Tag Archives: John Kline

Federal Update: ESSA hearing tomorrow in D.C.

The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hear from U.S. Secretary of Education John King and others in a Capitol Hill hearing this week on federal education policy. The committee meets at 9 a.m. Eastern (8 a.m. Central) on Thursday, June 23, and the hearing is entitled “Next Steps in K-12 Education: Examining Recent Efforts to Implement the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

As the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has undertaken the rulemaking process to implement various aspects of ESSA in recent months, some lawmakers have criticized the department’s actions. The composition of the negotiated rulemaking panels, the use of outside experts, and ED’s interaction with the participants have been sources of conflict for some in Congress. Rep. John Kline (R–MN), who chairs the House committee conducting tomorrow’s hearing, has called the department’s actions during the implementation of ESSA “deeply concerning” and said that his committee is “determined to hold the administration accountable and make certain the law is implemented in a manner that adheres to the letter and intent of the law.”

image1A delegation of ATPE state officers and staff are in Washington, D.C. this week and will be attending the hearing tomorrow. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann have joined ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists for private meetings this week with congressional members and staff, along with ED officials. Kate Kuhlmann will provide a complete report on the visits upon their conclusion this week.

Watch the ESSA congressional hearing live Thursday morning or read more about the committee’s concerns about the implementation process for ESSA here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates following tomorrow’s hearing.

Federal Update: ESSA accountability rule proposed, ATPE writes to Secretary King

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) published its rule proposal for the accountability piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the Federal Register yesterday. The proposal addresses state accountability systems, state and district report cards, and consolidated state plans.

As we reported on Teach the Vote, ED is in the middle of the rulemaking process for several aspects of ESSA. Negotiated rulemaking for the assessments and ‘supplement, not supplant’ portions of the law wrapped up in April. Other provisions, including this accountability piece, are being addressed through the typical rulemaking process over the summer.

medwt16002Initial reaction to the accountability rule proposal was mixed. In Congress, the partisan division again hinges on state control and flexibility versus strong civil rights protections. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced they will each hold hearings on the proposal and threatened to block the regulation through available means if it “doesn’t follow the law,” which aims to decentralize power away from the federal government. Their Democratic counterparts, Ranking Members Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), praised the proposed rule for protecting and promoting equity.

Outside of the Capitol, stakeholders pointed to more specific issues with the proposal, citing concerns about a definition for “consistently under-performing,” the inclusion of specific punitive consequences for low assessment participation rates (in situations where parents opt children out of state standardized tests), the need for guidance on ways to make school report cards more accessible and transparent for parents, and more.

The proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to identify schools in need of support the following school year.

In other ESSA rule proposal news, ATPE submitted a letter last week to U.S. Secretary of Education John King. The letter identified two areas of the new law where ED is asked to pay particular attention to previous ATPE input to Congress when writing rules or issuing non-binding guidance. Those areas of the law pertain to an innovative assessment pilot and a new avenue for potential funding for educator preparation programs.

ATPE’s previous comments on assessments to the Senate HELP committee outline recommendations for giving states “more flexibility to innovate and choose assessment methodologies that better suit the needs of their students, parents, and educators.” ATPE’s comments note that the high stakes testing regime is ineffective and even harmful to students, and suggest that tests “be low stakes, be administered less frequently, employ sampling, and be truly criterion-referenced.” While the new federal education law requires states to maintain the current annual testing schedule, ATPE’s letter encourages ED to allow states piloting innovative assessments to test these recommendations.

In the letter to ED, ATPE also points to previous comments on supporting educators. Particularly, the letter highlights ATPE’s input on “initiatives to encourage more selective recruitment of educators by setting high standards for educator preparation and certification.” ATPE encourages ED to support states through non-binding avenues as they seek to ensure high standards for educator preparation programs.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on ESSA implementation.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 4, 2015

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from Texas and beyond:

This week the U.S. House of Representatives took a major step forward in the longstanding effort to reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The new compromise, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed the House on Wednesday by a vote of 359 to 64.

The ESSA would do away with controversial federal accountability mandates, such as the requirements for Adequate Yearly Progress that have stymied states and school districts for years, forcing Texas and most other states to seek waivers. Under the new law, states would have more authority for creating their own accountability systems and sanctions but would still be required to test students in many grades. The bill aims to drastically reduce the federal government’s control over education policies by preventing federal mandates such as national curriculum standards (e.g. Common Core) and the types of conditional funding grants (e.g. Race To The Top) that have prevailed under the current administration.

During Wednesday’s tally, all of the opposing votes in the House were cast by Republicans, including nine members of the Texas delegation who voted against the ESSA: Reps. Brian Babin, John Culberson, Blake Farenthold, Louie Gohmert, Sam Johnson, Kenny Marchant, Ted Poe, John Ratcliffe, and Randy Weber.

House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Ranking Member Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA) quickly issued statements praising the passage of the ESSA on Wednesday. Kline said, “Today, we helped turn the page on a flawed law and a failed approach to K-12 education.” Scott called the vote “an embodiment of what we can achieve here in Washington – a workable compromise that does not force either side to desert its core beliefs.”

The bill as passed by the House represents a compromise between earlier reauthorization bills filed in the House and Senate respectively, but the final negotiated version more closely resembles the Senate’s draft. For that reason, it is expected that the ESSA will receive approval from the U.S. Senate next week, with plans to take up the measure on Tuesday, and be headed to President Obama’s desk for signature in short order. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from ATPE’s Austin and Washington-based lobby teams.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities has scheduled a free webinar next week to discuss its new Texas Education Scorecard. The interactive web tool is intended to help Texans compare how various counties are faring in areas such as school readiness, education funding, and transitions to college. To participate in the webinar at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 9, click here to register.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced on Monday that he has appointed Josh McGee of Houston, Stephanie Leibe of Austin, and Ernest Richards of Irving to serve on the Pension Review Board. McGee will serve as presiding officer of the board, which reviews all public retirement systems in Texas for actuarial soundness and compliance with state law. Liebe and Richards are both attorneys. The appointment of McGee is controversial because of his position as vice president with the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, an organization that has actively advocated for legislation that many believe would weaken public retirement systems around the country; the foundation staff’s recommendations in many states have included such changes as converting defined benefit pension plans to defined contribution plans. In the governor’s press release about the appointments, Abbott’s office described McGee somewhat differently, as one who “leads the organization’s nationwide efforts to improve retirement security.” The appointment quickly raised eyebrows among ATPE and other stakeholder groups that represent public employees, such as the Texas Retired Teachers Association and the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas. Read more about why the appointment is controversial in Ross Ramsey’s editorial today for The Texas Tribune, which we’ve republished here on Teach the Vote.

The governor’s recent appointments to education-related committees do appear to signal his continuing interest in reform agendas. As we reported last month, Abbott chose Dallas ISD board member Mike Morath, an outspoken proponent of home rule charter districts, to lead the new Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. (As an interesting side note, it was widely reported that the Morath-supported move to try to convert Dallas ISD to a home rule charter district last year was financed by John Arnold, founder of the aforementioned Arnold Foundation.) Abbott also generated unfavorable and national media attention after tapping home-school advocate Donna Bahorich to chair the State Board of Education; Bahorich previously worked as a staff member for Dan Patrick prior to his election as lieutenant governor. The latest appointment of another member of the reform crowd is certain to fuel ongoing speculation on whom the governor might select as a new commissioner of education.

With the holidays right around the corner, next week features a busy schedule of high-profile hearings dealing with education issues.

First, on Monday, Dec. 7, the Senate Education Committee will conduct a public hearing to address two of its interim charges. The committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor, will take up the issues of charter schools and dealing with inappropriate relationships between teachers and students. ATPE will be providing testimony at the hearing and will report on the meeting in detail next week. The Senate Select Committee on Property Tax Reform and Relief will also conduct an organizational meeting on Monday; no testimony will be taken. Additionally, the TRS Board of Trustees will meet in Richardson, Texas, on Monday; view its agenda here.

On Friday, Dec. 11, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) holds its next regular meeting. (SBEC’s Committee on Educator Discipline will meet on the afternoon of Dec. 10.) SBEC’s lengthy agenda for Friday includes revisiting a controversial proposal to change the requirements for becoming certified as a superintendent in Texas. The revised rule, which ATPE opposed, was struck down by the State Board of Education last month after SBOE members heard testimony from ATPE and other education groups concerned about watering down the superintendent certification standards. Stay tuned for updates from the SBEC meeting next week.

As always, we encourage you to follow Teach the Vote and our ATPE lobby team on Twitter for the latest developments.

ESEA conference committee advances reauthorization bill

This morning, after a fairly brief and largely bipartisan markup where lawmakers considered a handful of amendments, the U.S. House and Senate joint conference committee tasked with negotiating language to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) overwhelmingly passed its conference report (or negotiated bill).

While the report has not yet been released in its entirety, an “ESEA Conference Framework Summary” was released and summarizes the report’s content in major policy areas such as accountability, testing, standards, intervention, and educator support. The majority of the report was agreed upon by the chambers’ respective education leaders (House Chairman John Kline, R-MN, and Ranking Member Robert Scott, D-VA, and Senate Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-TN, and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-WA) who negotiated a “framework” prior to beginning the conference committee work.

The Capitol Building

A handful of amendments were discussed at today’s markup prior to passing the bill. Seven easily passed with bipartisan support, one was withdrawn by its author, and only two were voted down. The amendments that passed would authorize a study to examine changes to formula funding through Title I, review early childhood education programs, establish limits on aggregate time spent on assessments, provide funding for educating teachers on the appropriate use of student data, provide for dual or concurrent enrollment for English language learners, integrate arts in STEM education, and offer funding flexibility to carry out dropout prevention and re-entry programs.The two amendments not adopted by the committee would have created a clearinghouse for teacher evaluation programs and put a cap on funding at the funding level for fiscal year 2016, respectively.

The report was ultimately passed out of the conference committee overwhelmingly by a vote of 39-1. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who is currently campaigning for the presidency, was the only member of the committee to vote against the measure, and he did so by proxy as he was not in attendance.

Chairman Kline said at the close of today’s meeting that the full report in legislative text form will be available Nov. 30 and that the House will vote on the measure Dec. 2 or 3. Senate leaders did not give a precise date for a floor vote in that chamber, but Chairman Alexander said senators will be given at least a week to consider the report prior to voting.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 4, 2015

Before we highlight some of this week’s education news stories, we at ATPE want to wish everyone a restful and enjoyable Labor Day Weekend!

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released statewide passing rates for the STAAR math exams in grades three through eight. The agency reported that math passing rates rose compared to the previous year for grades three, four, and seven, but declined in grades six and eight. Passing rates for grade five were considered stable. Click here to view TEA’s full press statement.

TEA also released updated guidance today for school districts on changes to testing requirements. The “To the Administrator Addressed” correspondence notes changes to the contract awarded to vendors to administer the state’s assessment program, provides information on policies for the use of calculators during certain math and science exams, and gives details on some changes enacted as a result of legislation passed earlier this year. Regarding math standards, TEA writes, “The Student Success Initiative (SSI) grade-advancement requirements are being reinstituted for mathematics in the 2015–2016 school year.” The agency did not provide any information, however, about a new pilot program to allow for locally-developed assessments of students’ writing skills in lieu of the STAAR writing tests, which was part of Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s HB 1164 that also passed the legislature this year. Today’s correspondence also includes the schedule for release of STAAR tests in 2016. Read the full letter here on the TEA website.

In other testing news, TEA issued a press release yesterday touting an increase in the number of Texas students taking SAT and AP exams. TEA writes, “The 179,131 Texas public school students who took the SAT in 2014-2015 reflects an increase of 9.2 percent from 2013-2014. For the third consecutive year, more Hispanic students (73,635) than white students (59,921) took the SAT in Texas public schools. In addition, the 255,250 Texas public school students who took AP exams in 2014-2015 represents an increase of 13.3 percent from 2013-2014. That percentage increase is more than double the national growth of six percent.” Read the full press release here.

The public comment period on a proposal to water down certification requirements for superintendent candidates opens today. As we have reported before on Teach the Vote, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) gave preliminary approval last month to a proposed rule change that would remove teaching and principal experience, among other critical skills, from the requirements to become a certified superintendent in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified against the proposed change that would allow individuals to become superintendents without first obtaining a principal’s certificate, a master’s degree, and at least two years of experience working as a classroom teacher. The ATPE Legislative Program, written and adopted by our members each year, recommends that administrators have at least five years of teaching experience. SBEC will make a final decision on the proposal at its October 16 meeting, but not before the public has an opportunity to submit input on the controversial move. Any interested members of the public can submit written comments to SBEC; find additional details on how to submit your formal comments here. The public comment period will remain open through Oct. 5.

ATPE Lobbyists Josh Sanderson and Monty Exter wrote on our blog this week about the Texas Supreme Court’s Tuesday hearing in the latest school finance case. Sanderson, who attended and live-tweeted his updates from the hearing, explained in his blog post that differences in the funding levels available to districts under the current school finance system represent “a glaring disparity.” Exter provided links to documents and other news stories relating to the lawsuit, which is the latest in a long line of school funding cases spanning three decades in Texas.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and several ATPE leaders were featured in media reports about the school finance case heading back to court this week.  A press statement by ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey was published in Houston Style Magazine, while ATPE State Secretary Carl Garner gave an interview to Fox 4 News in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area on Tuesday. Austin’s KXAN News reported on how inadequate funding often leads schools to seek waivers of the state’s 22:1 class-size limit in elementary grades; ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson and ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe were featured in that news story on Monday.

Minnesota Congressman John Kline (R) has announced that he will not seek re-election in 2016. Kline has chaired the House Committee on Education and the Workforce since 2010; that committee is overseeing efforts in the House to reauthorize the outdated Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). In a statement issued yesterday, Kline said, “I look forward to continuing my efforts to replace No Child Left Behind” during the remaining 16 months of his term. Kline is chairing a conference committee that has been established to try to iron out differences between two bills passed by the U.S. House and Senate to reauthorize and overhaul ESEA/NCLB. The House passed a Kline-authored bill known as the Student Success Act, while the Senate passed its own version called the Every Child Achieves Act earlier this summer.

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Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and follow us on Twitter for updates on the continuing reauthorization efforts this fall.




U.S. Senate education leaders release bipartisan bill to rewrite ESEA

This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) released their highly anticipated bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The two authors negotiated the details of the bill, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, over the past two months and settled on a compromise that would significantly reduce the federal government’s role in education but maintain the annual testing schedule developed under NCLB and exclude a Title I funding portability provision.

To begin, a quick refresher is in order. Chairman Alexander released a draft version of a rewrite of the nation’s primary education law in January and a series of hearings in the HELP committee immediately followed. ATPE submitted testimony in conjunction with those hearings that dealt with testing and accountability and supporting teachers and school leaders. We also weighed in on the discussion draft proposed by Alexander. Meanwhile, on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released his own version of an ESEA reauthorization bill entitled H.R. 5 – The Student Success Act. H.R. 5 quickly moved through committee in early February and was debated on the floor of the full House in late February. However, in the final hours of debate and with the threat of veto issued from the White House, House leadership delayed the vote. Leaders said that move was made in order to debate a funding bill that faced a midnight deadline, but it is widely understood that the House didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and leaders wanted to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

The Senate HELP Committee will mark up the new Alexander/Murray compromise bill next week on Tuesday, April 14, at 9 a.m. (Central Time). Visit the committee’s website to watch the mark up live or access committee documents on the bill. Some major provisions of the bill are as follows:


The Every Child Achieves Act would allow states to develop their own accountability systems, which is a departure from current law. State accountability systems would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education (peer review teams would be established to assist the secretary of education in the review of state plans) based on parameters outlined in the bill, such as the inclusion of graduation rates, a measure of post-secondary education or workforce readiness, proficiency rates for English language learners, and standardized test results. However, states would be able to include any additional measures of performance and would have the authority to weight all measures as they see fit. That flexibility would include how much weight is placed on student performance on standardized tests.

States would still be required to report disaggregated data on student subgroups. They would also still be required to identify low-performing schools through accountability system results, but would only monitor school districts as they implement their own methods of evidence-based intervention.


The most discussed piece of Chairman Alexander’s original draft bill was the portion on testing, which offered two options intended to spur discussion among committee members. The options were to keep the current testing schedule or scrap annual testing and give states a significant amount of leeway in developing their own testing systems. The Every Child Achieves Act maintains the annual testing schedule, but does give states the option to conduct one annual test or a series of smaller tests that combine to a summative score. Additionally, in what is likely an attempt to appease supporters of state-developed systems, the bill creates a pilot program that would initially allow the secretary of education to permit five states to develop innovative testing systems. If successful, the program could be expanded.

Curriculum Standards

States would be required to adopt “challenging state academic standards.” Those standards would not have to be approved by the Department of Education, and the bill specifically states the secretary of education would not have the authority to “mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision” with regard to the adoption of state standards.

School Choice and Privatization

The primary provision in Alexander’s earlier draft bill aimed at school choice involved the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. That language is not included in The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. Title I portability language has received strong backing from Republicans and would allow Title I funding to follow students from school to school. Democrats and President Obama have opposed the inclusion of such language and the White House based its threat of veto on H.R. 5, in part, on portability language included in the bill.

The new bill consolidates two federal charter school programs into a program that includes three grant programs: High-Quality Charter Schools, Facilities Financing Assistance, and Replication and Expansion. Additional language aims to incentivize better transparency and quality among state charter schools.

Educator Evaluations

States would have a lot of discretion on how to spend money related to teacher quality under Title II. That could include the development of an educator evaluation system, but no state would be required to develop a system, which is departure from current law. Thus, there is no language requiring the inclusion of student outcomes in an educator’s evaluation.

The new bill removes the statutory definition of “highly qualified” as well as some of the requirements surrounding the term and allows states to develop their own definition.

U.S. House education committee passes ESEA reauthorization bill

As we reported last week, Congressman John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, filed his version of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly referred to as no Child Left Behind (NCLB). The bill, H.R. 5–The Student Success Act, is similar to a bill he filed last Congress, which passed the House education committee and House floor but stalled in the Senate.

Chairman Kline’s education committee met to mark up his recently filed piece of legislation on Wednesday. The bill passed the committee on a partisan vote, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposing the measure. Several amendments were adopted during the markup and many more were defeated. One failed amendment came from Democrats who offered their own version of a reauthorization bill; the amendment was voted down on another party-line vote, this time with all Republicans opposing. Below is a look at The Student Success Act by issue following revisions made during this week’s committee markup.


Similar to Senator Alexander’s draft legislation, Kline’s bill would scrap adequate yearly progress (AYP) and allow states to develop their own systems of accountability based on parameters outlined in the bill. Approval of states’ plans would be subject to those parameters as well as to a peer review process developed by the secretary of education. Under Kline’s bill, the peer review teams would be appointed by the secretary and would be made up of at least 65 percent practitioners and 10 percent representatives of private sector employers. In addition, states’ plans would have to support effective parental involvement practices at the local level.

Kline’s legislation also requires that states and school districts continue to prepare and disseminate annual report cards. The report cards would be required to include certain information, like graduation rates and disaggregated data of student performance on state assessments. An amendment adopted during the committee markup added data on military dependent students to the list of disaggregated data that states and districts are required to collect.

Another accountability system amendment passed during the markup allows states to delay the inclusion of English language learners’ assessment scores during students’ first few years in US schools.


Kline’s bill would keep the current NCLB-designed testing schedule, which requires that students be tested in reading and math every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school and that they be tested in science once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. States would still be required to disaggregate data based on certain student populations.

One amendment offered during the committee markup would have supported the study of states’ assessments through a grant program aimed at eliminating redundant or unnecessary tests. The amendment was ultimately withdrawn. Republicans expressed opposition throughout the hearing to measures that would grow government or cost money. This also meant the defeat of amendments dealing with early childhood education, dropout prevention, STEM programs, and technology, among other issues.

Curriculum Standards

Under the House committee’s proposal, states would be required to adopt their own curriculum standards in math, reading/language arts, and science, as well as any additional subjects a state may choose. Each state would also be required to adopt English language proficiency standards and have the option to develop alternate academic achievement standards for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

As we predicted in a previous Teach the Vote blog post, Common Core is specifically addressed in Kline’s legislation; the bill would prohibit the secretary of education from requiring that states adopt any particular set of standards, including Common Core.

School Choice and Privatization

As is also the case in Senator Alexander’s draft bill, the primary provision in Kline’s bill aimed at school choice is the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. The bill would allow Title I funding to follow eligible students from one public school to another public school. Kline’s bill does not include provisions related to voucher programs, but an amendment was offered during markup that would have expanded the Title I portability provision to include students attending private schools. The amendment was ultimately withdrawn during committee due to lack of support, but we can expect to see similar amendments offered when the bill is debated by the full House.

One additional amendment offered during the committee markup would have increased accountability and transparency for charter schools, but the amendment was defeated.

Educator Evaluations

The bill would allow states to develop their own educator evaluation systems, if they chose, and would not require that student outcomes be included in an educator’s evaluation. While Kline has been a proponent of tying teacher evaluations to students’ performance on state tests (such language was included in Kline’s bill last Congress), he ditched the provision in the current bill in order to seek broader support from those who oppose the evaluation mandate.

A few amendments aimed at teacher quality were proposed during the markup but were defeated. The Kline bill gets rid of the “highly qualified teacher” requirements in current law and consolidates several teacher quality programs that exist in current law.

Other Issues

Kline’s legislation would consolidate several major programs aimed at educating certain populations of students, such as English language learners and migrant students, into the larger Title I program for low-income students, and states would receive block grant funding with far fewer strings attached to how the money is spent.

Ultimately, only four amendments were added to the bill during committee markup. All were authored by Republicans. In addition to the two adopted amendments mentioned above (pertaining to the disaggregated data of military dependent students and accountability requirements for English language learners), the committee passed an amendment to address student and teacher privacy and an amendment to require an annual report on the reduced federal role in education and cost savings resulting from H.R. 5.

The House has scheduled the bill for debate and a floor vote on February 24th. We will provide an update on Teach the Vote following any floor action, and you can follow the debate live here.

Legislative Update: TX Congressman pursues Social Security fix, NCLB talks continue in Washington, plus more TX Legislature news

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has re-filed his “Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act” this week. H.R. 711 is a bill to address the controversial Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) in federal law that reduces the amount of Social Security benefits some educators may receive. As we reported when it was first introduced in November, Brady’s legislation would replace the WEP’s arbitrary and punitive formula with a revised calculation of benefits and result in a significant benefit increase for numerous retirees. ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association have worked closely with Congressman Brady on this proposed legislation. Read our most recent letter in support of the bill, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as we work to get the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act passed.

Congress continues to discuss reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There is strong bipartisan support for giving states more spending flexibility and room to construct their own policies around issues such as accountability system designs, educator qualifications, and evaluations. Despite the public backlash over standardized testing, many in Congress still favor keeping the requirement for annual testing of most students, which is expected to be the key focus of the ongoing debates.

ATPE has submitted testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in conjunction with its recent hearings, entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” and “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.” We also weighed in on the discussion draft of a reauthorization bill proposed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), deemed the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” Earlier this week, the Senate committee also hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” Testimony included a discussion of various innovative ideas that have been tested in schools around the nation, including alternatives to traditional school environments, professional learning communities for teachers, improving students’ morale in order to foster discipline, blended learning models, and dropout prevention strategies.

On the House side, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has filed another proposal to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB. The bill is H.R. 5, coauthored by Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), and known as the “Student Success Act.” It is a revival of a 2013 House proposal that similarly aims to give states more control over school accountability and funding decisions, while also promoting charter school expansion. Kline’s bill is scheduled for a committee markup on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Watch for additional information about the House proposal on Teach the Vote next week.

As we reported Wednesdaythis week, members of the Texas House of Representatives learned their committee assignments for the 84th session. While the House Public Education Committee chairmanship remained unchanged from last session, there are some new faces heading other important committees that handle education-related bills. Rep. John Otto (R–Dayton), an accountant by profession, takes over the House Appropriations Committee, which has budget oversight. Speaker of the House Joe Straus also tapped Rep. Dan Flynn (R–Van) to chair the House Pensions Committee, which oversees matters related to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE looks forward to working with all the new and returning chairs this session.

Early voting begins Monday for special election runoffs in four legislative districts with vacancies. Voters in House Districts 13, 17, and 123, along with Senate District 26, are urged to familiarize themselves with the candidates and cast an early vote. Visit our 2014 Races pages to view profiles of the candidates.

Legislative Update: ATPE submits testimony to Congress, Prime Prep Academy to close, “School Choice Week” rally fizzles, and more

As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) is conducting a series of hearings on “Fixing No Child Left Behind.” The ongoing discussions are focused on efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Last week, the committee heard from a panel of witnesses about testing and accountability, for which ATPE submitted written testimony. Another hearing, on teachers and school leaders, took place this week, and the committee will convene next Tuesday for a discussion of “Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” Video broadcasts of all the hearings can be found on the committee’s website.

The U.S. House Committee on Education & the Workforce announced that next Wednesday, Feb. 4, it will hold a hearing entitled “Expanding Opportunity in America’s Schools and Workplaces.”  Watch the hearing live on the committee’s website starting at 10 a.m. EST. Committee Chairman Rep. John Kline (R–MN) also announced new assignments for subcommittees, including the Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced this week that he’s adding House District 13 to the list of vacant legislative districts scheduled for runoff elections on Feb. 17. That date was already reserved for runoffs in House Districts 17 and 123, plus Senate District 26. The early voting period will run Feb. 9-13. View profiles of the candidates on Teach the Vote.

ATPE members interested in attending our Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day event next month can still register! By popular demand, the original registration deadline of Jan. 29 is being extended through Feb. 4. Lobby Day events will take place on Feb. 22-23 in Austin. Visit the ATPE website for complete details and registration, plus information on housing options.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials announced today the recommendation that the troubled Prime Prep Academy charter school be closed and offered transition guidance for affected educators and students. Revocation proceedings have begun this week against three other charter schools, according to the agency. In other news, TEA announced the availability of federal report cards for the state, school districts, and campuses. The report cards are required to be disseminated under the federal ESEA.

“School Choice Week” events took place this week in Austin and other parts of the country. A rally held today on the steps of the Texas State Capitol drew a much smaller crowd than its organizers were hoping when they billed it as the largest school choice rally in Texas history. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed about school choice by multiple media outlets this week.

GOP members of Congress request GAO study of USDE waivers

Senator Lamar Alexander, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions, and Representative John Kline, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Tuesday requesting that the GAO conduct a study of the Department of Education’s Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers.

The letter primarily focuses on the Department’s approval, denial, renewal and revocation of waivers. They ask the GAO to study the criteria used for determination, the changes states have made to comply, the average time, resources and legislative action required to seek and maintain approval, and some of the requirements surrounding implementation of the teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Texas has a received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and unveiled its new teacher and principal evaluation system in May. Approximately 65 school districts will pilot the program during the coming school year. Currently, the evaluation system is planned to be implemented statewide in the 2015-2016 school year, but the Texas Commissioner of Education is seeking an extension from the Department of Education that would most likely add an additional pilot year to the implementation process. At ATPE’s request, a bipartisan group of 22 Congressmen in the Texas delegation also sent a letter to the USDE supporting an extension for Texas. Visit Teach the Vote’s educator evaluation resource page for more information on this topic.