It’s just that simple.
November 6 is less than a month away, and a crucial deadline is upon us. Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the last day for those who have not yet registered to vote to do so in order to cast your ballot.
This is also an important date for those who are registered to vote, but may have recently relocated. For example, you may have registered to vote in Harris County, but recently moved to Travis County. In that case, you have until tomorrow to register in Travis County; otherwise, you’d have to drive back to Harris County to cast your ballot Nov. 6.
So how do I register?
The Texas Secretary of State’s VoteTexas.org website tells you just about everything you need to know. First off, it allows you check if you’re already registered. If you’re not, there are two basic ways you can register.
The first method is to simply find your county’s voter registrar and fill out an application in person. The voter registrar is usually tax assessor-collector or county clerk, and their office is easy to find by doing a web search. The application is generally a single page and should take you less than five minutes. Your other option is to fill out the state’s online application and mail it to your county’s voter registrar by tomorrow. You can read more information about how to find an application by clicking here.
How do I know if I’m eligible to register to vote?
You are eligible to register to vote if:
- You are a United States citizen;
- You are a resident of the county where you submit the application;
- You are at least 17 years and 10 months old, and you are 18 years of age on Election Day.
- You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and
- You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.
The Texas Tribune also put together some voter registration resources here. Once you’ve registered to vote, make sure and go to TeachTheVote.org and click on the CANDIDATES tab to see who’s running in your area. You can view each’s candidate’s answers to our public education policy survey, as well as how incumbent legislators voted on important education issues last session.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times: Legislative battles are won in November. If we fail to elect strong pro-public education candidates, we can’t expect to prevail when important education questions are debated in the Texas Legislature. This election is CRITICAL to making sure we move the ball forward, not backward.
Even if you’re already registered, you can do your part by informing friends and family that Tuesday is the last chance to register if they haven’t already – and make sure they follow through! Early voting begins Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2, and Election Day is Nov. 6.
Here are highlights of this week’s education news, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The board’s agenda includes revisiting a new certification rule that was recently vetoed by the State Board of Education and beginning a periodic review of the requirements for certification as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is at the meeting and has provided this report on today’s discussions.
Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election. With statistics showing that Texas ranks dead last in the country for voter turnout, and with educators in other states making headlines by running for office and voting to oust elected officials who don’t support public schools, now is the time for Texas educators to make a big showing at the polls. The November general election will determine who holds such critical offices as Texas governor, lieutenant governor, and numerous seats in the state legislature and SBOE. Races for the Texas House will help determine who becomes our next House Speaker, and the people elected will be empowered to make crucial decisions that affect your paycheck, your working conditions, and most importantly, your students.
If you aren’t yet registered to vote, simply fill out an application and drop it in the mail no later than Tuesday. Not sure if you’re registered? Find out here. If you’re already registered, do you part to help others know about Tuesday’s deadline. Make sure your friends, family members, and even eligible students are registered to vote by Tuesday.
Once your registration is secure, the next step is to learn about the candidates who’ll be on your ballot. Our candidate profiles right here on Teach the Vote allow you to research all legislators’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to our survey on education issues, and more to help you make informed choices at the polls. If the candidates in your area haven’t answered our ATPE Candidate Survey, please encourage them to contact us. It’s a great tool for sharing their education views with voters.
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin today. ATPE is here to testify and cover the meeting, with a particular focus on two agenda items.
The first item is one that we have reported on thoroughly. The 85th Texas Legislature passed HB 3349 in 2017, which created an abbreviated educator preparation program (EPP) pathway for certain candidates interested in obtaining a new certificate titled the Trade and Industrial Workforce Training Certificate. As SBEC worked to implement the bill via rule, ATPE expressed significant concerns with pieces of the rule that failed to maintain high standards for EPPs in Texas. SBEC ultimately adopted the language without the changes we and other teacher organizations requested. However, as the State Board of Education (SBOE) reviewed the rule, members of the board shared ATPE’s concerns and unanimously rejected the proposal, sending it back to SBEC for further review.
SBEC adopted a new proposal today, and ATPE appreciates that the changes address many of our concerns. Specifically, the proposal addresses three key concerns:
- It now maintains a focus on critical pre-service hours by honoring the same 180-hour structure that is required of all other candidates entering the classroom.
- It no longer expands the abbreviated program path to the Marketing and Health Science certificates.
- It now ensures only EPPs are able to provide training.
The fourth issue we raised, regarding the fact that the proposal fails to prevent these new certificate holders from becoming certified in any other field simply by taking a certification exam without the additional training required of all other candidates, will be addressed at a future SBEC meeting.
ATPE also closely watched an agenda item today regarding a review of the rules pertaining to the Superintendent Certificate. This rule has seen a lot of action in recent years with some seeking to create a non-traditional pathway that fails to require prior experience in public education (including teaching experience) and advanced education. ATPE has consistently opposed such a pathway for Superintendents and recently submitted comments to the board encouraging them to reject any efforts to create the pathway. The Texas Association of School Administrators also attended the meeting today and shared ATPE’s position to maintain the current rule without changes. The board had a positive conversation regarding the importance of administrators as instructional leaders. We will continue to monitor this issue to ensure teaching experience, along with strong managerial experience and educational background, is stressed as key to the success of superintendents.
SBEC meets again in December.
Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
- TRS aims to maintain current healthcare premiums
- SD 19 special election shakes up the Texas Senate
- Already registered to vote? Take the next step
The Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week to discuss such topics as premiums for the state’s healthcare plan for retired educators. After receiving a more favorable update on the estimated shortfall for TRS-Care and hearing lawmakers indicate that the legislature will provide needed funding, the board intends to try to keep premiums and benefits stable. Read more about the board’s discussions this week in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.
Voters in Senate District 19 turned out for a special election runoff on Tuesday to decide who will represent them in the Texas Senate until the 2020 elections. Gathering 53% of the vote, Republican Pete Flores was the race’s clear winner and will be filling the seat left vacant by former Sen. Carlos Uresti who resigned this year.
Flores’s win flips the seat long held by Democrats into the Republican column heading into the 2019 legislative session. The change makes it that much easier for the upper chamber’s Republican super-majority to pass Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda, especially with another Democratic vacancy generated by the anticipated race to replace Senate District 6’s Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is running for Congress. Garcia’s seat would not be filled until a special election occurs well after next year’s legislative session begins.
ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down how this impacts the upcoming legislative session and what it means for contests in the November election in this blog post.
Tuesday, September 25 is National Voter Registration Day, and thousands of volunteers across the U.S. will be mobilized to help others register to vote and get informed about elections. Perhaps if you’re already to vote you can go the extra mile by asking friends and family if they’ve registered and reminding them of these important dates:
- The deadline to register to vote in November is Oct. 9, 2018.
- Early voting runs Oct. 22-Nov. 2, 2018.
- Election Day is Nov. 6, 2018.
You can also encourage your friends and family to check out the Candidates section of TeachtheVote.org for more information on the candidates vying for seats in the Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor.
The first Friday of early voting, Oct. 26, is Student Voting Day in Texas. Encourage the students you know to get registered and participate in the upcoming election. Voting is more than just a civic duty; it’s how we work together to create positive change in our communities and its important that we get everyone involved.
It’s been a busy week in Austin. Here are highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
- Full week at SBOE wraps up today
- A fresh look at Texas’s youth suicide prevention efforts
- Election Update: Voting is all about the numbers
- Previews of upcoming school finance and education budget debates
Today culminates the end of a jam-packed week for the State Board of Education (SBOE), and ATPE’s lobby team was there throughout the week to testify and provide updates on the board’s activities for our Teach the Vote blog. Here are some highlights:
First, on Tuesday the body began its week by convening to discuss controversial social studies TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that have been the subject of much political debate and social media attention. The board also took time on Tuesday to discuss its Long Range Plan for Public Education (LRP), which sets objectives for education through the year 2030. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was on hand to commend the group on its thoughtful process, but also to suggest that the board take steps to increase the rigor of Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and insist that teacher pay not be too closely linked to evaluations and test scores. Perfecting amendments to the plan, most of which were in line with ATPE’s desired outcomes, were offered by SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich.
The board kept its momentum going into Wednesday when it discussed special education and school funding. With an update from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, the board learned that quite a bit of progress had been made on the state’s corrective action plan for special education with 70% of vacant positions filled. Morath also announced that TEA would be reviewing its contracting process, which comes after the Texas State Auditor’s office lobbed criticism at the agency for questionable contracting practices. Morath briefed the board on the A-F ratings that were given to school districts earlier this year. He also noted the decline in “IR” or “Improvement Required” districts across the state. Lastly, Morath informed the board of TEA’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), which included two exceptional requests for funding for compensatory services for districts (in order to help them comply with the SpEd corrective action plan) and $50 million in funding for health and safety, $20 million of which is to be earmarked to comply with the governor’s school safety plan.
Later Wednesday afternoon, the SBOE also approved the funding distribution from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) for the 2020-21 biennium. Funds will be distributed at a rate of 2.75%. SBOE members expressed concerns regarding the deposit of funds into the Available School Fund (ASF) by the General Land Office (GLO), a move that will result in districts receiving $225 million less per year than normal. Several members of the board suggested actions in response to this action, including asking the GLO to reverse its actions and requesting that the GLO provide extra funding to cover the interest of the distribution.
On Thursday, the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives met to consider a rule proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would offer accelerated paths to certification for certain skill sets. The elected SBOE has statutory authority to review all rule actions taken by SBEC, a board whose members are appointed by the governor. SBOE members may veto SBEC rules but cannot make changes to them; SBEC rules for which the SBOE takes no action automatically become effective. For this week’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the SBEC rule change regarding certain teaching certificates on the grounds that it exceeded the scope of the 2017 legislation upon which it was based, House Bill (HB) 3349. The rule change, as approved by SBEC earlier this summer, would have allowed certain educators to circumvent 300 hours of training in areas like pedagogy that are essential to normal pathways to certification. Members of the SBOE committee unanimously recommended rejecting the SBEC rule, and the certification rule change was ultimately rejected by a unanimous vote from the full SBOE board today, which will force SBEC to reconsider its action on implementing HB 3349.
Lastly, the full board met today to approve the first draft of language for the LRP, deciding to wait until November for final approval. SBOE members also finalized a formal letter to the GLO requesting that it cover the funding shortfall caused by its actions. Read more about the board’s actions in today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
As we have reported previously on Teach the Vote, ATPE has been an advocate for programs and resources to help prevent youth suicide. In 2015, we successfully advocated for the passage of an educator training bill aimed at preventing student suicides. Still, suicide, especially among Texans age 15-34, persists as a public health problem despite laws passed to prevent it. In this news feature by CBS Austin’s Melanie Torre this week featuring ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, Torre examines why the risk of teen suicide is still on the rise in Texas.
With the 2018 general election inching closer, and a major special election already underway his week in one San Antonio-area legislative district, ATPE wants to remind educators about the importance of voter turnout. Earlier this week, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos released a statement urging voters to make sure they are registered to vote before the October 9th deadline. Pablos encourages Texans to plan their trips to the ballot box and to make sure they know what’s on their ballots.
“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself” – Rolando Pablos, Texas Secretary of State.
There’s a lot at stake this fall. We urge educators to view and share ATPE’s nonpartisan election resources here on Teach the Vote, including searchable profiles of every candidate vying for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor in 2018.
Meanwhile, early voting has already begun and continues through this evening in the special election runoff to fill the vacant seat in Texas Senate District 19. Those SD 19 residents who miss early voting should play to get out and vote during their last change on Tuesday, Sept. 18th. The candidates in the runoff happening now are Democrat Pete Gallego and Republican Pete Flores. Find polling locations and additional information, courtesy of the Bexar County Elections Department, here.
Tuesday’s special election results and the outcomes of several high-profile races on the ballot in November could dramatically change the outlook for education bills moving through the Texas Legislature, and particularly, the Texas State Senate. In recent sessions, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has used the combination of a Republican super-majority in the Senate and his heavy-handed brand of managing the upper chamber to usher though a bevy of anti-public education bills, such as private school voucher proposals and legislation to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. How those same types of bills fare in 2019 will depend on the outcome of this fall’s elections. In this new post, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the calculus of voting this fall.
This week also proved to be insightful in terms of previewing discussions we’ll hear during the 2019 legislative session about both the state’s education budget and efforts to reform our school finance system.
Both the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) laid out their Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) to the Legislative Budget Board this week. Details and links to video footage of TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie explaining their respective requests can be found here. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided additional analysis in this blog post.
Also this week, the Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance convened to vote on their recommendations for the full commission. A breakdown of the committee’s goals, which include putting more funding into the basic allotment and shifting funds away from programs not directly tied to educational programming, can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.
During a full day of marathon hearings on Wednesday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Executive Director Brian Guthrie both laid out their agencies’ Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs). The presentations were made to a panel of staffers representing the Governor’s and Lt Governor’s offices, as well as House and Senate budget writers.
ATPE previously issued a statement about the state’s continued shift in reliance on local property taxes, and away from non-property tax revenue, to fund public education represented in TEA’s LAR. The agency’s LAR predicts a reduction of $3 billion in state aid, or $1.5 billion per year, over the next biennium.
Guthrie laid out his agency’s substantial appropriations request later in the day, which included increased contributions of $1.6 billion for the biennium to cover the decrease in projected investment revenue attributable to TRS’s lowering the assumed rate of return on pension fund investments. The TRS budget request also includes approximately $400 million in additional funding to cover the projected shortfall for TRS-Care, the retired educators’ health insurance program. While funding for the active educator health insurance program flows through TEA, not TRS, Guthrie did bring up the fact that the cost of active educator healthcare was also of concern and would be appropriate to address in the upcoming legislative session. While the funding does not flow through the agency, TRS does administer TRS-ActiveCare, which many districts use to provide insurance to their employees.
A video archive of Guthrie’s presentation is available to watch, in addition to the documents that TRS provided to the Legislative Budget Board for this week’s hearing.
Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:
- ATPE testifies to House budget panel on TRS shortfall
- Early voting for Texas Senate seat takes place next week
- ATPE responds to TEA’s funding request
- House committee issues interim school safety recommendations
- Long-range plan on SBOE agenda next week
Testifying at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter advocated for an expansion of the list of free and near-free drugs covered by TRS-Care. The subcommittee, which met Wednesday, oversees the state’s education budget, including the Teacher Retirement System’s pension fund and health insurance. A persistent lack of funding over the years has lead to an increased burden on both active and retired educators who have seen healthcare premiums rise with no increase in the percentage contributed to their pensions. The urgent need for more funding and resources for the TRS system will be a hot button issue during next year’s 86th Legislative Session, one that ATPE lobbyists will be tackling head on. Find out more about Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing in this article by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The 2018 general election is right around the corner, but even closer than that is a special election runoff in Texas Senate District 19 (SD 19). The special election was called when former Sen. Carlos Uresti stepped down following his felony conviction. While all Texans are not be able to participate in this one special election, all Texans will feel the effects of its outcome as San Antonio residents decide who will take one of the Texas Senate’s 31 seats.
Next Monday through Friday, Sept. 10-14, voters in the district that runs from the greater San Antonio metroplex to the tiny town of Orla, Texas, will have a say in whether Democrat Pete Gallego or Republican Pete Flores represents them in the state’s upper chamber when the legislature convenes in January. For those who miss early voting, the special election runoff for SD 19 will take place Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) this week ahead of formally presenting it to the Legislative Budget Board next Wednesday. LARs lay out all of an agency’s intended expenditures for the upcoming biennium and are, as a group, the basis for what will eventually become the state budget. TEA’s LAR includes not only agency-level spending but also all of the funding that flows through the Foundation School Program and out to school districts. As has been the case in the past, the TEA document includes a statement about reductions in the anticipated level of state spending based on the reliance on an assumed increase in local property tax collections. For the upcoming biennium, the agency is assuming the state will supplant $1.5 billion in state revenue by relying on these local dollars. ATPE released the following press statement in response.
The House Public Education Committee released its preliminary report on school safety this week. The report follows the release of similar interim documents by a Senate committee and Gov. Greg Abbott, but the House report is unique in its focus on directing state funding to accomplish a number of goals aimed at preventing future tragedies like the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.
The report is the result of several interim hearings held over the summer at the direction of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Read a summary of the report’s findings and take a look at the full report itself in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet Tuesday through Friday of next week, and the agenda includes a formal look at its Long-Range Plan for Public Education.
The plan is the result of more than a year of meetings and stakeholder input, which includes in-person conferences and an online survey seeking guidance from educators and community members all over the state. The final product includes recommendations related to attracting and retaining educators and lifting up the education profession. Follow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins on Twitter (@MarkWigginsTX) for updates on the plan, which will be discussed on Tuesday.
The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a report today on school safety, specifically highlighting actions being taken by school districts to respond to growing concerns about violence in schools and related safety measures. The “School Safety Action Plan Summary” follows an earlier School and Firearm Safety Action Plan shared by the governor’s office earlier this year. The governor also convened a group of stakeholders back in July to discuss the issue, and ATPE’s state officers were invited to weigh in.
Among the safety measures noted in the governor’s summary report out today are training programs for educators, including the Mental Health First Aid course that is available at no cost to public school employees through their local mental health authorities. The eight-hour course for which educators can earn CPE credit focuses on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse problems in students. Educators can learn more about the program here.
The governor’s report out today also highlights an increase in the number of school marshals, who are school employees trained and authorized to provide an armed response to violence incidents on a school campus. The school marshal program has existed since 2013 when the legislature passed House Bill 1009 by Rep. Jason Villalba, but relatively few school districts have opted into it. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter noted in this article for the Dallas Morning News, “Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge of the programs available or a lack of will to implement them, school boards have clearly not made arming educators a priority.” Money is also an ongoing issue in the debate over keeping schools safe, as school districts that are already facing deficiencies in their revenue struggle to find ample cash to pay for additional training, make building updates, or provide mental health resources.
On Tuesday, Texas State Board of Education chair Donna Bahorich was a panelist in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety. The event held in Montgomery, Alabama, was part of a series of listening sessions held around the country with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety.
Bahorich talked about the mental health aspect of curbing violence in schools, including the need to remove the stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment. “We need to do a paradigm shift around mental health,” Bahorich told the panel before sharing statistics about the prevalence of mental illness among schoolchildren. She also mentioned the concerns over expecting school counselors to fulfill both a mental health treatment function and academic counseling responsibilities, noting that Texas has been discussing whether such roles should be bifurcated. The full listening session broadcast can be viewed here. (The segment featuring Bahorich begins at 1:25:25 during the broadcast.)
Expect school safety to remain a top issue for consideration during the 2019 legislative session. A Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security held hearings on the issue this year and released an interim report of its findings earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this important issue.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the new A-F letter grade ratings for Texas school districts today. Despite concerns from educators and other advocates, the legislature, with strong backing from Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has worked to adopt and finalize the new rating system over the past three legislative sessions.
ATPE was among the education groups to express strong concerns about moving to an A-F rating system, especially considering the basis of any rating depends on the underlying accountability system that is too heavily reliant on state standardized tests. In a press release issued by ATPE, we reiterated our concerns and called for additional study of the new system’s impact.
“Educators across Texas have opposed assigning overly simplistic letter grades that may unfairly label schools and their staff and students as failures,” said Jennifer Mitchell, ATPE Governmental Relations Director. “Many educators worry that A-F will stigmatize schools with accountability grades based disproportionately upon data from high-stakes standardized tests.”
Today’s release of A-F ratings is specific to Texas school districts (campuses are not scheduled to receive A-F ratings until next school year), but campus accountability ratings according to the previous system were also released. While ATPE is happy to see an historic reduction in the number of Texas campuses requiring improvement, we stress that we should be considering more than a letter grade when praising their success.
“ATPE recognizes that under any accountability system so heavily determined by test scores, there will be winners and losers,” said Mitchell. “It is important not to overestimate the significance of poor grades assigned to some school districts, but it is equally vital to look behind the letter grades of those schools that have shown improvement. Additional study, much like research commissioned by ATPE in the past to examine the factors influencing successful school turnaround, is warranted with the roll-out of this new system.”
Mitchell referred to a teacher quality study commissioned by ATPE in 2008, in which researchers from the University of Texas explored strategies implemented at schools that had shown significant improvement in their students’ test scores. The researchers interviewed teachers and school leaders at those schools and found that they were prioritizing such practices as recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, empowering teachers to make instructional decisions, and providing high-quality professional development and financial resources.
TEA released its own series of press releases on the topic of school accountability ratings, covering a high-level breakdown of the A-F district ratings and the campus accountability ratings. Commissioner Mike Morath also praised the 153 school districts that received an A rating today.