Tag Archives: Brock Gregg

ATPE joins effort to encourage school districts to facilitate primary voting

Vote imageDays away from the start of early voting for the primary elections in Texas, education groups are spreading the word about the importance of voting through an unprecedented joint effort. ATPE has teamed up with nearly a dozen other groups in support of a new initiative called TexasEducatorsVote.com.

The new website features election-related guides, links to candidate resources, and an oath that educators can take to pledge to support public education by voting in 2016. The new initiative launched by the Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS) complements ATPE’s existing TeachtheVote.org website, where voters can view profiles of candidates for the legislature and State Board of Education, read their responses to ATPE’s candidate survey, study incumbents’ voting records on education issues, and find additional resources.

BG

Brock Gregg

“We’re coming together for the first time in an unprecedented way,” ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg said in a press release issued yesterday. “Our goal is to implore educators and the public to take action. There are about one million active and retired public school educators in Texas. If they all go out and vote, this could have a tremendous positive impact on public education.”

The partners in the Texas Educators Vote initiative are also reaching out to school administrators across the state and encouraging them to do what they can to facilitate voting by school employees. The message to administrators highlights specific ways school leaders can promote high voter turnout and engagement within their school districts and campuses without endorsing particular candidates. Suggested actions include the following:

  • Setting a campus-wide voter turnout goal during the early voting period.
  • Encouraging employees to utilize election resources such as TeachtheVote.org and TexasEducatorsVote.com to learn more about the candidates and voting details.
  • Facilitating time off for school employees to go vote, including coordinating with volunteers to help cover classrooms as needed.
  • Coordinating ride-sharing or providing transportation to the polls.

ATPE encourages educators to check out the candidate profiles available through our 2016 Races search page and take the voting oath on TexasEducatorsVote.com. Click here to view a brochure with more information on Texas Educators Vote and its participating partners.

For even more information, be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and @TXEducatorsVote on Twitter for the latest updates.

In Washington, ATPE advocates for ESEA and Social Security relief

A group of ATPE state officers and staff are in Washington, D.C. this week for meetings to discuss education policy matters at the national level. ATPE’s Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg, State President Richard Wiggins, and State Vice-President Cory Colby have been liaising with several members of Congress and their staffs, along with representatives of the executive branch. ATPE’s Washington-based contract lobby team, led by David Pore, coordinated the meetings.

Godsey, Wiggins, Brady, Colby, and Gregg

Gary Godsey, Richard Wiggins, Congressman Kevin Brady, Cory Colby, and Brock Gregg

On Tuesday, the ATPE delegation met with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) to discuss Social Security legislation. Educators have long been penalized by a federal offset known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that reduces the amount of Social Security benefits some government workers may receive when they retire. ATPE has advocated for repealing the controversial WEP, but because of the extremely high cost associated with full repeal of the law, we have also proposed that Congress take more gradual steps, both to make the WEP’s application of benefits fairer and to increase benefits when possible. ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association have worked closely with Congressman Brady over several years to pursue a viable solution that would result in increased benefits for retired educators. As we reported on Teach the Vote earlier this year, Congressman Brady has filed H.R. 711, the “Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act,” to provide educators with some relief from the WEP. Brady’s bill, co-authored by Congressman Richard Neal (D-Massachusetts), would replace the WEP’s arbitrary and punitive offset formula with a revised calculation of benefits and result in a significant benefit increase for numerous retirees.

ATPE’s discussions with the Texas Congressional delegation and their staffs this week have also focused on plans to reauthorize the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The ATPE team also visited the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) this week to talk about Texas’s pending request for an extension of our state’s ESEA waiver, which helps schools avoid being penalized by outdated provisions in the federal law, such as the requirement for Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) and restrictions on how federal funds must be spent.

Gregg, Wiggins, Colby, and Godsey

Gregg, Wiggins, Colby, and Godsey at the U.S. Department of Education

ATPE’s Brock Gregg reports that the group met with Monique Chism, Director of the Office of State Support, and the DOE’s Texas waiver team on Tuesday. The discussions covered all aspects of T-TESS, the new evaluation system for teachers and principals that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has proposed in fulfillment of conditions attached to the original ESEA waiver that the federal government granted to Texas. The DOE agreed to postpone its review of our state’s request to extend the waiver until after the 84th Texas Legislature adjourned its session earlier this month, and those negotiations with TEA have now resumed. In this week’s meeting, ATPE State President Richard Wiggins was able to provide federal officials with detailed insights on the proposed new evaluation system after having served on the stakeholder committee that made recommendations to TEA on how it should design T-TESS. DOE officials explained that the main point of contention with Texas’s plans for teacher evaluation is not the design of the new T-TESS instrument, but rather the fact that state law does not require school districts to use the state-recommended evaluation system. ATPE’s officers and staff impressed upon DOE officials the importance of allowing school districts across such a large, diverse state to have flexibility to adopt appraisal systems that will meet their local needs rather than a standardized, one-size-fits-all approach. “Teachers really want a meaningful evaluation system that helps them grow as professionals,” Gregg explained.

According to Gregg, the DOE officials did not reveal any clues as to their timeline for making a decision on Texas’s outstanding waiver request. If the request is denied, Texas schools will once again be subject to the original accountability provisions of ESEA, including its antiquated and highly flawed requirement that all students achieve “proficiency” by 2014. Without continuation of the waiver, nearly all Texas schools would be unable to meet such an unrealistic “proficiency” standard, would be considered low-performing under federal law, and would face harsh sanctions as a result.

Gregg added, “This law has become arbitrary and capricious for schools all over the nation due to congressional gridlock and complete ineptitude for the last 13 years.” Fortunately, both the U.S. House and Senate have ESEA re-authorization bills on the move. We could see floor action in the Senate as early as next week, and the House expects to get to its version in July. “Once the law is reauthorized,” said Gregg, “there will be no reason for states to seek waivers, so we are hopeful that Congress will pass this legislation before the next school year.”

SBEC and TRS boards meet, ATPE heads to D.C.

Today, June 12, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending the meeting and has provided this write-up about the business being discussed:

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

SBEC is meeting today to tackle a full agenda, which includes ongoing proposals as well as new issues resulting from bills passed during the legislative session. The board is postponing action on several agenda items related to bills that are waiting to be signed by Governor Greg Abbott. Those bills primarily pertain to new educator preparation requirements, but also affect a few issues on which the board has previously initiated the rulemaking procedure.

Among the action taken by the board today is final approval of a new fee structure for educator preparation programs (EPPs) and certification candidates. The fee structure raises several fees imposed on EPPs with regard to approval and accountability. Two fees involving the review of credentials for candidates seeking certification were slightly reduced. The board also approved a new traditional EPP, passing standards for certain certification exams, the accreditation statuses of all Texas EPPs (and most of the programs were fully accredited), and a phase-in of passing requirements on new Core Subjects EC-6 and Core Subjects 4-8 certification exams. Based on discussions initiated today, provisions affecting EPPs and EPP candidates will be a big discussion topic at upcoming SBEC meetings.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) board of trustees also met June 11-12 in Austin. Among the items on its board agenda were TRS-related developments that came out of the 84th Legislature’s recently adjourned regular session. Lawmakers appropriated $768 million for TRS-Care in a supplemental appropriations bill, which means the TRS board need not consider any TRS-care premium increases in the near future. However, healthcare funding for active employees continues to be a problem area and was discussed at length during this week’s meetings. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended and provided the following update:

Josh Sanderson

Josh Sanderson

The TRS Board of Trustees met Thursday and Friday of this week to discuss the adoption of ActiveCare premiums for the upcoming plan year.  Because of constantly rising healthcare costs and, more importantly, severe underfunding from the state legislature, active education employees have experienced high premium increases, causing many employees to enroll in the lower cost/lower coverage plan options, such as TRS ActiveCare 1-HD.   As such, the more comprehensive option, ActiveCare 2, is experiencing declining participation and costs the program the most money to maintain. Effectively, ActiveCare participants in lower cost plans subsidize participants in ActiveCare 2. Faced with these growing costs and underfunding issues, the TRS Board discussed the possibility of freezing enrollment in ActiveCare 2, allowing existing enrollees to continue coverage, but effectively eliminating the plan in the future. ATPE testified before the board to convey our opinion that the problem is not with the plan design, but instead with legislative decisions regarding funding. Further, we do not believe that restricting access to health insurance options is where the solution to the ActiveCare problems lies. We asked the board this week to delay a decision on ActiveCare 2 at least until the legislature has the opportunity to meet again and consider this issue. The TRS board agreed and pledged to work alongside education stakeholder groups urging the legislature to meet the funding obligations necessary to maintain a reasonable healthcare plan.  We thank the TRS Board and staff for their work on this issue and for reaching out to educators. This is an ongoing issue and it is critical that ATPE members engage their elected officials discussing the importance of increasing state funding for active employee health insurance.


Next week, members of the ATPE staff and state officers are traveling to Washington, D.C. for meetings to discuss education policy matters at the national level. ATPE’s Executive Director Gary Godsey, Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg, State President Richard Wiggins, and State Vice-President Cory Colby are expected to meet with several members of Congress and their staffs. They will be joined by ATPE’s Washington-based team of contract lobbyists. Topics that ATPE plans to address during the meetings include pending efforts to reauthorize the long-overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and to reform the federal Social Security offset laws that have the effect of limiting educators’ retirement benefits. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates next week from the nation’s capital.

Legislative Update: The rundown on education bills at week’s end

With 10 days remaining until the legislature adjourns sine die, it’s time to look at where major education bills stand in the 84th legislative session.


Budget, TRS, and school finance

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass this month in order to avoid a special session. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee for representatives and senators to work out a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. A major sticking point in the negotiations was how and how much money to provide for tax cuts, which numerous legislators made campaign promises to pursue this session. The House version of the budget contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system; the proposal assumed that the legislature would pass a school finance reform bill, which is discussed below. The Senate’s version provided for an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their property tax cuts were factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth would be covered by increases in property tax revenue. Under the HB 1 compromise announced this week and voted out by the conference committee last night, the budget funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. The bill will go next to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote in each chamber.

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Differences in opinion about whether to focus on property tax reductions, lowering sales taxes, or slashing the business franchise tax held up a compromise not only on the main budget bill, but also on supplemental appropriations, including money for retired educators’ healthcare. Yesterday, May 21, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election. On Wednesday, May 20, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The compromise means the House get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate gets some of the property tax relief it sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal (less than $200 saved per year), while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also been considering multiple measures to curtail state spending. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee today passed a version of SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation. It is believed that most of these bills restricting future appropriations would have a negative long-term impact on public education funding.

Much-needed funding for TRS-Care is addressed in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). The House passed HB 2 back on April 1.The Senate Finance Committee kept the bill on hold pending negotiations on the main budget bill, HB 1, until today. The committee voted this morning to approve HB 2 and send it to the Senate floor. The bill includes an extra $768 million for retirees’ health care.

With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) establishes a joint interim committee to study TRS-ActiveCare, including options for allowing districts to opt out of the program and for allowing regional rates to be created. Currently, districts cannot opt out of the plan, and the TRS Board only adopts statewide premium rates, instead of differentiated, regional rates. The House passed HB 3453 as amended on May 11 by a vote of 121 to 12. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, but not yet scheduled for a hearing. The bill’s companion, SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), was never heard by a Senate committee.

As for bills affecting the TRS pension fund itself, few serious legislative proposals have been offered this session after changes were made in 2013 to ensure that the fund and the benefits it provides are secure. The House Pensions Committee heard some bills a few weeks ago that would increase benefits for current retirees – either through a one-time 13th check or a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). However, all of those bills were left pending in the committee.

Finally, it appears that another session will go by without a serious school finance fix. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to reform the state’s school finance system, which has been ruled unconstitutional. The bill was approved by the House Public Education Committee, but failed to gain enough traction to make it all the way through this session. On May 14, the last day for the House to pass major House bills on second reading, Aycock laid out HB 1759 for floor debate but ended up withdrawing the bill from the day’s calendar as a favor to other legislators needing to pass bills before the midnight deadline. Aycock was facing the certainty of hours of debate by the House; numerous contentious amendments, including some that would try to add vouchers to the bill; and several planned points of order (technical challenges to the bill). Additionally, Aycock expressed doubt that the Senate would give the bill any real shot at passing and would therefore be a waste of the representatives’ time on such a critical day. The fact that many education advocates believed the bill would not do nearly enough to help underfunded school districts was undoubtedly another factor in the chairman’s decision.

Private school vouchers

SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) has been heavily promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as the Senate’s signature voucher bill, but as we were hoping, the bill has received a chilly reception in the House. SB 4 calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), who voted for it. All Republican senators voted for the bill except Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R), who opposed it; Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent on the day of the SB 4 vote. Voucher supporters pushed hard for House Speaker Joe Straus (R) and other state representatives to move the bill forward in the House. Despite the intense lobbying and paid advertising efforts, the bill has not been heard by the House Committee on Ways and Means. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose this harmful bill. Click here to read more about ATPE’s opposition to SB 4.

Likewise, the House Public Education Committee has not allowed a hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R). That bill originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts that parents could tap into in order to pay their children’s private school tuition or home-schooling expenses. Facing strong opposition, SB 1178 was converted into a mechanism to simply study the idea of education savings accounts during the interim. The Senate passed SB 1178 on May 11 by a vote of 21 to 10. Even as a study proposal, the bill appears stalled.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), also appears doomed. It is a costly bill to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network and part of a package of controversial reform proposals favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and pushed by Texans for Education Reform (TER). ATPE opposed the bill in committee. SB 894 has bounced on an off the Senate Intent Calendar and struggled to to gain enough support for a floor hearing. Even in the conservative Senate that is friendly to voucher bills, SB 894 faced significant hurdles with legislators questioning its large fiscal note. Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and was approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Read more below in our section on charters.

Student testing and curriculum

There is one major student testing-related bill that has already made it through the legislative process and become law. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE strongly supported the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 149 into law on May 11, and the bill took effect immediately.

This week the Senate Education Committee heard and passed a trio of other testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session: HB 743, HB 1164, and HB 2349. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 with Reps. David Simpson (R) and Jonathan Stickland (R) opposing the bill. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House by a vote of 142 to 6 on April 30. HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards; it already received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11.

The Senate Education Committee also approved a couple of House bills this week that relate to curriculum. Yesterday, the committee heard and voted out HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, along with HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes

A bill that did not make it through this session is HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), which would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test. As filed, the bill called for eliminating state tests in writing, social studies, and U.S. history that are not required by federal law. The House Public Education Committee amended the bill so that it would only eliminate the eighth-grade social studies test. ATPE supported the measure, but it died on the House calendar last week for lack of a floor debate and vote.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

ATPE has opposed legislative proposals calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The original bill on “A-F” ratings was Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 6, which was a major component of a reform package being pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE opposed SB 6, which the Senate passed but the House left pending in committee, opting instead to add “A-F” language to HB 2804. (Two identical companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, were not heard.)

HB 2804 is a comprehensive accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A-F” accountability grades. The A-F language was not part of Aycock’s original bill as filed, but hoping to reach a compromise with the Senate, he added it to HB 2804 in committee, despite objections from several committee members and testimony from ATPE and other groups opposing the idea. The House passed the ATPE-opposed bill late last week by a vote of 102 to 26. It’s a bill that barely survived the House’s strict calendar rules, having passed the House on second reading with only 25 minutes remaining before the midnight deadline on the last day for it to be considered.  As we reported last week, the House floor debate was robust; several amendments were considered, including bipartisan efforts to try to strip out the A-F language from the bill, resulting in very close, but ultimately unsuccessful votes. Some amendments that were added to the House version of the bill included ATPE-requested language requiring the commissioner to consult with ATPE and other education groups in developing the new campus accountability grades, and an amendment requiring school ratings to factor in the percentage of an elementary school’s students assigned for two consecutive school years to a first-year or improperly certified teacher. Unfortunately, both of those amendments have been stripped out of the Senate’s proposed new language for HB 2804. The Senate Education Committee heard and voted out its substitute version of HB 2804 yesterday. ATPE similarly testified against the bill during yesterday’s hearing. The committee’s vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 last week by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate Education Committee heard the bill this week and proposed a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842. The committee voted its version of the bill out unanimously today, with Chairman Larry Taylor (R) calling it “still a work in progress.” It will head next to the Senate floor for consideration, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It has passed the Senate unanimously on April 30, and the House Public Education Committee approved it yesterday. The bill is a rare one that is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including educator groups such as ATPE and reform groups such as TER. (Its identical companion bill, HB 4028, was never heard.)

ATPE has also supported a set of bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. Unfortunately, those bills appear to be hopelessly stalled. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14. It took the addition of a bizarre amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R) stating that community schools would be prohibited from partnering with abortion providers in order for conservatives in the House to support the bill. HB 1891 was only yesterday referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage. The community schools language had been added at one point to Chairman Aycock’s HB 1842 through a floor amendment in the House, but that amendment was later stripped out. A correlating bill also by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to provide for grants to community schools, HB 1892, was voted down in the House 60 to 82, and the Senate version of that bill, SB 1484 by Sen. Garcia, was not heard in a committee.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and his friends in the group Texans for Education Reform (TER) have aggressively pursued a pair of bills this session to try to get rid of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. In addition to promoting performance-based compensation for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) would impose new state requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. With any luck, these bills are dead. HB 2543 was heard but never voted out of the House Public Education Committee before its deadline. SB 893 has not been voted out of the House Public Education Committee either, which has a Saturday deadline to act on Senate bills. We appreciate all the ATPE members who helped us lobby against these bills with persistent calls and emails to their legislators. Learn more about the bills here.

By contrast, another salary-related bill was considered this session that ATPE supported. SB 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) called for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. It was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 30, but the bill was left pending and is not expected to move. Other pay raise bills have been filed but not heard this session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 is Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees a payroll deduction option for paying their voluntary association dues. Its co-authors are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R). The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure, along with state employees working in a variety of professions. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill.

SB 1968 passed the Senate on May 7 by a party-line vote of 20 to 11. All Republican senators voted for the bill, while all Democratic senators opposed the bill. On May 15, SB 1968 was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, which left little time for it to be considered. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill this week failed, as we reported Tuesday. A motion was offered that day to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill on Wednesday. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed, but it did not defeat the bill since the committee could still bring up SB 1968 and vote it out in a formal meeting without testimony. Accordingly, the House agreed on Wednesday to hear the motion to suspend once again, approve the motion, and allow the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing on Thursday of this week.

The House State Affairs Committee’s public hearing that followed yesterday on SB 1968 was a limited one. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for testimony, which meant that many witnesses who signed up to speak against the bill – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. Read more about the contentious hearing in our Thursday blog post. As of now, the bill remains pending and has not been voted out by the committee. The committee only has until tomorrow, May 23, to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. We will be watching this one closely and will report on any developments here on Teach the Vote. Read more about the bill and our opposition to it here.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

With the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Texans for Education Reform (TER) has once again pursued a bevy of bills this session that call for certain low-performing schools to be deregulated in similar manner as charter schools and even subjected to alternative management by outside entities. The legislation includes variations on parent trigger actions, converting school districts to home rule charter districts, and creating a special statewide school district with an appointed superintendent. ATPE has opposed the bills, which we consider to be ineffective strategies for turning around schools that are struggling under our standardized test-based state and federal accountability mandates. Fortunately, most of these TER-backed efforts this session have failed, although there is always the risk that school deregulation and privatization language could be added as eleventh-hour amendments to other bills.

One of the only deregulation bills still in play at this point is SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), which the House Public Education Committee approved last night. SB 1241 subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE has opposed the bill. Previously, the Senate approved SB 1241 on May 11 by a vote of 22 to 9. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D); Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) first opposed the bill on second reading and then voted for the bill on third reading. SB 1241 must now be placed on a House calendar for floor consideration before time runs out.

A bill that appears not to have made it through this session is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill, but Texas PTA did support it, interestingly. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April after adding several favorable amendments to it. The Senate’s floor vote was 25 to 6, with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), John Whitmire (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. The House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday, May 19, but left it pending. (A House companion bill, HB 1727, was never heard.)

Legislators also filed several bills this session calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be placed into a statewide, largely deregulated “Opportunity School District.” Similar bills were attempted last session, when the idea was called an “Achievement School District.” ATPE opposed these TER-backed bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of otherwise public schools and exempting them from education laws aimed at ensuring quality, such as class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The bills filed this session included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). HB 1536 made it out of the House Public Education Committee but did not survive the House’s stringent calendar deadlines. Its companion bill, SB 895, was deliberately left pending in the Senate Education Committee, as its author and committee chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, agreed to support SB 669 instead. West’s SB 669 passed the Senate with amendments on May 7 by a vote of 20 to 11. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the measure. Ultimately, the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear SB 669.

SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts. Dallas ISD is the only school district that has attempted to convert to a home rule charter under the existing state law. The two bills filed this session would change the name of home rule districts to “local control school districts,” a rather misleading term considering that locally elected school boards would most likely lose much of their authority to govern the district under these proposals. The bills were also troubling because they would exempt “local control school districts” from many of the quality control measures, such as elementary school class-size limits, found in the Texas Education Code. SB 1012 and HB 1798 were among bills supported by TER while opposed by ATPE and most of the education community. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, but left that bill pending. On Wednesday, May 13, the House spent three hours debating Rep. Deshotel’s HB 1798 and considering floor amendments, including some relating to class-size limits and teachers’ contract rights, before putting the bill to a vote. HB 1798 failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Read our May 13 blog post to learn more about amendments that were considered and find out how your representative voted on the “local control school district” bill.

Despite a well-funded lobbying and advertising effort, TER has had little success pushing through its controversial agenda this session. The very public defeat of HB 1798, in particular, was a significant blow to reformers who have tried to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expertly delivered most of our testimony against these deregulation bills in hearings that were frequently contentious with backers of the bill bringing in parents from out of state to testify for the measures. Exter noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favored, such as making elementary class sizes larger. He also cautioned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated and the need for both transparency and accountability to voters.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), often referred to as a “Tim Tebow bill,” would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposes the bill and the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to equal academic standards as their public school student peers and competitors. The Senate passed SB 2046 on May 11 by a vote of 27 to 4. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Kel Seliger (R), and Kirk Watson (D). The House Public Education Committee opted not to hear the bill.

Charter schools

An ATPE-requested bill to protect charter school employees narrowly missed the House’s midnight deadline for passage on the last night for consideration of House bills on second reading. HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It unanimously passed the House Public Education Committee on April 23, and it was only three bills away from being debated by the House when the clock ran out on May 14. ATPE sincerely appreciates Rep. Allen’s work to try to pass the bill.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would authorize the commissioner of education to grant multiple charters to a charter holder in certain circumstances. In addition to providing for the expansion of charter schools, the bill waters down laws pertaining to charter school accountability measures and sanctions for low-performance. Language was added to the bill relating to expansion of the state’s virtual school network. ATPE opposed the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, May 11, by a vote of 22 to 9. Check out our earlier blog post for a breakdown of the Senate vote. As we discussed above in our section on private school vouchers, the House Public Education Committee has opted not to hear this particular bill.

Several bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth has made it through the House and been recommended for the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools; both bills easily passed the House and are pending in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar. (Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) carried companion bills to those two measures, SB 1567 and 1569.)

HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would clean up laws passed in 2013 relating to procedures for revoking a charter. HB 3347 didn’t survive the House’s calendar deadlines, and SB 1898 is stalled in the Senate. SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities was approved by the Senate Education Committee but hasn’t seen a floor vote either and is likely dead.

Educator preparation and certification

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was originally filed as a bill to increase the rigor of educator preparation by adding a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. However, the bill was amended with language requested by representatives of for-profit alternative certification programs and now has the effect of watering down the standards for becoming a teacher. Specifically, SB 892 would lower the individual GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. (The legislature raised the GPA requirement in statute from 2.5 to 2.75 in 2013, but the State Board for Educator Certification that is responsible for implementing the law complained that the new statute was vague and refused to raise its own admission rules to reflect the higher GPA requirement.) The state’s largest alternative certification providers are for-profit companies that seek to maximize their profits through high enrollment numbers; they would obviously benefit from putting lower GPA standards in law, but they also want the legislature to codify current practices that enable them to delay providing their candidates with significant training before they are hired as teachers of record. ATPE believes the watered down standards and weak training requirements do a disservice to would-be educators pursuing alternative certification, since they are placed into high-stakes teaching environments before they have received adequate preparation and often without the necessary content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching. We support higher standards for educator preparation to ensure that all new teachers are well-equipped to meet the rigors of their first classrooms. SB 892 passed the Senate unanimously on April 7. It was approved by the House Public Education Committee last night. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) was the only committee member to vote against the bill, and she did so because of its lowering of the GPA standard. (A companion bill, HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), was left pending in committee.) SB 892 must now be placed on the House calendar for debate before time runs out this session.

Another educator preparation bill is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R), which the Senate unanimously passed today. The ATPE-backed bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 last week by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it.

Yet another educator preparation bill filed this session was HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). The bill called for a number of changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including requiring consideration of the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 also would require all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). A version of HB 2566 was unanimously approved by the House Public Education Committee on April 28, but the bill was unable to survive the House’s calendar deadlines. In order to keep the measure alive in some manner, VanDeaver amended some of the language in his more comprehensive HB 2566 onto another bill, Rep. Crownover’s HB 2205. The pieces of VanDeaver’s bill that were added to HB 2205 include the administration of a new teacher survey to assess new teachers’ satisfaction with the training provided by their educator preparation programs; the requirement for alternative certification program candidates to receive training in the detection and education of students with dyslexia; and the establishment of educator preparation program approval and renewal standards, risk factors to be used in assessing the programs, and a process for submitting complaints against an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill adds two indicators to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), which seeks to hold educator preparation programs accountable for their quality and effectiveness at preparing candidates for certification and entering the profession. Those two new indicators are the ratio of field supervisors to candidates and the percentage of teachers employed within one year of completing the preparation program. ATPE supported HB 2205 when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee, which unanimously approved the bill on April 28. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 126 to 5, after several floor amendments were added to HB 2205. The amendments included one by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) to create a school turnaround specialist endorsement that may be added to a principal certificate issued by SBEC. HB 2205 was also amended to incorporate language from another bill, VanDeaver’s HB 2566, which is discussed above.

When HB 2205 was sent to the upper chamber, the Senate Education Committee proposed a substitute version of the bill, which ATPE testified against on May 20. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including Rep. VanDeaver’s language that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes lowering the standards for entrance into the education profession. HB 2205 would decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to approve its committee substitute for HB 2205 on Wednesday, May 20. It must now be approved by the full Senate.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Broadly supported and also declared a priority issue by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 4 generated controversy after a panel of advisors to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) publicly derided the bill and public schools. Both the House and Senate ultimately passed different versions of the bill. The House voted yesterday, May 21, to concur in amendments made by the Senate. That unanimous vote to accept the Senate’s language sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The ATPE-supported bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has been pursuing legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. The Senate Education Committee approved HB 2186 yesterday and recommended that it be placed on the House’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills.  A similar bill, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), passed the Senate last week by a vote of 29 to 1, with only Sen. Robert Nichols (R) voting against it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

The legislature is considering a couple of bills relating to accommodations for new mothers working in public schools, and ATPE has been supporting the measures.

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. It passed the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee this week and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor consideration as early as today.

SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is a similar measure that applies particularly to school employees and requires school districts to provide break times and suitable locations for educators to express breast milk. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on May 5 by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Donna Campbell (R) voting against SB 1479. It was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor debate earlier this week, but was removed from the calendar and is facing some opposition.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens, in school settings. Epi-pens are often used to treat anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen. The bill requires districts and charters to provide parents with annual written notice of their epi-pen policies. Related to the lawful use or non-use of an epi-pen in a school setting, SB 66 also includes immunity protections against liability for school personnel and calls for a state advisory committee to review schools’ usage of epi-pens.

The Senate passed SB 66 on April 15 by a vote of 24 to 7. Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voted against the bill. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously last Wednesday, May 13. The Senate voted Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill, which means SB 66 is now headed to the governor’s desk. The vote on the motion to concur was 24 to 7, again with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against it.

Cardiac assessments for student athletes

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The House passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62.

Cameras in the classroom

The House Public Education Committee voted last night to approve SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure.

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222 to the House Public Education Committee, which considered the bill yesterday. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. The committee approved the bill today and it will head next to the full House for consideration where amendments are possible. SB 1222 previously passed the Senate on May 4 by a vote of 29 to 2, with Sens. Kirk Watson (D) and Rodney Ellis (D) voting against it.

Paperwork reduction

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements. The bill was voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making it more likely to pass. ATPE supports the measure, which the House passed unanimously on May 4.


As a reminder, tomorrow (May 23) is the last day for House committees to report Senate bills. With the House still in session, impromptu meetings could still be scheduled anytime tonight or tomorrow to vote out additional bills. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

Legislative Update: Senate committee approves “A through F;” House hears payroll deduction; suicide and early education bills progress while reform bills languish

The clock is ticking on the 84th legislative session. Here’s the latest news on the following legislation we are following closely:


“A THROUGH F” SCHOOL RATINGS

Earlier today the Senate Education Committee heard HB 2804 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R). ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the bill this morning. He explained to the committee that the bill contains accountability provisions that ATPE supports but that we cannot support HB 2804 in its current form because of its language requiring “A through F” accountability grades to be used for campus ratings. Gregg said it was “egregious and wrong” to refer to students as failing. ATPE also submitted as written testimony a copy of a column penned by ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday for the Summer 2015 issue of ATPE News. In the article entitled “The Failed Rhetoric of Failing Schools,” Canaday contends that “stigmatizing children” by labeling their schools as failing ‘”does nothing to support them or the educators working on their behalf.”

This evening the committee voted out a substitute version of the “A-F” bill. The vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.


OTHER BILLS IN THE SENATE EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The Senate Education Committee also heard today HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials and HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) dealing with interventions and sanctions for low-performing schools. The committee is proposing a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842, and because of its length, Chairman Larry Taylor (R) advised the the committee would not attempt to vote out the bill until tomorrow. HB 2811 was approved by the committee this evening. A late addition to the committee’s agenda for today was HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes. The committee voted out that bill with a favorable recommendation, along with HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R), the ATPE-backed suicide prevention training bill for educators. Among other pending bills that the committee voted out today were Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R) bill eliminating the STAAR test for writing, HB 1164, and Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) HB 743 pertaining to testing and curriculum standards; ATPE has supported both of those bills.

PAYROLL DEDUCTION

The House Committee on State Affairs held a limited public hearing today on SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R), a bill eliminating the payroll deduction option for school and state employees to pay voluntary dues to a professional association. ATPE opposes the bill. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for the hearing, which meant that many of the witnesses who signed up to testify – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. While the limitations on testimony upset some members of the committee, Cook stated that he was trying to strike a balance between “folks who think we’re going too slow and folks who think we’re going too fast” in considering SB 1968. Cook called the bill poorly drafted and said that SB 1968 had “languished in the Senate,” had arrived in the House “very flawed,” and would be subject to “a valid point of order” that would kill the bill if his committee sent it to the House floor as written. After hearing two hours of testimony, Cook announced that the committee was adjourning and leaving the bill pending. At this point, no plans have been announced for the committee to meet again prior to Saturday’s deadline for bills to be voted upon and reported out of House committees.

STATE BUDGET

Pieces of the budget puzzle are being filled out as the end of session nears. Conference committee meetings are continuing today on HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R), which is the state’s budget bill. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson reports that the committee is recommending $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. HB 1 is the only bill the legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session. A deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching agreement on tax cuts. We reported yesterday that the Senate Finance Committee passed the House’s plan to reduce the business franchise tax. Today, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election.

BILLS IN THE HOUSE PUBLIC EDUCATION COMMITTEE TODAY

The House Public Education Committee also held its last regular meeting today. Its agenda included hearing one bill that ATPE opposes, SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) to give the commissioner of education subpoena power. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222.

In addition, the committee took votes this evening on several pending bills that have already been heard, including SB 1200 and SB 1241 both by Sen. Larry Taylor (R). SB 1241 is Taylor’s bill to create deregulated “innovation zones” for some low-performing schools, which ATPE has opposed. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) educator preparation bill, SB 892, was approved tonight, as was SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) to require cameras in special education classrooms, and a handful of other bills.

EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION

There have been major developments on a couple of bills ATPE supported this session pertaining to early childhood education. First, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Additionally, the House voted today to concur in amendments made by the Senate to HB 4, which is Rep. Dan Huberty’s (R) high-profile pre-Kindergarten bill. Today’s unanimous vote sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

BILLS IN JEOPARDY

A pair of ATPE-supported community schools bills appear to be on life support. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14, but was only today referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage.

Most of the components of a package of priority legislation favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), including several high-profile bills pushed by the well-funded group Texans for Education Reform (TER), appear far less likely to pass this session. One of the bills is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April; the House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday night but left it pending. Neither SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) nor HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) to repeal the state minimum salary schedule for teachers has been voted out of the House Public Education Committee, which has a Saturday deadline to act on bills. Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) virtual voucher bill, SB 894, has not garnered enough support for a floor vote in the Senate; Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and has already been approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Similarly, the House Public Education Committee has not heard SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), which is the TER-backed bill to create a statewide Opportunity School District. With TER’s “local control school district” bill (HB 1798) already defeated by the House, that means the reform group has had little success this session, despite an expensive marketing and lobbying campaign, in attempting to deregulate and privatize the management of public schools it deems to be unacceptable. Last but not least, there is SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the private school voucher tax credit bill lauded by Lt. Gov. Patrick, which has failed to gain traction in the House after passing the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21.


This is a critical time for education bills both good and bad. ATPE encourages you to remain actively involved in the legislative process and keep talking to your legislators about bills of concern. For the very latest updates, follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

Legislative Update: Vouchers get committee approval, Senate votes to scrap salary schedule, House advances pre-K

The Texas Senate approved two major bills relating to teacher quality yesterday, including one opposed by ATPE and most other groups representing Texas educators.

First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which deals with educator preparation. ATPE supported the bill as filed when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19, since the bill called for enhancing the existing GPA requirements for admission into an educator preparation program (EPP). The bill, however, was subsequently amended to a version that ATPE does not support. In its current form, SB 892 adds language enabling alternative certification programs to take advantage of “late hire” provisions that place teachers into the classroom before they’ve had sufficient training, and it caps the minimum GPA requirement for EPP candidates at 2.5, which is lower than what is provided for in current statute. SB 892 passed the Senate on April 7 by a vote of 30 to 1, with Sen. Don Huffines (R) offering the only vote against the bill. (Huffines similarly opposed the bill when it was approved by the Senate Education Committee.)

SB 893, also by Sen. Seliger, was approved by the full Senate yesterday, too. The bill deals with teacher appraisals, employment, and compensation; most notably, it calls for elimination of the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19. Several floor amendments were added to SB 893 yesterday, including one by Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R) requiring the commissioner of education to develop a training course to help administrators implement new appraisal processes and another floor amendment by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) that modifies Advanced Placement Incentives that may be paid to teachers. The Senate rejected by a vote of 24 to 7 a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) that attempted to restore the minimum salary schedule for teachers in the bill. The Senate ultimately passed SB 893 by a vote of 27 to 4, with Sens. Menendez, Rodney Ellis (D), Eddie Lucio (D), and Royce West (D) voting against the bill on third reading.


The House Public Education Committee met April 7 to hear several high-profile bills. The hearing began with Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) providing new details on his bill to overhaul the state’s school finance system. Aycock explained that House Bill (HB) 1759 will eliminate many of the existing funding allotments for special populations and circumstances and place those funds into the basic per-student allocation instead. Watch for more details on HB 1759 coming soon from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against a controversial bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. House Bill (HB) 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) is a bill relating to teacher appraisals, professional development, salaries, and employment. The bill was identical at the time of filing to SB 893, which passed the full Senate yesterday in an amended format. Exter’s testimony highlighted ATPE’s concerns about eliminating the minimum salary schedule for teachers and the potential for school districts to rely heavily on students’ standardized test scores and value-added measures of student performance in evaluating and making employment decisions about teachers. The bill was left pending in the committee yesterday. ATPE appreciates those members who have contacted their legislators asking them to oppose HB 2543 and SB 893, and we encourage you to keep letting members of the House of Representatives know how these bills would negatively impact teachers. Visit our Officeholders page to find contact information for your state representative.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also testified yesterday in support of SB 149, by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), a measure that would give some high school students a chance to graduate despite failing a STAAR exam. SB 149, sponsored on the House side by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), has broad support from the education community and parents, and the bill already passed the Senate by a vote of 28-2 last month. Exter asked the committee to consider amending the bill to provide similar options for students who were high school seniors during the previous two school years and were denied an opportunity to graduate based on failing a STAAR test that was required. The House Public Education Committee approved SB 149 unanimously during yesterday’s hearing.


The Senate Education Committee also met April 7 to hear bills relating to interventions for low-performing schools and to vote out pending bills. The committee considered SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), along with two bills by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the committee: SB 895 and SB 1241. The first two bills would place certain low-performing schools into a statewide “Opportunity School District.” Read more about the legislation in our blog post from yesterday. Chairman Taylor’s SB 1241 also subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the aforementioned bills based on concerns about enabling private entities to manage public schools, the potential impact on educators’ contract rights, and the likelihood that parents and local voters would lose their ability to have input on school governance decisions. All three bills were left pending, but the committee did vote out a related piece of “parent trigger” legislation. A committee substitute version of SB 14 by Chairman Larry Taylor was approved by the committee on a vote of 7 to 1, with one committee member present not voting.

Also in yesterday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, Gregg testified in support of SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a bill promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. The bill was left pending.

The Senate Education Committee also approved Chairman Larry Taylor’s private school voucher bill, SB 4, which ATPE opposes. The bill was amended and substituted, and its new text has not yet been made available, but the new version incorporates elements of another privatization bill, SB 642 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R). ATPE testified against the voucher bills during their March 26 hearing, and you can read more about them on our Issues page. The committee’s vote yesterday on SB 4, though not yet officially reported, was 7 to 3.


On the House floor today, state representatives debated House Bill (HB) 4, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), a bill relating to a hig- quality pre-kindergarten program provided by public school districts. The bill, which ATPE supported when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee on March 10, is aimed at flowing additional money to school districts that agree to implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Several floor amendments were considered during today’s lively debate. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Eric Johnson (D) to prohibit state standardized testing of pre-K students and rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) attempting to impose an 18:1 pre-K class-size limit. A small group of legislators who oppose the bill raised points of order (procedural objections) against the bill and offered amendments attempting to reduce the state’s pre-K plan to a limited pilot program with reduced funding. Those attempts were unsuccessful, and the House ultimately voted 129 to 18 to advance the bill to third reading.


Tomorrow, April 9, the Senate Education Committee will meet again to consider a number of bills. The agenda includes a bill that would prevent school districts from hiring employees with certain criminal histories, bills relating to the procedures by which school districts adopt textbooks, a measure to give the commissioner of education the ability to issue subpoenas when investigating educator misconduct allegations, and even a bill pertaining to the use of sunscreen in schools. Visit Teach the Vote for updates after the hearing.


In national news, U.S. senators leading an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), are making progress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced yesterday that they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a rewrite that they believe will fix many of the problems of the ESEA. A committee hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 14. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional details from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann later this week.

Legislative Update: Education committees meet, Senate hears controversial bills, House focuses on pre-K

The Senate Education Committee met yesterday and heard several of the Senate leadership’s high-priority bills. One of the bills was Senate Bill (SB) 894 by Sen. Larry Taylor, who chairs the committee. SB 894 would vastly expand the virtual school network in Texas. Most of the Texas education community came out unified in strong opposition to the bill and expressed concerns that it would set up a system of virtual vouchers, expand access to a low-quality education that evidence indicates is less effective in most cases, and offer little to no accountability to taxpayers on the virtual providers.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against SB 894. Gregg noted that ATPE has long supported virtual and distance learning opportunities but has worked to ensure quality controls and stressed the importance of containing the cost to taxpayers. A good portion of the day’s testimony on SB 894 focused on its cost, with education advocates questioning the relatively small fiscal note on the bill considering the fact that SB 894 would allow home-schooled and other children free access to virtual courses on the state’s dime. Testimony ultimately revealed that the bill’s fiscal note was largely the product of guesswork, since it is impossible to predict how many existing private or home-school students might take advantage of the bill’s funding provision. ATPE and others believe that funding virtual courses for those students not currently enrolled in public schools would cause the cost of the program to balloon and would further burden the state’s already underfunded public school system. In his testimony, Gregg also cited research showing 42 percent of the state’s virtual schools as low-performing and noting that many of the largest virtual course vendors are companies operating in multiple states that use a national curriculum based on Common Core, which has been prohibited by Texas law.

Another major bill heard yesterday in committee was SB 6, also by Chairman Taylor, which calls for assigning “A through F” letter grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. ATPE’s Brock Gregg testified against the bill and explained that labeling schools as failures is equivalent to calling students who attend those schools failures. The committee heard several hours of testimony, including remarks by numerous members of the education community who oppose the legislation. “A through F” legislation has been proposed in several states and is being pushed vigorously by affiliates of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is widely viewed as a strong contender for the Republican nomination for President in 2016.

ATPE’s Gregg also testified in support of SB 13 by Sen. Charles Perry, a bill relating to measures to support public school student academic achievement and career preparation, including measures to improve and support dual-credit courses. The committee also heard a handful of bills relating to health and safety.


Interestingly, the Senate Education Committee’s hearing on SB 6 occurred on the same day that the fact-checking journalism group PolitiFact Texas rated as “false” a recent claim by Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush that a majority of Texas students are “trapped in schools that are underperforming.” George P. Bush, the son of Jeb Bush, made the statement at a pro-private school voucher rally at the State Capitol in January. PolitiFact agreed to look into the claim upon the request of Rev. Charles Johnson, a member of the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools who was also a guest speaker at ATPE’s recent Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day. Looking at 2014 state accountability data, PolitiFact determined that more than 90 percent of districts and 80 percent of campuses were meeting state standards, making it impossible for the majority of Texas’s students to be “trapped” in low-performing schools.


Earlier this week, the House Public Education Committee devoted an entire hearing to bills relating to pre-kindergarten. Early childhood education is one of five priorities designated by Gov. Greg Abbott as emergency items for the 84th Legislature to tackle. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified or registered support for all of the following bills during Tuesday’s committee hearing:

  • House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty relating to a high quality prekindergarten program provided by public school districts. According to Exter, the bill provides school districts with additional formula funding in exchange for adding quality control measures into the districts’ pre-K programs.
  • HB 173 by Rep. Carol Alvarado relating to information reported by a public school district regarding prekindergarten classes.
  • HB 296 by Rep. Gene Wu relating to certain prekindergarten programs offered by a school district.
  • HB 424 by Rep. Harold Dutton relating to providing free full-day prekindergarten for certain children.
  • HB 1100 by Rep. Eric Johnson relating to a gold standard full-day prekindergarten program provided by public school districts. Similar to HB 4, this bill provides additional formula funding to schools districts that implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Exter notes that HB 1100 requires districts that opt into the bill’s provisions to provide a full day pre-K program but offers additional funding above the amounts contemplated by HB 4.
  • HB 1188 by Rep. Joe Deshotel relating to the creation of a joint interim committee to study and make recommendations regarding early childhood education.

Exter believes, based on testimony and remarks from committee members during Tuesday’s hearing, that “the question the committee has chosen to answer is not whether to expand Pre-K and pre-K funding but rather by how much.”


Today is the last day that legislators may file bills in the 84th session with the exception of certain local and emergency bills. More than 6,000 bills or resolutions have already been filed this session. It is estimated that at least one-quarter of those will relate to public education in some manner.

ATPE officers make the rounds in D.C.

Things were certainly heated in Washington, D.C. last week—June 16–19—as ATPE State President Ginger Franks, Vice President Richard Wiggins, Executive Director Gary G. Godsey and Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg brought Texas weather (98 degrees) and hot issues to the Texas congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Education.

Our team attended meetings with key Texas Congressmen who serve on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce as well as majority and minority staff members of other Congressmen on the committee. We met with the two Texas Senators, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz, and Texas Congressmen serving on the House Ways and Means committees, which oversees the Social Security system.

We focused on educating Congress about the recent federal requirement that Texas institute a new principal and teacher evaluation system (that accountability based on student test scores) as a condition of receiving a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The waiver exempts Texas from accountability sanctions from the outdated accountability standards under current law; the outdated accountability standards are a result of more than a decade of Congressional gridlock and inability to update the ESEA. The DOE is using this inaction to force states to adopt several “reforms,” including the teacher evaluation piece, in exchange for flexibility under current law.

ATPE has worked hard with Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and the Texas Education Agency to create an evaluation system primarily based on recently adopted state standards of practice for what an educator should know and be able to do. On the test score portion of the evaluation, ATPE recommended using student scores aggregated at the campus level so that all educators are held accountable for every student on the campus, instead of using classroom scores at the individual teacher level. We have also asked for an extension of the pilot program’s timeline so that the program’s first year can be properly evaluated prior to full implementation of the system in all districts.

During our meeting with the DOE, we were pleased to hear that the department has recently decided to consider requests for more flexibility, and we are hopeful Commissioner Williams will request and receive more time. We also hope that the Commissioner will continue conversation about using campus scores, which we believe are more accurate and create a sense of campus collaboration instead of competition, anger and fear of the unknown.

Our message to our Congressmen was to please help us persuade the DOE that Texas does need that flexibility and that we would prefer to handle our own state-level teacher evaluation system. In addition, we advocated for changes to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a Social Security provisions that effects public servants who don’t contribute to Social Security for at least thirty years. The formula used for the WEP is arbitrary and is not proportional to the number of years paid in, unlike the formula that applies to all other Americans who are covered by Social Security.

Legislative Update: Charter school legislation, enrollment growth, evaluations and SBEC

In Washington this week, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senior Democrat George Miller (D-CA) introduced the “Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act” (H.R. 10). The legislation would allow the U.S. Department of Education to oversee spending $300 million on competitive grants to fund charter school startups, expansions and facilities. The full press release, including a bill summary and fact sheet, can be found here: Success and Opportunity through Quality Charter Schools Act – press release.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released new figures this week on student enrollment. The number of students attending Texas public schools has increased by more than 19 percent over the past decade, with statewide enrollment passing the 5 million mark during the 2012-13 school year.


ATPE State Vice President Richard Wiggins and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg were featured in a front-page news article Monday in the Austin American-Statesman about teacher evaluation reform efforts. Wiggins is one of several ATPE members serving on a committee that has given TEA officials input on the creation of new professional teaching standards and the redesign of the state’s recommended appraisal system. Commissioner of Education Michael Williams is expected to present federal officials with TEA’s plans for the redesign by May 2, pursuant to the conditions of the state’s NCLB waiver.

Related Teach the Vote content: Why it is important to support candidates in the 2014 elections who will ensure teacher evaluations are valid, fair and easily understood.


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will meet Friday to discuss possible recommendations to the 84th Legislature. SBEC and TEA will again be under sunset review in the 2015 legislative session after a sunset bill failed to pass in 2013. Stay tuned next week for updates.