Tag Archives: charters

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 14, 2019

Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the school finance and property tax reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3, into law. This bill modifies how public schools are funded and attempts to shift some of the burden of paying for public education that has fallen heavily on the shoulders of local property taxpayers closer toward a balance point with the portion financed by the state. The bill also affects teacher compensation. Read a recap of the governor’s signing ceremony, as well as links to our analysis of what HB 3 does, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Gov. Abbott also signed Senate Bill (SB) 12 into law on the same day. The bill improves funding for the state’s pension system for educators. As a result of the bill’s signing this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) expects a 13th check to be sent to retirees this fall, with a more specific date to be discussed at the TRS board’s next meeting in July.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this legislation is implemented, and don’t forget to check out ATPE’s full recap of all the education legislation that passed this session.


ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes discussed HB 3 with CBS Austin.

Speaking of HB 3, your ATPE lobbyists have been busy taking to the airwaves over the last two weeks to talk about the bill and its consequences for school finance and teacher pay.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes joined state Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) and Austin education leaders on CBS Austin to take part in an hour-long panel on school finance last week. You can watch the entire panel’s discussion here on the CBS Austin website.

Also discussing HB 3 on TV and radio programs this week was ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. He joined the statewide politics program Capital Tonight on Spectrum News this week to discuss how teacher compensation is affected by the bill. You can watch the segment here on the Spectrum News website.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin, where a handful of applications for new charter schools came under scrutiny. On Thursday, a board committee voted to exercise the board’s statutory authority to veto four of the five proposed new charters. Members expressed concerns over the fiscal impact, qualifications of the applicants, and accuracy of the applications. On Friday, the full board reversed course and voted to approve the new applications with one notable exception. Members voted 8-5 to reject the application for a new charter by the founder of Harmony Public Schools. Read ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s recap of Friday’s SBOE meeting here.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath also updated the board this week on legislation passed by the 86th Texas Legislature that will affect public education, including HB 3 and changes to the STAAR assessment. Several of the education bills that passed this session will also require rulemaking by the commissioner before they can be fully implemented. Read a recap of the commissioner’s comments here.



A group of ATPE state officers and lobbyists were in Washington, DC this week to discuss federal education issues with elected officials and their staffs. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and Vice President Tonja Gray were accompanied by ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on the fly-in, which was organized by ATPE’s longtime Washington-based lobbyist David Pore.

Issues discussed included education funding and the repeal of Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that negatively impact educators and other public servants throughout the country. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog next week for a complete report on these ATPE meetings in the nation’s capital.

If you are an ATPE member who’ll be attending the ATPE Summit in July, make plans to attend our legislative update session where the lobby team will brief members on these federal issues and the results of the recent Texas legislative session.

SBOE rejects application for new charter by Harmony founder

SBOE meeting, June 14, 2019.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Friday, June 14, 2019, to conclude its nearly week-long meeting. As we reported on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog yesterday, the most high-profile item on this week’s agenda was the approval or veto of five new charter school applications. All were recommended for approval prior to this SBOE meeting by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

The new charter applications being considered this week were on behalf of Elevate Collegiate Charter School (Houston), Houston Classical Charter School (Houston), Royal Public Schools (Austin, Houston), San Antonio Preparatory Charter School (San Antonio), and The Gathering Place (San Antonio). The full board discussed the applications today, following a similar review by an SBOE committee yesterday. After hours of testimony by educators and administrators universally opposed to each of the new applicants, members of the board’s Committee on School Initiatives voted 3-2 to veto all but one of the applicants on Thursday. Members of that committee voted 4-1 to approve the application from The Gathering Place.

During Friday’s full board meeting, SBOE Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) highlighted the ability of charter holders to expand in an unrestricted manner after their initial approval. He urged the board to vote against the new applicants. Members raised concerns including negative fiscal impacts on nearby school districts, lack of experience and qualifications among top staff of the applicants, and false information included in some applications. SBOE Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) expressed concerns over the negative consequences each charter would have on the funding available to local schools in each district.

The board has the legal authority to veto applications for new charters that have been approved by the commissioner. Members voting to effectively approve the charters contended that it is not the board’s purview to reject new charters on a wholesale basis, and any issue with charters in general should be taken up by the legislature. The full board voted to reverse each of the committee’s veto recommendations and instead effectively approve the remaining applications, with one exception.

The board spent an extensive amount of time this week questioning Soner Tarim, the founder of Harmony Public Schools and principal applicant on behalf of Royal Public Schools. SBOE Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) walked Tarim through six pages of questions ranging from the lack of local and demographically appropriate board members to numbers in the application that indicate its schools would serve lower percentages of English language learners and students in special education than surrounding district campuses. Members ultimately voted 8-5 today to veto the application from Royal Public Schools.

SBOE takes hard look at new charter school applicants

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met Thursday morning in three separate committees to consider various items. The highest profile item on Thursday’s agenda was a hearing of the Committee on School Initiatives to consider whether to approve five new open-enrollment charter school applications recommended by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath.

SBOE School Initiatives Committee meeting, June 13, 2019.

SBOE Member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) raised a concern that the mission of charter schools has strayed from the initial reason for their creation decades ago, which was to become laboratories of innovation. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) expressed concern regarding the fiscal impact of the new charters on local independent school districts. Members Robinson and Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) also pointed out discrepancies in the application submitted by Royal Public Schools, in particular that it cited failing public schools as a reason for opening despite the fact that there are no failing schools in the areas in which the schools would be opened. Royal Public Schools is operated by the founder of Harmony Public Schools, one of the state’s largest charter operations.

Dozens of educators and administrators testified against the new charter applicants, raising concerns ranging from fiscal and academic consequences to the lack of educational credentials of the applicants. After several hours of testimony, the committee voted 3-2 to veto all but one of the new charter applicants. Members Robinson, Cortez, and Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) voted to veto the applicants, while Members Ellis and Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) voted to approve. The committee voted 4-1 to approve The Gathering Place. The committee’s recommendation will go before the entire board on Friday for a formal vote.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this week’s SBOE meetings continue.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 19, 2019

The legislature packed a lot of work into a short week ahead of this holiday weekend. Here’s a summary of the latest education-related developments from our ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Senate Education Committee meeting April 16, 2019.

This week was a busy one for the Senate Education Committee. On Tuesday, the committee chose to postpone its originally posted hearing of the House’s school finance reform bill, House Bill 3. The committee postponed the hearing of HB 3 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) in order to flesh out more of the Senate’s committee substitute for the bill. We expect HB 3 to heard later next week and are urging educators to reach out to their senators about the bill.

ATPE supported HB 3 as passed by the House almost unanimously. The bill was amended from its original version as filed to remove controversial language that would allow school districts to opt out of the the minimum salary schedule and fund merit pay that likely would have been tied to student test scores. ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators now and urge them to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of HB 3 when it moves through the Senate. For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members should visit Advocacy Central.

In lieu of HB 3, various other bills were discussed during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, with topics ranging from sex ed to charter school regulation to accountability laws. The committee also voted to advance several bills, such as Senate Bill (SB) 1412 to allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan. For more on Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The committee will meet again on April 23, 2019, to hear bills relating to school district funding and governance, student internships, staff development, and more. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for coverage of the hearing and announcements when HB 3 is scheduled for hearing.


On Wednesday, April 18, the full Senate passed a bill to further restrict the ability of school district employees and school board members to talk about political content at school.

SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) amends existing “political advertising” laws and was passed by a vote of 25 to 6. Senators who voted against the ATPE-opposed bill were Sens. Jose Menendez, Borris Miles, Beverly Powell, Kel Seliger, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini.

During the Senate floor debate, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. amended the bill to add prohibitions on electioneering using school resources by charter school employees or governing board members. Charter schools had not been included in the original version of SB 1569 as filed. Sen. Fallon also agreed to amend the bill on the floor to strike language from the original version that would have prohibited school districts from being able to share information that factually describes the purpose of a bond measure and does not advocate for its passage or defeat.

SB 1569 no longer includes highly troubling language in its original version that would have prohibited school employees from advocating for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” However, ATPE notes that the bill still includes overly broad language aimed at stifling political involvement by public school employees, contractors, or board members. SB 1569 as passed by the Senate greatly expands the existing definition of political advertising to include support or opposition for a candidate, political party, public officer, or measure that is “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication.” While Sen. Fallon indicated during floor debate that he does not intend for his bill to prevent educators from talking to one another about politics, especially after school hours, the language of the bill itself as quoted above suggests otherwise.

SB 1569 as passed by the Senate would also subject public school employees to criminal penalties if they “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. ATPE is disappointed that senators would support legislation to prevent educators from teaching students about the legislative process without fear of being arrested.

Now that SB 1569 has been passed by the Senate, ATPE urges educators to contact their state representatives and ask them to oppose this unnecessary anti-public education bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for additional information on SB 1569 and communication tools.

Other bills on the move this session that have garnered scrutiny from the education community include HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville)  and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) relating to political subdivisions’ use of public money for lobbying activities. These bills would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying, whether by an employee of the district paid to lobby or an outside association that uses the public funds for activities that might include lobbying. Neither bill would affect the ability of school district employees to use their own personal funds to join associations, such as ATPE, that engage in lobbying activities.


Legislators, staffers, and stakeholders crowded a conference room Thursday, April 18, 2019, for a quick meeting of the House Public Education Committee to vote on bills.

The House Public Education Committee met twice this week to hear bills on topics such as civics education, bullying, and virtual schools.

During the committee’s first hearing on Tuesday, April 16, ATPE offered testimony on bills like HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) aimed at improving student safety by requiring a bleeding kit program in public schools. Read ATPE’s written testimony here. ATPE also testified against HB 429 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), which would expand virtual school programs that may not be efficient or of adequate quality. Read ATPE’s written testimony against HB 429 here. Other bills heard on Tuesday included the ATPE-supported HB 3133 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) that would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on school holidays.

The committee met again on Thursday, April 18, for a hearing that lasted until 11 pm and again featured discussions of a wide variety of topics. ATPE supported bills such as HB 414 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) calling for a Teacher Protection Act, HB 3403 by Rep. Phillip Cortez (D-San Antonio) to require school district employment policies to include anti-bullying measures for educators, and HB 3638 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) to repeal certain laws identified as unnecessary or duplicative by a mandate relief working group on which ATPE served last year.

The committee also convened while the House was in session on Thursday to vote out additional bills, such as Rep. Gina Hinojosa’s HB 43 on charter admission policies and Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 4242 calling for a study of the readability of STAAR tests.

Read more about the bills considered by the House Public Education Committee in this week’s comprehensive blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here and here.


ATPE has long advocated for Texas lawmakers to increase funding of educators’ pension programs through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). As we have been reporting throughout the session, the 86th Legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund and provide retirees with a 13th check.

In support of this ongoing effort, ATPE has joined forces with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that works to facilitate retirement plan sustainability and income security, to promote pension reforms this session that will address the TRS funding shortfall and help ensure that Texas educators have a stable retirement plan in the future. ATPE and Equable are urging educators to reach out to their legislators in support of bills like SB 12, which is scheduled for debate by the full House next week.

Learn more about our TRS-related advocacy and find additional resources at PayTheBillTX.org.


The one bill that the 86th Legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session – the state’s budget bill – is making further progress. Members of the House and Senate have voted to send HB 1 to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the budget proposal.

On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas will co-chair the conference committee joined by Reps. Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria, and Armando Walle. Senate conferees, which noticeably included no Democratic senators, are Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson plus Sens. Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Larry Taylor, and Robert Nichols. The HB 1 conference committee has planned its first meeting for Tuesday, April 23.

Also sent to a conference committee was the legislature’s supplemental appropriations bill for the current biennium, SB 500. That bill’s conference committee is similarly  co-chaired by Sen. Nelson and Rep. Zerwas. The other conference committee members for SB 500 are Sens. Huffman, Kolkhorst, Taylor, and Chuy Hinojosa, along with Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, Mary Gonzalez, Rick Miller, and Toni Rose.

SBOE assigns committee chairs

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in committees Thursday, marking the first time in committee for many newly-elected board members. Each of the three standing committees — Instruction, School Finance/Permanent School Fund, and Initiatives — elected a chair.

Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund

  • Chair Tom Maynard (R-Florence)
  • Vice-chair Lawrence Allen (D-Houston)
  • Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth)
  • Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio)
  • Donna Bahorich (R-Houston)

Committee on Instruction

  • Chair Sue Melton-Malone (R-Robinson)
  • Vice-chair Pam Little (R-Fairview)
  • Georgina Perez (D-El Paso)
  • Aicha Davis (D-Dallas)
  • Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo)

Committee on School Initiatives

  • Chair Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands)
  • Vice-chair Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse)
  • Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin)
  • Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood)
  • Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville)

The School Initiatives Committee heard testimony on revisions to the application to become a charter school. Committee members heard testimony asking for increased clarity with regard to placement and notification of new charter schools, most of which come as a result of amendments to existing charter arrangements.

Witnesses asked to require charter holders to provide information to school boards in the communities they will impact, hold hearings to gather public input, post information in the Texas Registry, and require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to provide written responses to school district impact statements regarding the negative local impacts of charters, such as increasing recapture.

Committee members acknowledged the negative impact of charters on school district funding, and listened to testimony to the massive impact charters have had on local recapture. . The board has the authority to review and reject new charter applications, but the board’s authority is less clear with regard to revisions and amendments — which TEA staff suggested are the sole purview of the education commissioner. Member Ellis asked for suggestions for providing additional information to the public through the charter application process through a single online location that would not require members of the public to dig through multiple databases. Member Cortez suggested requiring additional notifications be made to local legislators.

The board will return Friday morning to conclude its week-long meeting.

House releases public education recommendations

The House Committee on Public Education issued its interim report this month, which serves as a summary of testimony taken during the interim and includes a set of recommendations for the 86th Texas Legislature to take up.

The 88-page report addresses the response to Hurricane Harvey, teacher compensation, student assessment, students with disabilities, charter schools, implementation of legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, educator preparation programs, and school safety.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) thanked members of the committee for their work, noting, “the extraordinary events that occurred since the last session adjourned spurred members to delve deeply into what some may view as difficult topics without the time constraints of a legislative session.”

Hurricane Harvey

Recommendations include making local education agencies (LEA) whole for financial losses due to enrollment changes, property value decline, and facility damage. The report suggests the committee consider possible legislation to help schools quickly access replacement instructional materials, provide timely assistance to Chapter 42 districts that experience facility damage, and improve the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) dropout calculation methodology.

Teacher Compensation

Recommendations include creating an additional certification for teachers in leadership positions, such as “Master Teachers,” to allow for career growth without having to leave the classroom and move to administration. The committee also recommends creating new allotments through the Foundation School Program (FSP) to fund mentoring programs and to provide differentiated compensation plans. The report specifies:

TEA should create at least two compensation plan options for use by LEAs that do not have the capacity or desire to develop their own version. While LEAs should be allowed the flexibility to create programs that benefit their own particular circumstances, locally-designed programs should be required to include the following components:

1. a multiple measure evaluation system, such as the state-developed Texas Teacher
Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS);
2. incentives to encourage top performing teachers to work at campuses with the highest
need students;
3. a requirement for top performing teachers to serve as mentors and that at least first and
second year teachers are assigned a mentor; and
4. stipends for teachers or teacher candidates that participate in additional, rigorous training
such as clinical residency programs or the National Board-certification process.

Student Assessment 

Recommendations include supporting efforts by the State Board of Education (SBOE) to streamline the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), limiting STAAR to readiness standards, making individual graduation committees (IGC) for students who have difficulties with the STAAR permanently available, eliminating high stakes testing for elementary and middle school students, splitting the STAAR in early grades into subtests scheduled on separate days, and providing funding to continue the Writing Assessment Pilot Program.

Students with Disabilities

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the corrective action plan and Strategic Plan for Special Education, providing additional funding for dyslexia identification and instruction, monitoring for the potential negative impact of changes under the Student Health and Related Services (SHARS) program, and extending funding for dyslexia and autism pilot programs.

Charter Schools 

Recommendations include requiring expansion amendment requests for additional campuses or sites to be sent to TEA and notice given to districts at least a year before a new campus is openened, ensuring uniformity among which district officials receive expansion amendment notifications, reconsidering current laws that allow charters to exclude students based on disciplinary history, ensuring charters have the ability to fulfill their responsibilities towards students with disabilities before authorization, reducing funding disparities between charters and traditional school districts, and expanding the Texas Partnership program.

Implementation of Legislation 

The report focuses on the implementation of anti-cyberbullying legislation under House Bill (HB) 179, known as David’s Law, and to changes to the accountability system under HB 22. Regarding the accountability system, recommendations include monitoring the inclusion of extra- and co-curricular indicators and local accountability systems, revisiting certain college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicators, exploring options to alleviate timing issues that exist with regard to the accountability system and rulemaking, and including additional funding to cover the costs of federally-mandated SAT and ACT assessments for certain students.

Educator Preparation Programs

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the educator preparation program (EPP) data dashboard, collecting disaggregated longitudinal data on student outcomes of teachers by EPP, and incentivizing EPP partnerships that provide affordable options to gain additional credentials and certifications.

School Safety

In response to the deadly school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, and elsewhere, the committee’s report includes four pages of recommendations regarding school safety. The recommendations are broken in subcategories covering mental health and well-being, school mental health professionals, school safety planning and training, school safety infrastructure, law enforcement resources, and charter school specific issues.

These recommendations are expected to become the basis of major bills that move through the House Public Education Committee this session. Under new House rules adopted Wednesday, the committee will expand to 13 members from 11. The committee’s chair and membership for this session will be assigned by newly-elected Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). The full interim report can be accessed here.

ATPE testifies at Texas Capitol regarding teacher pay

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges relating to teacher compensation and charter schools. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began by noting that this meeting concludes the committee’s interim charges, and he does not plan on calling another committee meeting this year.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 8, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath kicked off the day’s invited testimony with an update on the state’s “A through F” accountability system. The agency is expected to release the first round of ratings for districts on August 15, while campuses will still be rated under the “met standard/improvement required” system until next year. Morath explained a number of adjustments to the system that were made as a result of stakeholder feedback.

Asked by Rep. Huberty how the ratings compare to last year when measured under the current system, Morath said the state lost a total of 260 improvement required (IR) campuses, representing a historic year-over-year improvement. Asked about the impact of the TEA waiver for IR campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey, the commissioner explained that 1,200 campuses were eligible for relief under the Harvey protocols. Of those, “something like 86” campuses that were on track to receive an IR designation instead received a “not rated” designation under the waiver.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) expressed concern over the system’s dependence on high-stakes testing, and cautioned members of the committee against using tests in ways for which they are not intended. Morath indicated his belief that summative assessments such as the STAAR are perfectly suited for evaluating campus-level effectiveness.

Morath then shifted to the following interim charge designated by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

Review current state mechanisms for identifying and rewarding educators through state-level strategies. Examine how providing additional funding to enhance compensation in districts facing a shortage of experienced, highly rated teachers would affect retention and teacher quality, in addition to whether it would encourage teachers to provide additional services through extracurricular activities, tutoring, and mentoring.

The commissioner began by laying out the new teacher appraisal system, T-TESS, as well as currently available training and curricular resources. Morath said teachers are the TEA’s first strategic priority, but said compensation is only part of the puzzle. The commissioner highlighted research showing that only 23% of new U.S. teachers came from the top third of their graduating class. Pay is the top reason college graduates choose not to become teachers, and average pay has fallen compared to other professions. Compensation similarly does not grow at the same rate as other professions. Morath praised the performance pay program in Dallas ISD, but Rep. Huberty steered the commissioner toward focusing on how to pay for such programs.

The commissioner indicated that in order to implement strategic staffing programs like the Dallas ISD ACE program that incentivizes high-performing teachers to teach at the most at-risk campuses, the state could provide additional formula funding through the Foundation School Program (FSP) tied to levels of economically disadvantaged students. Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) suggested the state should raise the base pay, including the minimum salary schedule. Morath indicated part of the challenge of instituting a performance-based pay system is identifying top teachers, but noted that many school systems have done so successfully. The commissioner also indicated that any funding to raise teacher pay should provide administrators a guarantee that funding will continue.

Chairman Huberty asked Morath direcly what it would cost to implement Dallas ISD’s performance pay program across the state of Texas. According to Morath, the program would carry a startup cost of around $50 million and an annual cost of roughly $1 billion over a ten-year period. This would provide average raises between $4,000-5,000, with top teachers able to earn up to six-figure salaries.

Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) repeatedly questioned invited witnesses who cautioned against basing teacher evaluations on their students’ high-stakes test scores to provide an alternative metric to accurately identify top teachers. Representatives from educator organizations noted that standardized tests have not been validated for use evaluating the performance of individual teachers and pointed out there are a variety of alternatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, August 8, 2018.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that the positive results from the Dallas ISD ACE system are not necessarily correlated with the district’s teacher evaluation system, which is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI). Exter clarified that designating top teachers to utilize under the ACE model could be done equally effectively by utilizing T-TESS or another alternative evaluation system. Chairman Huberty expressed frustration, and indicated any program involving additional money from the state should provide the state with policy input. Asked by Chairman Huberty to offer specific recommendations, Exter suggested that lawmakers must take a systemic approach to directing the best teachers to the campuses facing the highest challenges. Such an approach would begin with the teacher pipeline and include wraparound supports as well as the possibility of differentiated pay.

The committee next considered the following interim charge regarding charters:

Review the charter school system in Texas. Determine if changes are needed in the granting, renewal, or revocation of charter schools, including the timeline for expansions and notification of expansions to surrounding districts. Review the educational outcomes of students in charter schools compared to those in traditional schools, and to what extent schools participate in the alternative accountability system. Monitor the implementation of facilities funding for charter schools. Consider differences in state funding for charter schools compared to their surrounding districts and the impact on the state budget. Consider admissions policies for charters, including appropriate data collection to assess demand for additional charter enrollment, compliance with access by students with disabilities and the effect of exclusions of students with criminal or disciplinary histories. Consider differences in charter and district contributions to the Teacher Retirement System on behalf of their employees and make appropriate recommendations to support the retirement benefits of all public school teachers.

TEA staff opened testimony with an overview of charter school statistics and the metrics for evaluating new charter applications. Chairman Huberty noted that the number of charter school campuses has increased while the number of charter holders has held steady around the statutory cap. Members had several questions regarding the statistics, including how student discipline is handled, the higher percentage of IR campuses than traditional school districts, and types of services offered.

Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez provided information regarding TRS contributions, facilities funding, and the implementation of district partnership contracts through Senate Bill (SB) 1882. Lopez noted that charters are not required to pay teachers the minimum salary schedule. Chairman Huberty pointed out that TRS contributions are not indexed to anything other than the minimum salary schedule, which has been long outdated as a current reflection of teacher salaries. As a result, contributions have not automatically increased along with inflation.

This year, charters will be eligible for facilities funding equaling on average just over $200 per student. This funding is capped at $60 million dollars annually. Regarding the amount of funding charters receive compared to traditional school districts, Lopez contended charters receive both more and less. Lopez noted at the outset that student profiles are different for each. While charters have higher levels of economically disadvantaged students, they have fewer special education students. It is also important to note that there are significant differences even among economically disadvantaged students, and traditional districts continue to serve the most students in extreme poverty.

Commissioner update on STAAR glitches, SpEd plan, NAEP

The State Board of Education (SBOE) kicked off its April meeting Wednesday with an update from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

Morath informed the board that the agency will seek an amendment to the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in order to implement changes to the accountability system under House Bill (HB) 22 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. The agency released its accountability framework on Tuesday.

Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting April 11, 2018.

With testing week underway, Morath updated the board on a recent glitch with the STAAR exam. According to the commission, the failure of a single server caused a roughly 20-minute disruption in the exam. No data were lost, although 40,000 students were affected and forced to log out, then log back in, while taking the exam online. Some 1,000 school systems had one or more students affected, and it appears the glitch was largely confined to those taking the English I end of course (EOC) exam, although exceptions have been reported. Roughly 460,000 tests have been taken online so far.

SBOE Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) suggested the board avoid scheduling meetings during testing week in the future, as it makes it nearly impossible for educators to get time off to attend board meetings or to testify before the board. TEA staff indicated they are aware of the scheduling conflict and are working toward avoiding such a situation in the future.

The commissioner next proceeded to run down the state’s recent results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Texas saw a slight decline in 4th grade math proficiency this year and has experienced a downward trend in 8th grade math since 2011. The state has been a middling performer in 4th grade reading and saw a slight recent dip. Scores on 8th grade reading have been similarly flat, with a slight recent decline. Morath called the NAEP scores “somewhat disappointing nationally.”

“It does appear that accountability matters a great deal, and resources appear to be a factor,” Morath added.

Member Hardy pointed out that Texas has different demographic challenges than other states; in particular, it is home to a high percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. Hardy suggested this makes for apples-to-oranges comparisons to other states when it comes to national test scores. Morath conceded Hardy’s point, but noted that “life doesn’t grade on the curve.” The commissioner warned the real world deals in absolutes, and suggested it’s important to celebrate success where appropriate while continuing to pursue improvement.

Finally, Morath updated the board on the agency’s corrective action for special education. A January letter from the U.S. Department of Education found Texas was deficient in three areas of special education: Child find, providing a free and appropriate public education (FAPE), and compliance monitoring.

According to the commissioner, the core corrective action response will be provided to the federal government for compliance purposes, while a strategic plan for the state will focus on broader reforms. The commissioner identified five key components of the strategic plan: State monitoring, identification, evaluation, and placement; training, support, and development; student, family, and community engagement; and support networks and structures. The final corrective action response is due to the federal government April 23.

Responding to funding questions from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath indicated the agency has already begun making staffing changes with federal funds available to the agency under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The agency has already hired 34 full-time equivalents (FTEs) in order to begin implementing the necessary changes. The nature of the plan calls for spending shifts in allocation. The state is allocated roughly $100 million in IDEA funds each year, all of which Morath said are being “re-tooled” concomitant with the corrective action plan.

Asked by Ellis how formula funding under the Foundation School Program (FSP) would be affected by the plan, Morath said the special education formulas are “quite sophisticated,” making it hard to give a specific number. As a ballpark estimate, Morath estimated the plan would add another $5,000 for each new special education student. The agency estimates another 200,000 students could enter the system, which would translate to about $1 billion in additional FSP funding. Morath noted the figures are only rough estimates, and actual funding would depend upon which services are provided to each child under his or her individualized education program (IEP).

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco) asked about training provided to educators under the plan. The commissioner said the agency is preparing to launch a statewide professional development network involving summer programs and ongoing training. This training will be primarily targeted at mainstream setting educators.

On a separate note, Member Lawrence Allen, Jr. (D-Houston) voiced concern to Commissioner Morath over the board’s lack of oversight of contracts between school districts and charter schools as a result of Senate Bill (SB) 1882 passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. This bill provides financial incentives and a pause in accountability ratings for districts to contract with a charter holder, nonprofit or higher education institution to operate a campus under a “partnership” model in which the district surrenders control entirely to the operator. As ATPE has warned, this has potentially troubling implications for school staff and students in the feeder pattern.

While the SBOE has the final authority to approve new charters, it has no formal input regarding these arrangements. Rather, each contract must be approved by the commissioner. Agreeing with Allen, Member Hardy warned that charters may be less faithful to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required curriculum approved by the board.

The board is scheduled to consider a variety of items Wednesday, including potential action regarding the creation of a Mexican American Studies class. Continue to check TeachTheVote.org for further updates from this week’s SBOE meeting.

School finance commission focuses on charters

The Texas Commission on School Finance met for the fourth time Wednesday in Austin. After a late start due to members trickling in the day after the state’s heated primary elections, the commission quickly launched into a debate about just how much of its activities will be open to members of the public.

Texas Commission on School Finance meeting March 7, 2018.

Chairman Justice Scott Brister began by informing members of the commission that commission subcommittees will be free to hold meetings without posting notice to the public. Brister gave members specific guidance in order to avoid having to comply with state open meetings laws, and led a vote expanding the number of members who can attend committee meetings out of the public eye.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, argued for greater transparency, suggesting members of the public have an interest in what the commission is doing behind closed doors. State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) joined in highlighting the importance of transparency. Arguing for more secrecy, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) noted members of the Texas Senate regularly hold secret meetings.

The committee also discussed logistics for the next meeting, March 19, when members of the public will be able to testify. Before public testimony, the commission plans to invite various stakeholders and interest groups to testify for up to five minutes. Brister stated the list of potential invited witnesses compiled by members and Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff numbered roughly fifty, and asked for help whittling down that number. He warned the March 19 meeting will be long, and members should expect to work well into the evening hours. Sen. Bettencourt asked to reduce the amount of time allotted to public witnesses to avoid a lengthy meeting, and Brister expressed interest in doing so based upon the number of witnesses who sign up.

The topic of Wednesday’s meeting was “efficiency,” with panels dedicated to efficiencies at the classroom, campus and district levels. The first panel featured witnesses from Cisco and Pasadena ISDs to discuss blended learning programs, which combine classroom time with self-paced digital learning incorporating technology such as computers and tablets. Todd Williams, an advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, asked whether blended learning would enable a single teacher to teach more students. Pasadena ISD Deputy Superintendent Karen Hickman indicated that may be possible, but had not been her district’s experience.

The next panel featured witnesses from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, along with Dallas County Community College and the Dallas County Promise program. College partnership programs allow students to earn industry credentials or college credits by taking courses through local higher education institutions. While praising the work of PSJA ISD, Williams suggested college completion rates in these programs are not always where many would like to see them. DCCC Chancellor Joe May testified that the Dallas program is an efficient way to get students to a four-year degree at a quarter of the typical cost.

The final panel on district-level efficiencies was led off by San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who highlighted new innovative campuses and advanced teacher training. Martinez made a compelling argument against basing too much accountability on end-of-course exams, pointing out that SAT scores have a far greater impact on the future trajectory of individual students. Martinez also laid out a nuanced way of tracking income demographics for the purposes of equalization within the district. More controversially, Martinez discussed bringing in charter operators from New York to take over a local elementary campus. These types of arrangements receive financial incentives from the state as a result of SB 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature despite warnings raised by ATPE over the potential negative impacts on students and teachers. In consideration of these criticisms, Martinez suggested adding Dallas ISD’s ACE model or similar teacher retention programs as a third option under SB 1882. Martinez further acknowledged that charters are not interested in taking on the task of educating the most economically disadvantaged students.

The commission also heard from Paul Hill, a Washington-based policy consultant whose work has been affiliated with handing campuses over the charters and supporters of broader education privatization, including vouchers. Midland ISD Superintendent Orlando Riddick spoke of districts of innovation (DOI), and confirmed that districts are eager to waive requirements for maximum class sizes and teacher certification. ATPE has repeatedly warned of DOI being used to hire cheaper, uncertified teachers and assign larger classrooms.

The meeting ended with testimony from IDEA Public Schools charter founder Tom Torkelson. While acknowledging that well-trained teachers should earn more money, Torkelson also suggested that class size limits designed to protect students should be waived in order to place more students in a single classroom. Torkelson also suggested eliminating regional education service centers (ESCs), which were designed to increase efficiency by consolidating various support tasks in order to service multiple districts. Torkelson gave no indication what should replace the ESCs in his estimation.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, concluded Wednesday’s hearing by directing members to the task at hand: Finding a way to pay for public education for all Texas students. Anything short of that, he reminded members, will not help Texas out of its current predicament. The commission will next meet March 19, and members of the public will be allowed to testify.