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New School Year, New Laws: Mentoring, Training, and Professional Support

Thank you for joining us on Teach the Vote to learn more about how the bills passed during the 2019 legislative session will impact the Texas public education system. So far, we have looked into changes made to laws governing student discipline, school safety, curriculum and instruction, assessment, and special education. In this week’s “New School Year, New Laws” post, we will talk about something just for educators – professional opportunities.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Mentor teacher program

HB 3, the multi-billion dollar school finance bill passed this session, included a mentor program allotment and an updated mentor teacher program. The allotment will provide funds to school districts that are implementing a mentor teacher program for educators with less than two years of experience. This allotment will help districts provide stipends to mentor teachers, schedule release time for mentors and their “mentees,” and fund mentor training.

Under the requirements of the bill, a mentor teacher must agree to serve in that role for at least one school year and must start their assignment no later than 30 days after their mentee begins teaching. Additionally, districts must assign a mentor to a new classroom teacher for at least two years. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath will adopt rules to specify how many mentees can be assigned to a mentor.

The qualifications for serving as a mentor teacher are much the same as they were under previous law. For example, mentors must complete certain mentor training and have at least three full years of teaching experience. HB 3 adds that, to serve as a mentor, a teacher must also demonstrate interpersonal skills, instructional effectiveness, and leadership skills. Lastly, mentors must meet with their mentees at least 12 hours per semester, which can include time the mentor spends observing the mentee. During these meetings, HB 3 outlines specific conversation topics such as orientation to the district, data-driven instructional practices, coaching cycles, professional development, and professional expectations.

Districts are required to provide mentor training and training on best mentorship practices before and during the school year. Districts are also required to designate mentor-mentee meeting times and schedule release time or a reduced teaching load for mentors and their mentees.

This provision of HB 3 took effect immediately upon the final passage of the bill.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Autism training

HB 3 allows school districts and charter schools to provide financial incentives to teachers who complete training through an education service center (ESC) on serving students with autism.

This provision also became effective immediately.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Teacher literacy achievement academies

HB 3 includes a focus on improving reading instruction for students in kindergarten through third grades. By the 2021-22 school year, districts must ensure that each classroom teacher in grades K-3 and each principal at a campus with grades K-3 has attended a teacher literacy achievement academy. Created in 2015 by the 84th Texas legislature, teacher literacy achievement academies are targeted professional development opportunities to enhance instruction, especially for special populations. Additionally, HB 3 now requires that each K-3 teacher or principal must have attended a teacher literacy achievement academy before their first year of placement at a campus in the 2021-22 school year.

Current law regarding teacher literacy achievement academies states that, from funds appropriated, teachers who attend an academy are entitled to receive a stipend in an amount determined by the Commissioner from funds appropriated by the legislature for the program. The academies have been funded through the appropriations process since their inception, and this program will receive $9 million over the next biennium.

This provision of HB 3 also took effect immediately.

Senate Bill (SB) 1757 by Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe): Math and science scholars loan repayment

Under previous law, the math and science scholars loan repayment program was open to teachers who met the following criteria: they completed an undergraduate or graduate program in math or science; are certified to teach math or science (or on a probationary certificate); have been employed as a full-time math or science teacher in a Title I school for at least one year; are U.S. citizens; are not in default on any other education loan; and have not received or are not receiving any other state or federal loan repayment assistance. Additionally, the teacher must have had a cumulative GPA of 3.5. Under SB 1757, this GPA requirement is lowered to 3.0 for the loan repayment program.

The teacher must also enter into an agreement with the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to complete four consecutive years of employment as a full-time classroom math or science teacher in a Title I school. Under previous law, the teacher also had to commit to an additional four years teaching in any public school, though not necessarily a Title I school. SB 1757 changes this requirement to allow the THECB to determine how many additional, non-Title I school years (not to exceed four) a teacher must teach.

Also, SB 1757 now allows student loan repayment assistance for education taking place at a nonprofit, tax-exempt, regionally accredited college or university. This bill was effective Sept. 1, 2019.

SB 37 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo): Student loan default

If you’ve ever renewed your teaching certificate, you might have noticed that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) can deny your renewal if you are in default on a student loan. SB 37 changes the law so that SBEC is prohibited from considering student loan status. This law took effect Sept. 1, 2019. However, SBEC still has to change its own administrative rules regarding student loan default and certificate renewal requirements. The board will discuss this at the next SBEC meeting on Oct. 4, 2019. Follow us on Twitter and check back on our Teach the Vote blog for updates about this meeting


In next week’s installment of our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series, we will discuss professional responsibilities, such as recent changes that were made to educator misconduct and reporting laws.

For more information on laws impacting educators, be sure to read the new report from the ATPE Member Legal Services staff, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

House Public Education Committee hears bills on home-schooler UIL participation, health and safety, and more

On Thursday, April 4, 2019, the House Public Education Committee met to hear bills on several topics, including home-schooled students’ participation in UIL, student health, protected speech, and the available school fund.

ATPE supported several of the bills on yesterday’s committee agenda:

  • House Bill (HB) 348 (Nevárez, et al., D-Eagle Pass): Would allow school districts to provide increased compensation to a teacher who completes an autism training provided by a regional education service center. This bill was not actually heard by the committee yesterday due to a last-minute change.
  • HB 1602 (Hernandez, D-Houston): States that a school district may not begin instruction before 8 am and calls for appropriating over $755 million to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for the purpose of offsetting the additional transportation costs associated with the bill. Rep. Hernandez said that 34% of Texas schools start in the 7 am hour, and some students wait in the dark for the bus as early as 5:45 am. A student testified for the bill, saying it would help her get more sleep and receive less disciplinary action. ATPE member Yen Rabe also testified in support as one of several witnesses who cited increased safety and student well-being if the school day were to start later.
  • HB 2738 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would expand educator misconduct provisions adopted through SB 7 from the 2017 legislative session to also include non-certified employees, such as those who may work in charter schools and Districts of Innovation. The bill would require TEA to create a “do-not-hire” registry of these non-certified persons.

ATPE registered in opposition to HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which would require public schools participating in UIL activities to provide home-schooled students who meet certain eligibility requirements with the opportunity to participate in the activity. Districts would likely incur costs from this mandate, and HB 1324 does not ensure that home-schooled students would be subject to the same requirements and thus on a level playing field with their public school peers. Testimony on this bill was split between those who had concerns about implementation, costs to public schools, and increased government oversight, and those who wanted to be able to participate in UIL activities, especially sports. Read ATPE’s written testimony against the bill here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee yesterday:

  • HB 873 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require the admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee to review students’ behavior intervention plans (BIPs) at least annually for those who have a BIP as part of their individualized education plan (IEP). This bill also requires changes to the student code of conduct, including parent notification about the student’s BIP or if the student needs a BIP when violations of the code occur, and it changes law around the use of restraints and time-outs, requiring detailed notification to parents. Lastly, the bill requires that if a school district takes disciplinary action against a student with disabilities that results in a change in placement, the district must conduct a behavioral assessment and develop or revise the student’s BIP.
  • HB 1131 (Cole, et al., D-Austin): Would create the “Texas Public Finance Authority” to act as a “paying agent” under current law for the guarantee and payment of bonds. School districts could also borrow money from the new authority.
  • HB 1906 (Burns, R-Cleburne): Would allow a parent of a student with severe cognitive disabilities to request that the child be exempted from required assessments. The ARD committee would make further determinations on whether the student should be exempted and what the best assessment instrument for the child would be. Special education advocates testified about concerns with making sure someone is still held accountable for growth and progress of these students, and argued that assessments should be fixed rather than removing students from taking assessments altogether.
  • HB 2097 (Krause, et al., R-Fort Worth): This bill would allow only Arlington ISD to withdraw from TRS-ActiveCare under a pilot project. Representatives of the school district testified that healthcare costs for its employees under TRS are too high, but members of the committee were cautious and indicated there should be more study on statewide impact before allowing one district to have special treatment.
  • HB 2244 (González, M., D-Clint): Would define what is protected speech and require school districts to adopt a policy establishing rules regarding students’ right to exercise freedom of the press at school. Testimony supporting the bill included remarks from students, teachers, a professor, and a lawyer.
  • HB 2393 (Burrows, R-Lubbock): Would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to develop a hunter education course for students in grades 7-12 that a school district can use as a part of its physical education curriculum. Rep. Burrows stated that there are barriers to children being able to take hunter education and that many violations have been committed by hunters, presumably as a result of lack of education.
  • HB 2555 (Parker, R-Flower Mound): Would update the guidelines on food allergies and require school boards and governing bodies of charters to update their policies on caring for students with food allergies who are at risk of anaphylaxis.
  • HB 2689 (Dean, et al., R-Longview): Would require each school superintendent to designate a cybersecurity coordinator to serve as a liaison between the district and TEA. Rep. Dean stated that student data, such as social security numbers, are particularly valuable and in need of protection.
  • HB 2739 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require private school administrators to report misconduct by educators they employ to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) and allow them to obtain information from SBEC any reports the board has about prior misconduct or criminal histories of such individuals.
  • HB 2740 (Meyer, et al., R-Dallas): Would require the Department of Family and Protective Services to release information regarding child abuse and neglect investigations and allegations to private schools, as it does for public schools.
  • HB 3683 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would allow the commissioner to authorize a charter or campus program to provide a dropout recovery program for grades 9-12, at which 50% of the enrollment must be students who are age 17 or older. Eligible students would include those who have dropped out or been in a disciplinary alternative education setting, as well as homeless students, working students, asylees and refugees, or at parent request. Charter school advocates testified that the bill would improve student retention and completion.
  • HB 4205 (Craddick, R-Midland): Would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter. Former Speaker Craddick stated that a school slated for closure has only two options (close the campus or appoint a board of managers), and his bill offers a third option by allowing non-profit charters to partner with the school district to reopen the school. TEA General Counsel Von Byer said the campus would still have to be closed and repurposed, and that the repurposed campus would have to serve a majority of new students and offer a distinctly different academic program.
  • HB 4613 (Shaheen, R-Plano): Would allow parents to request an exemption from state and federal testing requirements for special education students, potentially through a federal waiver. Special education advocates testified with concerns on meeting federal reporting requirements and having accountability for all students, including those with disabilities.
  • HB 4611 (Huberty, R-Humble) and its related House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 (Huberty, R-Humble): Would propose a constitutional amendment to allow the General Land Office’s (GLO) School Land Board to transfer up to $600 million to the available school fund. The current allowable contribution is only $300 million. Testimony from both the GLO and from Dr. Keven Ellis of the SBOE was neutral, focused on finding avenues to increase funds to the available school fund.

The following pending bills heard during prior meetings were voted favorably from committee on Thursday: HB 851, HB 1026, HB 1517, HB 1639, HB 1640, HB 1823, HB 2511, HB 2984, HB 3007, HB 3217, HB 3323, HB 3435, HB 3966, HCR 59, HB 843, HB 1160, HB 1276, HB 1632, HB 2030, HB 2184, HB 4310, and HB 2210.

The House Public Education Committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 9, 2019, to hear a variety of bills, mostly pertaining to charter schools.

House committee looks at testing, special ed issues

The House Committee on Public Education met Thursday morning at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges related to testing and special education. The interim charges are assigned by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) and are generally composed of a detailed list of topics for each standing committee to research and discuss before the next legislative session. The following charges were on Thursday’s agenda:

  • Examine research-based options for evaluating student achievement beyond standardized test scores, including adaptive and portfolio assessments. Examine the scope of the current Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)in grades with the state assessment, including the format, assessment calendar, and the limits of instructional days, if any. Determine if it is appropriate to limit TEKS to readiness standards that can be taught in less than the school year. Review current Student Success Initiative testing and make recommendations on its continuation or repeal. Review the ability of the state to waive standardized testing for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
  • Examine programs in public schools that have proven results meeting the needs of and improving student achievement for students with disabilities, with an emphasis on programs specializing in autism, dysgraphia, and dyslexia. Recommend ways to support and scale innovative programs for these students, including providing supplemental services, or incentivizing public-private partnerships or inter district and charter school collaborations. Monitor the implementation and funding for the pilot programs authorized in H.B. 21 (85R) and review the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with S.B. 160 (85R), which prohibits special education student caps.

After updating the committee on the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) response to the Santa Fe school shooting and recent STAAR test glitches, Commissioner Mike Morath began his testimony by summarizing the overall design of the STAAR test and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) upon which tests are based. Morath pointed to one idea, splitting the STAAR test into sections to allow more flexible scheduling, that he suggested may require legislative guidance before ordering further agency research.

House Public Education Committee meeting May 24, 2018.

Members of the committee raised questions about the writing test, in particular with regard to grading methods. Morath indicated that a writing program created as a result of legislation by state Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) has yielded useful information, and noted that additional appropriation to continue the program would be a positive step.

Rep. VanDeaver asked Morath how much money could be saved by eliminating standardized tests that are required by the state, but not by federal law. House Bill (HB) 515 filed by VanDeaver during the 2017 legislative session would have eliminated tests not mandated under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and was estimated to result in a savings of $7 million. The bill was ultimately unsuccessful.

Other invited testimony included a panel of superintendents who testified to the overreliance on standardized tests for everything from student advancement to school accountability. Granger ISD Superintendent Randy Willis asked the committee to consider eliminating a single summative assessment at the end of the year in favor of multiple formative assessments and reducing the number of assessed standards. Doug Williams, Superintendent of Sunnyvale ISD, voiced support for dividing the STAAR into sections, ongoing diagnostic assessments, and making substantial changes to the writing portion of the exam. Part of the panel discussion touched on allowing teachers to directly grade writing exams, in other to provide better feedback and analysis.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the committee on the specificity of the TEKS, teaching versus testing, and corollary applications to the teacher pipeline. Other public testimony focused on portfolio assessments, such as rubrics developed by the New York Performance Standards Consortium.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before House Public Education Committee May 24, 2018.

After a brief break, the committee turned its focus to special education. TEA Deputy Commissioner Penny Schwinn walked members through the corrective action plan prepared by the agency to address the de facto cap on special education enrollment that resulted in a federal rebuke. Schwinn emphasized that current and future guidance indicates students with dyslexia should not be arbitrarily confined to Section 504 programs, but may qualify for special education services depending on the individual.

A number of advocacy organizations were invited to testify regarding the agency’s actions. Among the concerns raised by special education advocates was the timeline for implementation. Chris Masey with the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities presented the dichotomy between progress at the policy level and frustration felt by parents looking for meaningful results. Masey also noted there hasn’t exactly been a surge in special education enrollment after the cap was lifted. Heather Sheffield with Decoding Dyslexia suggested policymakers explore a way to enforce the Dyslexia Handbook developed by TEA.

Additionally, advocates asked for per-pupil funding for dyslexia, as well as having adequate instructional time and funding for both training and staffing. One advocate testified that training alone for a special education teacher can top $5,000. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter thanked the committee for the work done last session to address the cap, as well as funding weights for special education. Exter drew the committee’s attention to districts’ ability to provide external services already. While therapeutic and educational services are both available, the primary focus of special education should be on educational services, and any therapeutic services covered by district or state funds should be in furtherance of the educational objectives.

Public Education committee looks at A-F implementation

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday for an interim hearing on the implementation of school finance, accountability, and bullying legislation, in addition to an update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez kicked off testimony with an update on money given out as part of a two-year hardship grant program under House Bill (HB) 21, as well as additional facilities funding for charter schools. Associate Commissioner Monica Martinez provided a briefing on new autism and dyslexia grant programs under the bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) noted that the hardship grants as well as the autism and dyslexia grant programs will expire without additional legislation. Additionally, the bill contained a one-time payment into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

House Public Education Committee interim hearing April 18, 2018.

A representative from Houston ISD testified that the district faces a $150 budget deficit this year and a projected $320 million deficit in the next fiscal year due to the district entering recapture. The district submitted a number of recommendations, including increasing funding weights for bilingual, English as a second language (ESL), and special education students, restoring the state’s share of funding to 50 percent, increasing transportation funding, and doing away with the recapture system.

A number of witnesses testified with respect to the hardship grants, warning that some small districts could face closure without further action to extend the grants or create an alternative source of revenue.

Lopez next updated the committee on the implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 179, or “David’s Law,” which addresses bullying and cyberbullying. The law requires TEA to work with the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to develop a website with resources for school districts. Huberty noted that more work must be done to inform districts, students, and parents of the various provisions of the new law.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath provided another update on the impact of Hurricane Harvey on the public school system. A total of 60 counties fell under the governor’s disaster proclamation, and 1.5 million students were in an affected school district. Morath noted that while the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been an important source of long-term recovery funds, the agency has been slow in making funds available.

The agency has launched a variety of mental health services, and provided accountability flexibility to affected districts. This includes waivers from 5th and 8th grade math and reading exams for all students affected by the storm. At the school and district level, the agency collected information regarding full and partial facility closures or relocations, student displacement, and staff displacement. According to Morath, at least 112,000 students were displaced statewide. Those three sets of data will be used to develop a rule to determine whether an accountability rating is issued to a particular school. Morath indicated a proposed rule will be published in the Texas Register sometime in early June, and the number of exempt schools could number over a thousand.

Morath suggested the final rule for Harvey-affected schools will be “substantially more generous” than the rule developed following Hurricane Ike in 2008. State Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) told Morath she would like to see a rule that provides for entire districts to be exempt from accountability ratings as well, though Morath offered no indication whether the agency is inclined to move in that direction. Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) asked TEA to help develop recommendations for additional revenue sources for public education. Chairman Huberty warned TEA to leave that work to legislators.

The storm caused some $970 million worth of damage to public schools. Morath estimated lawmakers would be faced with the need to pass a supplemental appropriation to cover an associated decline in maintenance and operations (M&O) property values of roughly $500 million to $1 billion.

Houston ISD Board of Trustees President Rhonda Skillern-Jones testified about the storm’s devastating impact on the state’s largest school district, and the associated financial difficulties. The district asked for a one-year accountability pause, such as was provided after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike, for all schools in a county that fell under the governor’s disaster declaration. State Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston) asked how the district’s ten worst-performing schools were impacted, all of which are labeled “improvement required” under the current state accountability system and face imminent sanctions. The district indicated those schools sustained damage as well, and contended that a pause would not prevent those schools from being subject to potential TEA takeover, since a decision on each of those schools is required by April 24.

Finally, the committee heard testimony on HB 22, which made changes to the forthcoming “A through F” accountability system. TEA released a framework of the new system last week. Morath summarized that framework, and testified that cut points are being based upon last year’s performance and will be set for the next five years. District A-F ratings will be released in August, while individual campuses will continue to be labeled “met standard” or “improvement required.” Campus A-F ratings will be released in August 2019.

Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers testified that the local accountability system provided by HB 22 could be promising. Under the first domain, Chambers suggested changing the weights for STAAR; college, career, and military readiness (CCMR); and graduation rates from 40/40/20 under the current framework to a more even 33/33/33 or 35/35/30. Chambers also lamented the lack of indicators other than STAAR for grades three through eight under the new system, which represents a regression from the previous system.

Chambers asked that a greater weight under the CCMR indicator be given to students who complete a concurrent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses. Critically, Chambers cautioned that policymakers will be disappointed with the results of any accountability system until resources are aligned with what is asked of students and schools.

Spring Branch ISD Executive Director of Accountability and Research Keith Haffey similarly testified to the complete reliance on STAAR at the elementary level, and suggested considering additional metrics. One such metric could credit schools that fully transition English language learners (ELLs) to English. Additionally, one of the flaws of the new system is that the scoring limits credit given to students who take college pathway assessments such as the PSAT, SAT, or ACT, which acts as a disincentive for districts to offer these valuable exams. Huberty engaged Morath and Chambers in a conversation regarding the feasibility of providing a state appropriation to cover the cost of providing these assessments.

Dee Carney, an associate with school finance firm Moak, Casey and Associates, introduced model runs under the new accountability system. According to the models, most schools are unlikely to earn an “A” rating under the first domain. Carney testified that the additional of non-test indicators helps raise scores. The remainder of the day’s testimony largely focused on the system’s heavy reliance on the STAAR test.