional Educator Preparation and Certification, which deals with procedures for issuing certificates and permits, testing requirements and fees, and the types and classes of certificates issued by the board.

In a separate agenda item, the board amended 19 TAC Chapter 230 to implement SB 1839, HB 2039, and HB 3349 (85th Legislature), plus HB 3 (86th Legislature). The changes include reducing  the time for certification test retakes from 45 to 30 days, and requiring candidates to take the English as a Second Language Supplemental assessment for issuance of an intern certificate obtained through the intensive pre-service route. ATPE is pleased with a change in this chapter to allow the Educational Aide I certificate to be issued to high school students who have completed certain courses within the Education and Training career and technical education cluster. Other changes include the addition of the Early Childhood: Prekindergarten-Grade 3 certificate to the list of certificates that cannot be obtained via certification by exam.

The board also took several actions relating to EPPs, including the approval of the accreditation statuses of 10 programs. Additionally, the board approved a request by East Texas Baptist University to offer the School Counselor class of certificate. Two programs, South Texas Transition to Teaching Alternative Certification (STTT) Preparation Program and Teaching via E-Learning (TEACH) Alternative Certification, were approved to continue to operate with conditions following SBEC orders to improve their programs due to inadequate performance. The board also approved the continuing approval review and lifted the board orders from August 2015 for TeacherBuilder.com Alternative Certification Educator Preparation Program.

Discussion only agenda items (no action taken):

The board discussed several possible future revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 228, which covers requirements for EPPs. The revisions would simplify a table of requirements in the chapter; implement portions of HB 18 of the 86th Legislature; authorize teaching sites outside of Texas under certain situations such as military assignment; provide admittance policy guidance to EPPs that are closing or consolidating; restrict a summer-only practicum unless it is part of a year-round school or extended year program; add language for a dismissal policy for candidates who violate the code of ethics; provide concise reasons that an EPP would no longer support a candidate in an internship; and clarify the number (three) and spacing of the formal observations conducted during a practicum.

Later in the afternoon, the board discussed possible amendments to 19 TAC Chapter 235 on certificate standards, including a TEA-recommended split certification for special education, with separate certificates for EC-5 and 6-12. TEA staff also presented information on two supplemental certificate sets of standards: one for bilingual Spanish, grades EC-12 that focuses on bilingualism, biliteracy, and biculturalism; and another for “DeafBlind” grades EC-12. The proposals reflect input from stakeholders in the bilingual and special education communities and from an April 2019 SBEC work group meeting.

TEA also updated the board on the EdTPA performance assessment pilot, which is almost halfway through its first year. In November, 34 candidates submitted their portfolios. Thirty-two applications have been submitted for the second year of the pilot, including 15 from alternative certification programs. Dr. Stacey Edmonson, Dean of the College of Education at Sam Houston State University, is directing an alternative pilot to the EdTPA pilot that is based on the T-TESS. The pilot attempts to use the T-TESS as a performance assessment tool.

Finally, the board discussed proposed revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 232 on general certification provisions and professional development, which would implement several bills passed by the 86th Legislature. These include continuing professional education instruction regarding mental health and substance abuse training (HB 18 and SB 11); training requirements for superintendents regarding sexual abuse and human trafficking (HB 403); and the removal of student loan default as grounds to deny the renewal of a certificate (SB 37). The chapter would also be simplified and reorganized as suggested by ATPE and other stakeholders.

Facts and figures:

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on Texas educator certification statistics from fiscal year (FY) 2018 (September 1, 2017 to August 31, 2018) to FY 2019 (September 1, 2018 to August 31, 2019). Of note, the number of standard certificates issued increased from 67,748 to 85,708. Nearly half (49%) of all initial teacher certificates issued are through alternative certification programs. The percentage of EPPs accredited as warned or on probation greatly increased, from 5.1% to 27.6% and 5.1% to 13.4%, respectively. This increase is due to additional ASEP standards becoming operational. As for educator leadership and quality, most legal cases opened were due to contract abandonment, the number of which increased by 124% from 111 up to 249 in FY 19.

TEA staff also updated the board on the results of the 2018-19 principal survey of first-year teachers and new teacher survey, which are part of the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP). The survey results show that principals find their first-year teachers from alternative certification programs to be the least prepared. Similarly, new teachers from alternative certification programs indicated they felt the least prepared. Forty-nine percent of new teachers in 2019 were prepared in alternative certification programs, compared to 32 percent from traditional, undergraduate programs.

Additionally, TEA updated the board at its request on educator testing data. The data show that pass rates even into the third test attempt can be quite low. A representative from an EPP suggested that programs be given more time to remediate candidates who cannot pass tests.

Future meetings:

Mark your calendars! The approved SBEC meeting dates for 2020 are:

  • Feb. 21, 2020
  • May 1, 2020
  • July 24, 2020
  • Oct. 9, 2020
  • Dec. 11, 2020