Tag Archives: charter schools

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 6, 2020

Election day was this week on Tuesday, March 3, and Texas is abuzz with the results. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has the scoop on what happened at the polls and other education news. Also happening this weekend: don’t forget to move your clocks forward one hour on Sunday!



BREAKING NEWS: Austin Mayor Steve Adler and other city officials held a press conference this afternoon to announce the decision to cancel the massive SXSW conference slated to begin next week amid concerns about the COVID-19 coronavirus. Conference organizers quickly issued a statement indicating that they are exploring options for rescheduling the event and/or changing some of the programs to an online format. The cancellation also includes SXSW EDU, in which ATPE was slated to participate. We will report additional details about the cancellation as we learn them.

Meanwhile, school officials in Texas have been closely watching developments with the coronavirus. During an interview with the Texas Tribune on Friday, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath repeated that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) continues to monitor the virus. TEA sent a memorandum to school administrators last Friday advising that the agency is monitoring media reports and information shared by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and working with other state agencies to provide guidance to local school districts. The memo included the following list of general practices that will help prevent the spread of the illness:

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • If you’ve not already gotten one, a flu shot is encouraged.

Today, TEA sent updated correspondence to school districts offering guidance on dealing with students and staff who may travel over the spring break. TEA also used today’s letter to urge schools to deep clean and disinfect their facilities over the break.

According to news reports, a school district in San Antonio undertook a major cleaning of one of its elementary schools after learning that an employee of the school also worked in a local mall where an infected person reportedly visited. A spokesperson for Northside ISD told KSAT that the district took the step in order to “get ahead of false information.” In the Houston area, where a 70-year old Fort Bend man was diagnosed with the first local case of coronavirus, Pearland ISD announced this week that it would suspend perfect attendance rules for the remainder of the school year, as well as exam exemption criteria. Fort Bend ISD has not canceled any classes, and Fort Bend County has set up a hotline with information regarding the virus. Read more in this article from the Houston Chronicle.


ELECTION UPDATE: The percentage of voters who turned out during Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” was slightly lower than in the 2016 primary, with over 4 million casting votes. The number of voters in each party’s primary was split nearly 50-50.

In many races, Tuesday’s primary winner will be unopposed or face weak opposition in the November general election in November. Other races are headed to a runoff, including those of four incumbents in the state legislature. Read more on the results here.

Even if you didn’t vote in this primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff to make your voice heard on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, 2020, and early voting will begin May 18. Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources for educators. Also, remember that you can view candidate profiles and responses to ATPE’s candidate survey here on Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey.


On Wednesday, March 4, Gov. Greg Abbott announced the launch of the School Safety and Victims’ Services Research Survey, to be distributed to approximately 500,000 educators across Texas. Read more about the survey in this article from the Texas Tribune. A link to the survey, which is said to take 20 minutes to complete, will be sent directly to educators. The results will provide invaluable educator input regarding school safety and will inform policy at the state level. Be sure to weigh in on this important topic!

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also begun distribution of a voluntary survey aimed at high school counselors. School districts will receive the High School Counselor Survey and forward the link to their high school counselors in order to send information back to the TEA and the American Institutes for Research, “about the resources, activities, and tools that their teams use to assist students.” Read more about the High School Counselor survey from TEA here.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has announced a delay in changes that would reduce funding for many rural schools. Hundreds of rural schools around the country were facing funding cuts pursuant to a new federal interpretation of eligibility criteria for Rural Low-Income Schools (RLIS) grants. The department announced this week that it would postpone the change for at least another year, following criticism Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos received from members of Congress. Read more in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is sharing examples of some new STAAR test questions. House Bill (HB) 3906 passed by the Texas legislature in 2019 eliminated the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. However, this change won’t take effect until Sept. 1, 2021, which means the grades 4 and 7 writing assessments will stay the same until the 2021-22 school year. Instead of standalone writing assessments, writing content will be assessed in the reading and language arts STAAR tests, as discussed below.

Sample STAAR revising and editing question, grade 4 (Source: TEA)

TEA will begin field-testing revising and editing questions on the reading/language arts STAAR test as part of the Spring 2020 and Spring 2021 assessments. These items will not impact accountability. To help educators understand what these new test questions will look like, the agency has released sample test questions such as the one pictured here.


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath spoke Friday, March 6, at a live event hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. In an interview with the Texas Tribune‘s Evan Smith, Commissioner Morath touched on several topics, including the state’s preparedness for dealing with the coronavirus and implementation of House Bill (HB) 3. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, staff lobbyists, and members of our marketing and communications department attended the event. During an audience Q&A portion of the interview, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter asked the commissioner about teacher preparation and certification in light of state laws that exempt many school districts and charter schools from the requirement to hire certified teachers. The the commissioner responded that he believes teachers should undergo “extraordinarily robust training.” Watch video of the full interview with Commissioner Morath here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 28, 2020

Today is the last day of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already had your close-up with the ballot box or plan to vote on March 3, catch up on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Today, Feb. 28, is the last day of early voting. Voter turnout has been steady in the state’s largest counties. Texas’ primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. For the latest news on races in Texas, check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’ “election roundup” blog post.

If you haven’t made it to the polls yet, we’re bringing it back to basics to get you vote-ready.

    • WHO? Visual learner? Watch this video to learn how to view candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details. It’s not too late!
    • WHAT? We’ve received many questions about the party-based, non-binding propositions that are on your primary ballot. Learn more about these philosophical statements proposed by the state’s Democratic and Republican parties in this Teach the Vote blog post. These measures won’t change the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues.
    • WHERE? Use Vote411.org to find your polling location and build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls. (You won’t be able to use your phone inside the voting booth.)
    • WHEN? Today or March 3! Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to view an election countdown, get text reminders, and find additional election-related resources created for educators.
    • WHY? Did you know that some races are determined entirely by the primaries? Read more about why it is important to vote in the primaries in Part I and Part II of Teach the Vote’s “Primary Colors” blog series.
    • HOW? Get the scoop on how to vote, including guidance on new balloting systems in use in many polling places. Click here for tips!

Want even more? Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020 and find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org. As you’re researching candidates and building your ballot, check out video of the recent candidate forums conducted around the state by Raise Your Hand Texas to learn more about the candidates’ views on public education.


FEDERAL UPDATE: The U.S. Department of Education has released the federal teacher shortage areas for Texas in 2020-21, which are largely consistent with those listed in 2018-19 and 2019-20. These include Pre-K-12 bilingual education, special education, and computer science, plus 7-12 career and technical education and mathematics. Since 2019-20, computer science as a shortage area has been expanded from only at the secondary level to covering all grades, likely reflecting career and technical needs across the country in our changing economy. The nationwide teacher shortage areas have implications for federal loan forgiveness and deferment options.

On Thursday, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sat before the U.S. House Appropriations education, health, and labor subcommittee to defend President Donald Trump’s education budget proposal, which we wrote about here on Teach the Vote. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reports that members of Congress questioned the secretary on several issues, including spending and scandals associated with charter schools, discipline practices for vulnerable students, concerns about child vaping, and the mechanics of the proposed consolidation of 29 federal programs into one block grant. Secretary DeVos defended much of the proposal by stating that the department’s intent is to give more spending freedom and flexibility to states.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testifies before a subcommittee of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, Feb. 27, 2020 (Source).

Much of the hearing was devoted to criticism and defense of the proposed “Education Freedom Scholarships” and the civil rights risk associated with the department’s lack of commitment to ensuring non-discrimination. DeVos insisted that, because the scholarship program would be administered through the U.S. Department of Treasury, the voucher-like tax credit was not federal funding. This would free the program from being tied to federal protections for students such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and it seemed apparent that many committee members understood this impact. View video of the hearing here.


The Texas Association of School Boards (TASB) conducted a survey of Texas public school districts on salaries during the fall of the 2019-20 school year. Just under half (49%) of districts responded, representing 84% of the estimated teacher population in Texas. According to respondents, the median starting salary for a new teacher is $44,000. This increase of 7.3% from 2018-19 is largely due to the passage of House Bill (HB) 3 and represents a one-time bump in salaries unless the Texas legislature increases the public school basic allotment again. A similar superintendent survey conducted by TASB showed a 3.1% increase in the average superintendent’s salary from 2018-19. See the full TASB teacher compensation survey for more information, including stipend trends and substitute pay. In both surveys, educators who work in larger districts were shown to receive higher pay.


In December 2019, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reviewed Part I of a recent readability study of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). Mandated by the Legislature as part of last year’s House Bill (HB) 3, the findings in Part I left many questions unanswered. Chevalier reports that with the recent release of Part II, the study is now complete, but it still leaves us wondering if STAAR tests are written at the appropriate grade-level, as the results are mostly the same as in Part I.

Using 2020 STAAR assessments, researchers found that 99.5% of test items were aligned to the TEKS curriculum standards. As in Part I, researchers could not answer if items were at a grade-appropriate readability level due to a lack of confidence in methods and analysis. Lastly, the passage readability results were mixed, with researchers reporting multiple methods of analysis that lead to different conclusions.

Because this non-peer-reviewed study is entirely inconclusive on item readability and presents unclear results on passage readability, many questions remain as to the appropriateness of the use of STAAR in high-stakes decisions. As noted by Chevalier, if a student cannot understand a question because it uses vocabulary outside the scope of the student’s common knowledge, the child cannot be expected to answer it correctly.


Texas Senate Finance committee meets Feb. 25, 2020

The Senate Finance Committee met in Austin this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that among other agenda items, the interim hearing included a review of the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. The committee has been charged during the interim with making recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income for the state.

The committee also added to its agenda an examination of the long-term facility plans of TRS, including specifically examining the facility space costs of housing TRS’s Investment Management Division. TRS Executive director Brian Guthrie delivered two presentations to the board: the first on TRS investment strategies and the second on long-term space planning for the agency.


President releases education budget proposal for 2021

On February 10, 2020, President Donald Trump released his budget proposal, which is a statement of  his administration’s spending priorities across all sectors of government. Because the president’s budget is merely a proposal, any of these funding amounts would still need to be approved by Congress in order to be enacted. Historically, Congress has largely ignored President Trump’s funding proposals for education.

The education portion of the president’s 2021 budget recommendation is focused on “education freedom.” While cutting funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $5.6 billion, the proposal requests funds to provide up to $5 billion annually in “Education Freedom Scholarships.”  Using these funds, states would be free to design their own scholarship programs, which could be used to send public dollars to private schools. This requested increase in voucher funding reflects the president’s statements during his State of the Union address last week, which my fellow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on here and here for Teach the Vote.

Trump’s proposal also consolidates 29 federal education programs into one block grant totaled at $19.4 billion, which is $4.7 billion less than Congress approved for these programs in 2020. A list of the programs can be found here (see p. 9), which includes 21st Century Learning Centers, charter schools, school safety national activities, and the $16 billion Title I Grants. This change purportedly would cut the role of the Department of Education significantly by reducing staffing and administrative costs. Though this is labeled a “block grant,” funds would still be allocated using the Title I formulas. The proposal indicates that states and school districts could use the funds on any of the consolidated programs and would still have to follow key accountability and reporting requirements.

Consistent with the president’s affinity for career and technical education (CTE), the proposal also includes $2 billion for CTE state grants and $90 million for CTE national programs. Part of this $763 million increase would be funded by a proposal to double the fee for H1-B visas.

The president’s 2021 budget recommendation includes an increase of $100 million in funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grant funding, for a total of $12.8 billion. This increase is relatively small considering the overall funding needs for students with disabilities. (Texas appropriated over $2 billion for this purpose during the 86th legislative session.)

As was the case in previous presidential budget requests from the Trump administration, the proposal eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, citing that it “unfairly favors some career choices over others.”

Review past reporting on President Trump’s budget requests for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 fiscal years here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 31, 2020

As January ends, we hope you are registered to vote ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3! In the meantime, here’s this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ELECTION UPDATE: Special elections in three Texas House districts concluded on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The victors were Gary Gates (R) with 58.05% of the vote in House District (HD) 28, Lorraine Birabil (D) with 66.28% of the vote in HD 100, and Anna Eastman (D) with 65.47% of the vote in HD 148. Read more on the results in this election night blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

Early voting for the primary starts in just under three weeks on February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day. Primary election day follows two weeks later on March 3, 2020. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in the Texas primaries is Monday, Feb. 3. Verify your voter registration status here.

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

  • Learn more about candidates running in 2020 for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote, which include answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and legislators’ voting records.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation is hosting “For the Future” education-oriented candidate forums around the state. Click here for details.

This week ATPE submitted public comments on three proposed changes to administrative rules that would affect public schools, educators, and students.

First, ATPE formally commented on proposed changes to commissioner’s rules that regulate school district-charter partnerships. Senate Bill 1882 of 2017 enabled school districts to partner with charter entities to operate some of their campuses, and newly proposed rules have raised some concerns for ATPE and other education stakeholders. Read our comments here.

Next, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is proposing changes to its certification rules that could benefit high school students interested in pursuing careers in the classroom. ATPE and the Texas Association of Future Educators (TAFE) submitted joint recommendations this week for the criteria associated with the educational aide certificate. Those interested in submitting input on this rule proposal can find more information here. The deadline for public comments is Feb. 3, 2020.

Finally, ATPE also shared ouir concerns with SBEC about rules relating to master teacher certificates that are slated to be eliminated as a result of last year’s House Bill 3. Those wishing to submit public comments on this rule review can find more information here. The deadline is Feb. 3.

As you can see, our advocacy for public education doesn’t stop when the legislative session ends. During the interim, it is important to stay engaged with the work of state boards and agencies implementing education laws and legislative committees as they study interim charges. Learn more about interim advocacy in this new blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Image sourced from THGC.

This week, Texans observed Holocaust Remembrance Week as designated by Gov. Greg Abbott after the 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1828 by Sen. José Menéndez in 2019. The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) recommended the observance this week so as to include International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, which when Auschwitz was liberated. Also this week, in Washington, DC, the U.S. House passed H.R. 943, referred to as the “Never Again Education Act” to provide grants and resources for Holocaust education programs. Find more information and related links in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met today, Jan. 31, 2020, to conclude its week-long January meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this update.

Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF), updated members on the status of the fund. He reported that the PSF’s investments total $46.5 billion, and the fund is being utilized as collateral to guarantee $87 billion in bonds out of a $117 billion bond guarantee capacity. Of the bonds backed by the PSF, $85 billion of those are bonds for independent school districts, and $2 billion are bonds for charter schools.

The SBOE manages a portion of the PSF, while the School Land Board (SLB) under the General Land Office (GLO) manages the other portion. Legislation passed during the 2019 legislative session to address a dispute over PSF management expanded the SLB from three members to five, two of whom would be recommended by the SBOE. Those two members have now been seated on the SLB, and the SBOE is working on setting up a joint meeting in April.

The board spent much of the morning Friday discussing board training requirements for local school district trustees, and ultimately decided to maintain the current rules unchanged. Members also voted to give preliminary approval to curriculum standards for a new course on African-American studies, which would make Texas the fifth state in the nation to offer such a course, according to TEA officials.

Earlier in the week, ATPE’s Wiggins reported on one of the board committee’s discussion about the application process for charter schools and on Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s presentation to the full board on Tuesday with an annual update from the Texas Education Agency.


Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the 2019-20 accreditation statuses for Texas public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools. Accreditation statuses encapsulate a wide variety of factors, such as financial and academic accountability and compliance with reporting requirements. Districts and charters that are assigned anything other than an accredited status must notify parents and property owners in the district. Find your district’s status here.


 

SBOE committee discusses charter applications

TEA staff answer questions about charter school applications during an SBOE committee meeting.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) Committee on School Initiatives met Thursday morning, Jan. 30, 2020, in Austin, where their agenda included a look at applications by charter schools to open new schools or expand to new campuses.

Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) asked Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff to consider the geographic location of existing charter schools and pending applications for new charters when it comes to considering whether to grant existing charter schools permission to expand to additional campuses.

Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) suggested staff require charter applicants and applicants for expansions to provide the agency with the specific location of proposed new charter schools, either down to the zip code or independent school district level, as part of the application. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) took time away from the Committee on Instruction to press TEA staff to provide additional information on charter applications.

A number of witnesses testified before the committee regarding new charter schools, focusing on market saturation and duplication of services in many cases. Suggestions to improve the application process included requiring applicants to identify specific services that are not addressed by ISD schools, as well as the specific location of planned new campuses. Board Chair Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) expressed agreement with the concept of including more information in applications, such as geographic information.

The SBOE will conclude its week-long January meeting on Friday, when the agenda is set to include advancing curriculum standards for a new course on African-American Studies. As always, we invite you to stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Commissioner presents SBOE with annual report

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2019, as part of the board’s week-long January meeting. Commissioner Morath presented the 15-member body with the annual “state of education” report from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). View a copy of his presentation to the board here.

Texas SBOE meeting, Jan. 28, 2020

According to the agency, House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance reform bill enacted in 2019, produced a $3.4 billion net increase in public education spending by the state. The report showed slight increases in STAAR scores and graduation rates, as well as a one percent decrease in college enrollment. Texas remains 42nd in the nation in 4th grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), as well as 46th in 8th grade reading, 12th in 4th grade math, and 32nd in 8th grade math. Texas ranked 36th in per-pupil funding for the 2017-18 school year, which is consistent with long-term trends in the level at which Texas invests in public schools.

SBOE Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) questioned the use of the NAEP to evaluate statewide performance. Maynard asked, “Is there a better evaluation at least for us, as a measure of how we’re doing overall?” Responding to a separate question about how Texas compares to other states, Morath suggested that ranking public school systems by the amount being spent is not a good determinant of school quality.

Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) noted that many teachers around the state have grown increasingly frustrated by administrative duties, testing, and other tasks that take up their time and reduce the amount of attention they are able to spend on teaching. Hardy suggested that TEA increase campus audits to ensure that schools are complying with rules intended to address this.

Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) pressed Commissioner Morath on new charter application rules that provide for the automatic approval of expansions of existing charters. The commissioner responded that there would be no automatic expansions, and conceded that language in the rules may need to be adjusted in order to avoid that perception.

The commissioner responded to questions regarding a readability study of the STAAR test ordered by the legislature last year. The mandate was the result of research showing that questions on the test were often written at a reading level above the grade level for which the test was intended. The recent readability study suggested the test was still misaligned, but Morath said the agency is making adjustments to the STAAR as a result of the study.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional updates as the SBOE continues its meetings this week.

Exploring legislators’ 2019 voting records on education: Part I

Last week on TeachtheVote.org, ATPE published a series of voting records for all Texas state lawmakers, analyzing their actions taken on significant education-related legislation. This blog post is Part I of a two-part feature on the record votes. Here, we’re taking a closer look at how the ATPE lobby team analyzed and chose the record votes that are featured on the legislators’ profiles.

Which bills are featured in the 2019 legislative voting records on Teach the Vote, and why were they chosen?

Without question, the most significant bill debated and ultimately passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year was House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). This major school finance and public education reform bill, deemed the top priority of the session, resulted in $6.5 billion in increased funding for public education and $5 billion for property tax relief. ATPE’s lobbyists have written extensively about the omnibus bill here on our Teach the Vote blog, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also dedicated a set of online resources to helping Texans understand the many components of the bill. With its high profile, HB 3 figures prominently in the 2019 record votes compiled by ATPE. We’ve selected both the House’s and Senate’s votes on HB 3 on “third reading” as the first record vote featured in this year’s list for Teach the Vote.

There are also a few votes on floor amendments to HB 3 that made our list this year. On the House side, we’ve provided representatives’ votes on House Floor Amendment #15 to HB 3, which dealt with charter school transparency and efficiency. The amendment by Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), which passed and was incorporated into the House’s version of HB 3 but later stripped out by the Senate, requires charter schools to undergo an audit of their fiscal management. The Bailes amendment would have required such an audit to be conducted before a charter could expand or open new campuses, and it also called for charter schools to share the results of those audits publicly on their websites.

For senators, we similarly tracked their votes on three amendments to HB 3:

  • Senate Floor Amendment #8 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) attempted to remove from the Senate’s version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay program that ATPE and most of the education community opposed.
  • Senate Floor Amendment #30 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) also failed to pass but aimed to provide a guaranteed pay raise for all professional public school employees. While teacher pay was another high-profile issue debated throughout the 2019 legislative session, most discussions about pay raises at that point in the session had been limited to classroom teachers and librarians.
  • Also, Senate Floor Amendment #66 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) was an unsuccessful attempt to add language to the Senate’s version of HB 3 to ensure that state standardized tests were written at the appropriate grade level. Testing was also a subject of great importance to the education community during the legislative session, particularly after studies found that certain test questions on the STAAR test had been written at reading levels well above the grade level being tested. Although the Menendez floor amendment did not get approved by the Senate, another bill passed during the 2019 legislative session (HB 3906) requires a study of STAAR readability, and results of that study should be released beginning in December.

HB 3 ultimately included some additional funding for increasing educator compensation, but it was not the only bill pertaining to teacher pay that lawmakers debated in 2019. Early in the session, the Senate rallied behind Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) pledged would be one of the first bills passed by the full Senate in 2019. Although SB 3 was later rejected in favor of the alternative compensation-related language in HB 3, we’ve included the Senate’s third reading vote on SB 3 in our list of record votes due to its early significance.

ATPE also supported a stand-alone bill in 2019 that was designed to fund and strengthen mentoring programs for teachers. The House’s third reading vote on HB 102 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) made our list of record votes this year. HB 102 did not get heard in the Senate, but its language was later incorporated into HB 3.

Another piece of legislation related to educator quality produced one of the record votes published on Teach the Vote this year. The House voted to approve HB 1276 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) on third reading. HB 1276 was designed to prevent elementary grade students from being assigned for two consecutive school years to teachers who had less than one year of teaching experience or teachers who were not certified in the subject being taught as part of the foundation curriculum. Exceptions would have been provided under HB 1276 for new transfer students and for students whose parent or guardian consents to the non-compliant placement. Also, the bill would not have applied to school districts serving fewer than 5,000 students, those exempted under the District of Innovation (DOI) law, or those districts that received a hardship waiver from the commissioner of education. Unfortunately, this ATPE-supported bill did not get heard in the Senate.

School safety was another high priority issue debated during the 2019 legislative session. The key piece of legislation on keeping schools safe was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), aimed at driving funding to implement school safety improvements and provide mental health resources. We’ve featured on our website the third reading vote taken on this bill in both the House and Senate chambers. Also on our list is the House’s treatment of House Floor Amendment #8 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) to SB 11, aimed at improving mental health support by requiring the state to identify regional resources that schools could use to address their students’ mental health needs. Legislators were considering a number of different measures pertaining to mental health resources in the context of the debate about school safety. Particularly in the House, some lawmakers were openly skeptical of efforts to link students with outside mental health professionals, worried about privacy concerns, and generally opposed to perceived government overreach. The controversy surrounding those issues had seemingly killed another high-priority bill aimed at addressing mental health earlier on the same evening that SB 11 was being debated. House leaders used Rep. Allison’s floor amendment as a vehicle for resurrecting the lost bill. Thus, Allison’s original amendment to SB 11 passed, was reconsidered, got amended to include language from the other mental health bill that had already been voted down, and then Floor Amendment #8 passed again. We provided data on both votes approving Floor Amendment #8 since there were some representatives who opted to change their position on the Allison amendment after it was expanded.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also garnered attention during the 2019 session and was an ATPE legislative priority. Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which increased the contribution rates for the TRS pension fund. ATPE included the third reading votes on this bill taken by both the House and Senate among our record votes compilation. The legislature’s passage of SB 12 resulted in immediate actuarial solvency for the fund, which made it possible for TRS to issue a one-time 13th check to retirees in Sept. 2019. Read more about the TRS bill here.

Another ATPE legislative priority for 2019 was opposing vouchers and stopping the privatization of public schools in any form. Few voucher bills were considered this session, but the full Senate did take a vote on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455, which we included on our list of record votes. The bill would have expanded full-time virtual schools and created a “virtual voucher.” Despite passing the Senate, SB 1455 did not make it out of a committee on the House side.

The House also took a record vote on HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which is included on our list. That bill produced one of the most dramatic debates but did not garner enough votes to pass the House. HB 1133 would have weakened the existing 22:1 cap on elementary school class sizes by moving to a campus-wide, grade-level average. Many ATPE members reached out to their legislators in opposition to this bill, which would have allowed class sizes in the lower grades to dramatically expand.

Finally, there are a few record votes on our list this year that pertain to efforts to restrict legislative advocacy by school districts or dissuade educators from being politically active. One such bill was SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), which the Senate voted to approve on third reading but the House left pending in committee. ATPE staunchly opposed SB 1569, which would have restricted educators’ First Amendment rights to engage in political speech, limited their ability to teach students about elections, and unreasonably subjected educators to criminal penalties. Another troubling bill was SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), which tried to prohibit school districts and other local governmental entities from funding legislative advocacy efforts or paying membership dues to organizations that engage in legislative advocacy. SB 29 made our record votes list in two places. First, the Senate voted to approve the bill on third reading. Later, the House voted the bill down. Interestingly, the vote to defeat SB 29 on the House floor became even more significant after the legislative session ended, when certain Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill were seemingly targeted for retribution by their own party leadership in a taped discussion between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the head of the controversial dark money group, Empower Texans. The scandal resulted in Bonnen’s announcing that he would not seek re-election, opening the door for election of a new speaker when the 2021 legislative session convenes.

In any legislative session, there are limited votes taken on the record, offering relatively few options for us to showcase how individual legislators voted on education-related bills. However, we believe the votes listed above offer an informative glimpse into the treatment of public education by the 86th Texas Legislature, and we invite you to check out how your legislators voted by looking them up on our search page here on Teach the Vote. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for Part II of this blog feature where the ATPE lobbyists will explain more about the usefulness and limitations of record votes in general.

SBOE hears from commissioner on NAEP scores, STAAR study

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, in Austin for day one of its final meeting of the year. It is also the first SBOE meeting led by new board Chairman Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). The meeting began with an update from Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

Commissioner Morath started with a review of Texas students’ most recent scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). While fourth grade math scores have held constant at slightly above the national average, eighth grade math scores have been trending downward since 2011 and dipped below the national average in 2019. Fourth grade reading has seen a minute overall decline since 2005. Eighth grade reading scores showed the only statistically significant change since 2017, indicating a precipitous decline since 2013 to the lowest level since at least 2003. According to Morath, the main takeaways from the 2019 NAEP scores are that while Texas continues to outperform the nation in math, it lags behind in reading.

Moving on to a discussion of House Bill (HB) 3906 passed earlier this year, Morath indicated that changes are coming to the STAAR test. Under HB 3906, no more than 75 percent of STAAR questions can be multiple choice. The commissioner said meeting this requirement will take a couple of years to field test. The bill also required a study of STAAR readability after studies found STAAR test questions written at reading levels well above the grade level being tested. The study has been assigned to the University of Texas and is in process. The first round of results are expected to be delivered in early December, and another round will be delivered in early February.

SBOE Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio) inquired how educators could have more impact on STAAR questions while minimizing their time away from the classroom. Morath suggested the agency attempts to schedule educator advisory committee meetings in a way to minimize disruption, and has worked with districts to provide substitutes. Perez-Diaz requested a link to the application and a copy of the screening process for educator involvement.

Included among the requirements of HB 3 is a directive that teachers attend reading academies. SBOE Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) voiced concern over teachers attending reading academies online instead of in person. The commissioner suggested that teachers who complete the online course would be required to demonstrate proficiency, as opposed to lesser threshold of completion under the in-person reading academy model.

Commissioner Morath briefly addressed the recently announced Texas Education Agency (TEA) takeover of Houston ISD by summarizing the agency sanctions process. Perez-Diaz questioned Morath regarding the process for transitioning from an agency-run board of managers back to a locally elected body, and the commissioner indicated it would take multiple years. SBOE Member Lawrence Allen (D-Houston) also pressed the commissioner to explain the TEA’s process for selecting a superintendent and members of the board of managers. The commissioner replied a committee is reviewing applications from prospective managers and he had made no decision yet who will be superintendent.

Packed house to testify in support of proposed African-American Studies course at SBOE meeting November 13, 2019.

Additionally, SBOE Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) questioned Morath over whether the agency takeover would include a partnership under SB 1882 (passed in 2017 by the 85th Texas Legislature), which incentivizes districts to contract with charter schools that take over operation of one or more campuses in the district. The commissioner did not directly address whether that would be considered, and suggested that the managers would consider a wide array of options. Cortez also pressed Morath for details regarding what would happen if a campus is closed, to which the commissioner said that campus would simply cease to exist.

The board spent much of the day hearing testimony regarding a proposed new African-American Studies course. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) was among dozens of witnesses who testified in support of the course. Chairman Ellis stated his goal is to have the course ready for students in 2020. The board will break into committees tomorrow and conclude its November meeting Friday.

New School Year, New Laws: Charter Schools

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to pension and retirement benefits for Texas public school educators. This week, we will discuss legislative changes made during the 86th legislative session that will impact charter schools in Texas. The 2019 legislative session saw a number of bills filed and debated regarding charter schools, both from charter proponents looking to expand the footprint of charters in Texas and from those hoping to impose additional restraints and regulations on charter schools. Below is a look at the charter-related bills that passed this year.

House Bill (HB) 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston): Goodwill Excel Center

HB 1051 makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices. The Goodwill Excel Center is a charter school that has resulted in improved outcomes for older students who are in unique circumstances and need a more flexible school setting. This law became effective immediately upon its passage earlier this year.

HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi): Children of charter employees

HB 2190 allows children of charter school employees to attend the charter school in which their parents work, regardless of where they live. This bill also took effect immediately.

HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): Charter operation of re-purposed campuses

HB 4205 is a two-part bill that includes provisions regarding repurposed schools as well as school turnaround. The portion of the bill dealing with repurposed campuses allows for large charter operators to repurpose a public school district campus that has been closed. The new school operator is required to admit the same students who were at the campus before it was closed. The author of this bill referenced a Midland campus as the impetus for the idea. This bill became effective immediately.

HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), co-authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio): Charter school bonds

HB 4258 provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the previous authority held by municipalities. Charter supporters contended that municipalities could prevent charter schools from expanding by withholding the tax-exempt status of the charter school bond. This bill became effective immediately.

SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels): School safety in charters

SB 372 allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers to charter schools. The bill created parity by giving charter school governing bodies access to the same safety resources already available to boards of trustees for traditional public schools. This law became effective immediately.

SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper): Charter employees and common application

SB 2293 subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining prohibitions and anti-striking laws that apply to all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application to be used for charter school admission throughout the state and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the “charter waiting list.” Charter proponents have often cited claims of a massive list of students who are waiting for slots in a charter school as justification for expanding charters in Texas; however, no such statewide list has been shared. ATPE will be monitoring the rule-making process for the development and implementation of the common application and charter reporting.

 


Visit Teach the Vote next week for our next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series update post on funding and compensation changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.

New School Year, New Laws: Professional Responsibilities

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed new professional opportunities and educator support programs like mentoring that resulted from the 86th legislative session. For the latest installment in our ongoing series for ATPE, we will talk this week about other legislative changes made this year that will impact the ethical and professional responsibilities of those who work in Texas public schools.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Do not hire registry

School superintendents and principals have long had certain obligations to report to the state certain allegations of misconduct against certified educators who work in their schools. The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is authorized to issue sanctions, up to and including revocation of an educator’s certificate, against individuals who hold educator certificates and are found to have committed misconduct. Similarly, SBEC may refuse to grant a certificate to an individual who does not meet state standards. However, SBEC has not had the authority or logistical means to take punitive actions against non-certified school employees in an attempt to deter similar misconduct by those individuals.

Under HB 3, school districts will now be required to report to the state misconduct allegations that arise against their non-certified employees, too. This includes allegations regarding abuse of, unlawful acts with, involvement in a romantic relationship with, or solicitation/engagement in sexual contact with a student or minor. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) now has the authority under HB 3 to investigate such reports against non-certified employees, since there previously was no body to look into cases involving these individuals who are not regulated by SBEC.

HB 3 also requires that TEA create a publicly accessible “do not hire registry” no later than Jan. 1, 2020. The registry will contain the names of individuals, both certified and non-certified, who have been deemed ineligible for hire in a public school based on their criminal history records or misconduct. Since there was no mechanism under previous law to sanction non-certified employees for misconduct, this issue became of increasing concern with growth in the number of charter schools and “Districts of Innovation” in Texas; both of those types of schools can exempt themselves from teacher certification requirements that apply to traditional public schools and may hire non-certified staff for positions that require regular interaction with students. With the update to the law under HB 3, schools throughout Texas will be required to discharge or refuse to hire anyone on the new do not hire registry.

HB 3 also expanded the criteria for designating those who are ineligible to be employed in a public school. Under previous law, a school district could not hire or was forced to discharge any employees who were required by law to register as a sex offender. Now, school districts must also do the same for those who may not be required to register as sex offenders but have committed offenses involving minors such as sexual assault, abandonment, endangerment, leaving a child in a vehicle, and indecency (as described by Title 5 of the Texas Penal Code). Additionally, the expansion of these criteria now encompasses not only those individuals who are convicted, but also those placed on deferred adjudication community service due to the offense committed.

TEA staff and SBEC are currently in the process of developing and discussing new administrative rule language to implement these provisions of HB 3. We expect these items to be discussed at the next SBEC meeting on Oct. 4, 2019, and we will be posting an update here on our Teach the Vote blog at that time.

Additionally, the Commissioner’s rules for the do-not-hire registry are open for public comment. Please see below, as posted on the TEA website:

These educator misconduct provisions of HB 3 became effective immediately with the enactment of the school finance bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 1476 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston): Educator misconduct investigations

SB 1476 allows public school administrators to skip out on misconduct reporting requirements for certified employees by meeting a few criteria. First, the superintendent must carry out an investigation and determine that the allegations are false. Second, this investigation and determination must occur before the educator resigns or is terminated from employment.

This bill was effective immediately upon being signed by the governor on June 14, 2019.

SB 944 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin): Public information law

SB 944 is an “open government” bill that requires that public information maintained on a privately owned device must be preserved in its original form on the device unless it is transferred to the district’s public information officer for backup. Because educators are public employees, this law will apply to any official business/school-related texts, emails, etc. stored on the educators’ personal devices, such as tablets, cell phones, and laptops. The law applies to former and current public employees, but only for information created or received on or after Sept. 1, 2019. If you keep such public information on any of your personal devices, ATPE recommends that you check with your school district for guidance on this law, including its local policies regarding how long you should archive or backup the information stored on your device.

This law took effect Sept. 1, 2019.


We encourage you to revisit Teach the Vote next week when we’ll be publishing the next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series post about pension and benefits changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.