Tag Archives: Coalition for Public Schools

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 17, 2017

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE:

17_web_AdvocacyCentral_RotatorImages_ATC_1217-49_StopVouchersOn Tuesday, March 21, the Senate Education Committee will hear Senate Bill (SB) 3, a voucher bill by the committee’s chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is among the lieutenant governor’s highest priorities to pass this legislative session, and educators are being urged to contact their senators to oppose this bill. ATPE members can use our communication tools at Advocacy Central to quickly message their senators about this bill.

NO VOUCHERSAs reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in a blog post earlier this week, SB 3 has been called a “school voucher on steroids,” because it authorizes both Education Savings Account (ESA) vouchers for parents to spend on their children’s home or private schooling and tax credit scholarships to pay for private schools. To learn more about the dangers of these two programs, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent analysis of the bill here.

The Senate Education Committee had originally planned to hear SB 3 this week, but the voucher bill was postponed to next Tuesday. During yesterday’s hearing, the committee instead heard testimony on three bills pertaining to reporting on counselors, the use of epinephrine auto-injectors (epi-pens) in private schools, and the sequencing of high school math and English courses. ATPE supported SB 490 that requires districts to report the number of school counselors providing counseling services at a campus, which is aimed at collecting data on counseling in order to better understand the role counselors play on a campus.


HPE_03-14-17On Tuesday, March 14, the House Public Education Committee heard a number of bills, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins in a blog post this week. ATPE weighed in on a number of the bills that included such subjects as curriculum standards, pre-kindergarten programs, and the school start date.

Next week, the committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality will meet Monday, March 20, to consider bills pertaining to educator misconduct, certification, and the importance of high-quality mentoring for new teachers. The full committee’s hearing on Tuesday, March 21, will cover two dozen bills, including a number of measures aimed at changing the state’s accountability system. The highest profile bill on that list is House Bill (HB) 22 by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) to modify the controversial “A through F” accountability grading system. The committee also plans to resume its discussion of the chairman’s school finance reform bill, HB 21.


cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundAlso this week, Congress got its first formal look at President Trump’s proposal for the next federal budget. As expected, the 2018 budget proposal includes significant cuts to education funding as a whole and significant increases to initiatives preferred by the president. Trump’s plan includes an overall $9 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Education while a total of $1.4 billion would be added to fund charter school expansion, Title I funding portability, and likely vouchers. Read more about President Trump’s budget proposal as well as the latest developments involving the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s most recent federal update blog post.


As the both chambers of the 85th Legislature continue to work on their respective budget proposals, the full Senate Finance committee met this week to adopt the suggestions of its subject area work groups, including the Article III work group on public and higher education.

The full Senate Finance Committee cut an additional 276 million net dollars in programmatic and grant funding out of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) budget. Those cuts are in addition to programmatic cuts not related to the Foundation School Program (FSP) already found in the Senate’s base budget bill as filed. The largest cuts were a net cut of $140 million from non-formula pre-K funding, $104.6 million out of the Instructional Materials Allotment, and $47.5 million from the New Instructional Facilities Allotment. The cuts to all other programs in TEA’s budget totaled approximately $37 million and included things like substantial cuts to the Math and Reading Academies.

The Senate did add dollars to some TEA programs above its introduced budget. The additions totaled approximately $50 million and included items like $25.2 million for the E-rate program that will draw down a $250 million federal match to provide broadband to school districts currently lacking it; $391,000 on two additional investigators and one support staff member to address cases of inappropriate relationships between educators and students investigated by TEA; and $10 million restored to the Student Success Initiative, which had been zeroed out in the introduced budget.

While TEA program and grant funding took the largest cuts ($276 million) this week, TRS got the biggest boost, a net increase of $290 million over the Senate’s introduced bill after additions and cuts. The Senate added $316 million in funding for TRS-Care contingent on the passage of legislation that makes significant structural changes to the retiree healthcare plans.

Meanwhile, the House adopted very few changes to its version of the proposed public education budget this week, but did adopt one very important contingency rider. That rider would allow an additional $1.47 billion of General Revenue to be appropriated to the FSP; for the Basic Allotment to be increased from $5,140 to $5,350; and for implementation of a statutory FSP payment deferral in fiscal year 2019 which reduces the cost of the budget by $1.87 billion. The rider is contingent on the passage of school finance legislation such as Rep. Dan Huberty’s HB 21 plus a bill that would enact the FSP deferral. ATPE has advocated for such a deferral to help address budget deficits this session.

Gary G. Godsey

Gary G. Godsey

Related: Read a recently published op-ed by ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, in which he urges lawmakers to consider using the state’s rainy day fund to address imminent education funding needs.

Also check out this Spectrum News story in which ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is interviewed about the Senate’s proposed pre-K cuts.


In other news this week:

The Texas Senate passed another of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s legislative priorities through Senate Bill (SB) 6. The controversial bill by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) to regulate bathroom usage policies of school districts and other governmental entities was approved by a vote of 21-10, despite considerable public opposition to the measure.

Among the flurry of new bills filed just before last Friday’s deadline for lawmakers to submit new legislation were two TRS-related bills that have caused a minor stir on social media. Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R-Houston) SB 1750 and SB 1751 revive the concept of converting the TRS defined-benefit pension plan in the future to a defined contribution program, more like a 401(k) plan, or a hybrid of the two. The first bill calls only for an interim study of the idea, while the second bill would authorize TRS and ERS (the agency overseeing a similar pension plan for state employees) to create such a program as an alternative for new employees. At this point, there are no indications that SB 1751 will gain traction this session when lawmakers are much more focused on the funding challenges associated with the TRS healthcare programs. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed about the bill this week by Spectrum News.

Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

The Senate also voted unanimously this week to confirm Donna Bahorich’s continuation as chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Bahorich was first elected to the SBOE in 2012, and she has held the role of board chair, a gubernatorial appointment, since 2015. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath was also confirmed.


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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 30, 2016

Here is this week’s Teach the Vote wrap-up of education news:

School funding was the center of attention at the Texas State Capitol this week as legislators held interim hearings to consider education-related budget requests and the possibility of changes to the state’s school finance system next session.

Education related hearings began on Tuesday this with week with the Legislative Budget Board and the Governor’s education staff holding a series of joint budget hearings where they heard from TEA, the School for the Deaf, the School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and TRS. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath laid out TEA’s appropriations request including exceptional items. TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie delivered a presentation on his agency’s appropriations request which covered the trust fund, TRS-Care, and TRS ActiveCare.

Budget related hearings continued on Wednesday and Thursday as the House Appropriations and House Public Education Committees held a two-day joint hearing on school finance. On day one of the hearing, the committees heard from four panels of invited witnesses covering the following topics: an overview of the school finance system, litigation, and revenue; additional state aid for tax reduction (ASATR); recapture; and district adjustments. On day two, the committees heard from an additional three panels of invited witnesses as well as approximately 60 public testifiers, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. The final three panels of invited testimony covered student adjustments, facilities funding, and school finance options for the 85th session.

Note: we will update this post with a link to footage of day two of the joint hearing on school finance as soon as archived video becomes available from the state.

RegisterToVoteOctober 11 is the last day to register to vote (or update your registration if you’ve recently moved) if you plan to vote in the Nov. 8 general election. On our blog this week, we shared a post from ATPE with recommendations from a Texas teacher on how to engage students this election season. Don’t forget that students who will be 18 years old on Election Day can register, too!

Find out more about the candidates running for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by visiting our 2016 Races page here on Teach the Vote. Our candidate profiles are designed to inform voters about the candidates’ views on public education. They include incumbents’ voting records and candidates’ responses to our survey about major education issues. Several candidates vying for contested seats this fall have recently answered our survey, so check out the profiles for races in your area to find out where your candidates stand. Remember also that regardless of which primary you participated in this spring, you can vote for candidates of any party or independent candidates in the November general election.

Your vote is your voice!

Rep. Dawnna Dukes (D-Austin) announced this week plans to resign from her House seat in January. Dukes cited lingering health problems following an automobile accident in 2013 in which she injured her back. She has recently been the subject of a criminal investigation into allegations that she misused state funds and her legislative office employees for personal work. Dukes has had a long record of supporting pro-public education legislation since taking office in 1994, but health issues resulted in her being absent for a good part of the last legislative session. ATPE thanks Rep. Dukes for her service and wishes her a full recovery. If Dukes is re-elected in November, Gov. Abbott will have to call a special election to fill the vacancy upon her resignation.


With the legislative session just a few months away, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) is among a host of elected officials making the rounds to tout private school vouchers as a civil rights imperative. He and other Republican senators have given public speeches, appeared on panels at recent events such as the Texas Tribune Festival, and implored their legislative colleagues to support an especially alarming form of voucher known as an Education Savings Account (ESA). ESA programs call for the state to give public funds directly to parents, often in the form of debit cards that can be used for any education-related expense on behalf of their children, including paying for home schooling or private school costs.

Dr. Charles Luke, who heads the Coalition for Public Schools of which ATPE is a member, penned an opinion piece for the Waco Tribune this week in which he debunks the “school choice as a civil right” myth. Luke writes that “vouchers disguised as ‘school choice’ have repeatedly been used to further segregation around both race and income,” citing voucher programs that began shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark school desegregation ruling in 1954.

NO VOUCHERSESAs and other voucher proposals fail to create any legitimate options for educationally disadvantaged students, as Luke points out, especially without any requirement that private schools accepting vouchers adhere to state and federal laws that prevent discrimination, protect students with special needs, and impose accountability standards. Private and parochial schools have generally balked at the notion of complying with the same laws as public schools — such as requirements for student testing, providing transportation, and admitting all students regardless of disability, race, or other factors — in exchange for taxpayer funds. Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), sitting on a panel at last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival, pointed out the practical impossibility of ensuring that ESA funds are spent appropriately. She expressed serious doubt that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and his staff would have the necessary resources to scrutinize receipts submitted by parents to back up expenditures made using an ESA.

A much more realistic plan for helping all students, and especially those living in poverty, would be to improve the state’s school finance system, which the Texas Supreme Court has upheld as constitutional but deemed only “minimally” acceptable. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter wrote on our blog this week about the need for lawmakers to increase the weights in our state’s current school finance system, along with creating a new funding weight that would account for campuses with particularly high concentrations of students with greater needs. Campus-based weighted funding of this nature would help districts such as Austin ISD that are forced to share their local tax revenue through the current recapture system on account of having elevated local property values but also include campuses with high populations of students in poverty and English language learners.  Houston ISD, another district negatively affected by recapture, is waiting to see if its voters will reject a local property tax increase next month, which would force the state to reallocate Houston’s tax base toward other school districts. An HISD representative testified at Wednesday’s school finance hearing that nearly 80 percent of the district’s students are economically disadvantaged. Read more about the Houston district’s dilemma here.

With marathon hearings on school finance taking place at the Capitol this week, stay tuned to find out if lawmakers are receptive to making any significant changes next session.



Members of the ATPE lobby team met with Congressman Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) during last weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival to discuss Social Security and other education issues. Pictured from left to right are ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, Castro, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday, and ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 16, 2016

It was a very busy week in the Texas education policy world. Here are stories you might have missed:

The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter and ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz attended the hearings and provided this update.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the 15-member board heard public testimony from concerned activists, educators, and elected officials from across the state who are opposed to a controversial new Mexican-American studies textbook. It has been reported that over 100 people signed up to testify against the adoption of the book. The controversial text entitled Mexican American Heritage was developed by a publishing company that is overseen by former SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar. The book has been described by its detractors as racist and full of inaccuracies. Opponents of the book say that it cannot be corrected in its current form and should not be adopted by the board. The SBOE will not make a final decision on accepting or rejecting the book until its November meeting.

SBOE logoOn Wednesday, the board discussed the adoption of a work plan outlining the process to be followed in creating a long-range plan for public education. In April, the board voted to hire the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a professional facilitator group that’s been working since June to gather input from SBOE members, various professional educator groups, and other stakeholders. The group’s goal is to come up with a design for the development of a new long range plan with the first phase focused on creating a process to be developed by creating a plan. The second phase could actually involve the creation of the long-range plan itself. Representatives from BCG provided the board with the proposed work plan that is to be followed in developing the long-range plan, and SBOE members approved details of the design process. The board voted to have 18 steering committee members taken from various stakeholder groups and the board itself and agreed that the committee should meet monthly for half-day sessions. Who will be part of the committee is still to be decided, but we know that the committee will include five SBOE members and one representative each from the Texas Education Agency (TEA), Texas Workforce Commission, and Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Each of the remaining 10 committee members will be picked by one of the 10 remaining SBOE members who are not on the committee. Watch for the SBOE to discuss committee appointments in more detail at the November board meeting.

Texas state senators were in town this week for a full slate of interim hearings that had many Capitol insiders remarking that it felt a lot like a legislative session. ATPE lobbyists were there to provide testimony on a variety of issues and monitor all the discussions, which are an insightful preview for the upcoming legislative session and battles likely to take place over controversial bills. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post for more details on this week’s Senate hearings, which are also summarized below.

The Senate Committee on State Affairs took up an interim charge on public employees’ use of payroll deduction for association or union dues and whether the state should prohibit that practice. It’s a rehash of a bill that died last session, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was on hand to urge senators to focus on real challenges next session rather than non-issues like this one that solve no problems and only serve to hurt the morale of hardworking public employees like teachers, police officers, and firefighters.


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke to TWC News following Wednesday’s voucher hearing by the Senate Education Committee.

Also, the Senate Education Committee held two consecutive days of meetings to discuss new voucher proposals, digital learning and broadband access, and implementation of 2015 laws relating to school accountability sanctions; Districts of Innovation (DOI); calculating minimum instructional time in minutes rather than hours or days; and individual graduation committees for high school students who fail certain STAAR tests – a law set to expire unless extended next session. ATPE’s Monty Exter gave testimony on several of those issues.


Superintendent Jodi Duron, flanked by elected officials and education advocates, spoke to reporters during an anti-voucher press conference organized by the Coalition for Public Schools on Monday.

The voucher talks, which took up the most time, were preceded by a press conference that the Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) hosted at the Capitol on Monday. The event was an opportunity for diverse coalition members and several pro-public education lawmakers to shed light on the problems posed by education savings accounts and other voucher proposals being floated by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and a number of senators ahead of the legislative session. Among the speakers were Elgin ISD Superintendent and ATPE member Dr. Jodi Duron, CPS Coordinator Dr. Charles Luke, Rev. Andy Stoker representing Pastors for Texas Children, SBOE Vice-Chair Thomas Ratliff (R), and Sens. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) and Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston). Read more about the voucher debate in this story from The Texas Tribune‘s Kiah Collier, and check out Monty’s news interviews with KEYE-TV and Time Warner Cable. You may also watch archived video of the Senate Education hearing here.


Pro-public education voices spoke against vouchers at CPS press conference on Sept. 12, 2016.

SBOE and TEA officials hosted a day-long conference on Monday, Sept. 12, centered on the difficulties of educating students in high-poverty schools. ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann attended the event billed as the “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The conference included presentations by researchers and policymakers on educational challenges that have resulted from an increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students here in Texas and elsewhere. Presenters included national experts in such diverse fields as educational equity and neuroscience.

The conference was scheduled as a work session for the SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board. ATPE’s Monty Exter called the roundtable event “an example of the SBOE under the leadership of Chairwoman Donna Bohorich (R) promoting increased cooperation with the commissioner of education and expanding its use of the bully pulpit to further important conversations surrounding Texas public education between policymakers, stakeholders, researchers, and the public.” More than 200 people attended the conference Monday, which was also live-streamed. Exter added, “The biggest takeaway running through many of the day’s presentations was that the barrier to successfully educating these hard-to-teach populations is not a lack of knowing what to do; it’s a lack of doing what we know.”

Archived footage of the educational poverty conference can be viewed here.

By now you’re probably familiar with the 2015 law that requires school districts to place cameras in classrooms serving some students in special education programs. Here on Teach the Vote, we’ve been reporting on the bill and its implementation through rulemaking by the commissioner of education. Earlier this week, Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton (R) released an AG’s opinion responding to questions from TEA about Senate Bill (SB) 507. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter contributed the following report on the opinion.

In answering Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s questions, the AG has interpreted the new law requiring the cameras very broadly. The result is that any school district staff members, whether or not they are connected to an affected classroom (or any classroom at all), may request that the cameras be placed in classrooms in the district. Such a request triggers a requirement that cameras be placed in every eligible classroom in the district as defined by the statute, even if the request only references a single specific classroom. Once installed, the cameras must be maintained and operated in virtual perpetuity in every classroom that continues to meet the definition of a special education setting under the law, regardless of whether or not the person making the request or student benefiting from the request continues to be affiliated with the district.

The implications of this AG’s opinion are dramatically higher costs of a mandate for which the state provided no additional funding to districts when it passed the bill last year. Additionally, the opinion may hamstring a district’s ability to acknowledge and accommodate, where possible, any parents whose strong preference is not to have their children subject to video surveillance in the classroom. The bill’s author, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), and House sponsor, Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston), both indicated that these interpretations by AG Paxton were not their intent when passing the bill and that they meant for the law to require installation of cameras only in the classroom in which the affected child attends class. Paxton responded by writing in his opinion that letters from the bill’s authors written after the legislature had passed SB 507 would likely be given “little weight” by the courts.

As we reported last month, the commissioner’s rules on cameras in the classroom have already taken effect at this point, but it’s likely that the agency will look at future revisions in light of Paxton’s differing interpretation of what the statute requires. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the implementation of this high-profile law.

ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteWith so many hot topics being discussed already at the State Capitol, it should be obvious why your votes in the Nov. 8 general election are critical. Electing pro-public education candidates will increase our likelihood of defeating reckless proposals like vouchers that will place even greater financial pressure on our public schools and weaken the overall quality of Texas’s education system. If you are alarmed by the willingness of lawmakers to hand over public tax dollars to unregulated private schools or punish public servants who voluntary choose to join professional associations by taking away their rights to use payroll deduction, then join the education community in making a statement at the polls in the upcoming election. Oct. 11 is the deadline to register to vote in the general election, and early voting begins on Oct. 24. Click here to learn more about the election and to make sure you are registered to vote before it’s too late! 

A message from the Coalition for Public Schools

CPS square logoDear Friends,

As I’m sure you all know, election season is upon us.  Early voting in Texas is taking place through Friday, February 26th and Election Day will be this coming Tuesday, March 1st .

The Coalition for Public Schools would like to remind you to go vote for candidates that will support our neighborhood, public schools and the 5.2 million children that attend them.

With most of the races being determined in the primary elections in Texas, your vote is critical to ensuring that our public school children have what they need to be successful.

And please urge all educators to vote!  We cannot imagine a better example for schoolchildren then to see their teacher proudly wear that sticker, “I’ve voted!” More information can be found at www.texaseducatorsvote.com

Again, we urge you to go vote this coming Tuesday, March 1st.  You can find out where to vote at:  https://www.votetexas.gov/voting/where/ .

Find out more about the Coalition for Public Schools at www.coalitionforpublicschools.org

Charles Luke, Ed.D.,
Coalition for Public Schools


ATPE is a proud member of the Coalition for Public Schools.

CPS horizontal logo

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 19, 2016

We’re four days into early voting for the 2016 primaries, and turnout has been high in districts with contested races. The big question to be answered is “Who’s doing the voting?”

Educators need to head to the polls in large numbers and help elect pro-public education candidates. Read more about the election and other stories making news this week:

ThinkstockPhotos-485333274_VoteEarly voting continues through Friday, Feb. 26. Election day is March 1.

ATPE and Teach the Vote offer a number of resources to help voters get to the polls and support candidates who will support public education.

  • Wondering if you have to vote for candidates from the same party? Do you know where to go vote? Get answers to frequently asked questions about primary voting here in our “Things You Should Know…” post.
  • Be prepared to answer ballot propositions that will appear on your primary ballot. These measures will shape the platforms of the Republican and Democratic parties, and one proposition is aimed at taking away educators’ right to use payroll deduction for their voluntary professional membership dues. Get informed by reading our recent blog post and be prepared to stand up for educators when you cast your vote on these ballot propositions.
  • We can’t emphasize enough that educators need to get out and vote now, because numerous races will be decided by the primaries. Educators cannot afford to wait until November to make their voices heard. Find out if you live in a district where the winner will be chosen now instead of in November.
  • ATPE State President Cory Colby shows off his brand new "I Voted" sticker!

    ATPE State President Cory Colby shows off his brand new “I Voted” sticker!

    Visit ATPE’s Facebook page to view pictures of our members getting out to the polls during early voting. You can be featured, too! Send your “I Voted” selfies to ATPE via Facebook.

  • Most of all, make sure you have learned where your candidates stand on public education. Click on the 2016 Races button now to search for candidates and view their voting records, responses to the ATPE candidate survey, and more.

Is your school district participating in the efforts by the Texas Educators Vote coalition to help get school employees to the polls during early voting? We invite you to email us and share your success stories with us. We’d love to let others know about how educators in your school district are turning out the vote in large numbers to make a difference in 2017. For additional resources, check out TexasEducatorsVote.com.

ThinkstockPhotos-97653570-USCapAfter working for almost a year to write and pass the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Congress has turned its focus to oversight, ensuring the U.S. Department of Education (ED) implements the law in the way lawmakers intended.

As we reported previously on Teach the Vote, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education kicked off the process last week, when it held the first oversight hearing on Capitol Hill. The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) quickly followed, announcing on Tuesday that the committee would hold a hearing next week entitled, “ESSA Implementation in States and School Districts: Perspectives from Education Leaders.” The Senate hearing will take place Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 9:00 AM CST and will be live-streamed here.

Also next week, the U.S. House is expected to hold its second ESSA hearing. The U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce will hold a hearing entitled, “Next Steps for K-12 Education: Upholding the Letter and Intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act” on Thursday, Feb. 25. Acting Secretary of Education Dr. John King will testify at that hearing on ESSA implementation. King will also be before the same committee on Wednesday Feb. 24, to testify on President Obama’s budget proposal. That hearing is entitled, “Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education.” Both U.S. House hearings will begin at 9:00 AM CST and can be viewed live here.

Look for recaps of these hearings later on Teach the Vote.

Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released accreditation statuses for school districts and charter schools for the 2015-16 school year. Accreditation statuses reflect both academic and financial accountability measures, along with additional factors.

TEA reported that 97 percent of the state’s 1,205 school districts and charters received a full “Accredited” status. TEA noted that 13 school districts and 5 charter schools received an Accredited-Warned status, indicating academic or financial problems that need to be addressed. There are four school districts with an Accredited-Probation status for 2015-16; those districts have shown deficiencies over multiple years. Six school districts received a “Not Accredited-Revoked” status for 2015-16; some of those remain pending while appeals are pursued.

The 2015-16 accreditation status for each school district and charter school can be found on the TEA website.

TEA also announced on Wednesday that it has launched a new website aimed at providing free and instant resources for educators, students and parents to use in enhancing classroom instruction. To learn more about the Texas Gateway or explore the available resources, visit Texasgateway.org. Read our full story on the post here.

Kate Kuhlmann

Kate Kuhlmann

ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reported this week on the demise of a high-profile private school voucher bill in Tennessee. Vouchers are a central issue, of course, in the ongoing Texas primary elections. Voucher votes in the Texas House have come down to a single vote in recent years, although the Texas Senate actually passed a voucher bill last session. That bill died in the House, thanks to pro-public education representatives keeping it off the floor. Will vouchers pass or fail in 2017? Much depends on the outcomes of Republican primary races being decided now. Read more here.

Don’t forget about these opportunities next week to sit down with others in your community to talk about education.

CPS square logoThe Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) is hosting gatherings to discuss the value of public education and how communities can get involved to support public schools. ATPE is a member of the coalition. Next week are CPS events in Corsicana on Monday, Feb. 22, in Cleburne on Tuesday, Feb. 23, and in Texarkana on Wednesday, Feb. 24. Both lunchtime and evening meetings are being held. Find additional information and registration links here.

These events are great opportunities to talk about the importance of voting for pro-public education candidates during the primary election happening now. Remind fellow attendees about the great voting resources available here on Teach the Vote.

ThinkstockPhotos-523002181_IVotedDon’t forget to get out this weekend and VOTE!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 5, 2016

Campaigns are heating up and the stakes are high for public education. Read more in this week’s wrap-up.

American voting pins

We’re 11 days away from the start of early voting for the March 1 primary election. Now is the time to research the candidates seeking legislative and SBOE seats in your area and share information with your friends and colleagues. The future of public education in Texas depends on high voter turnout among the education community — not only in November, but especially during the March primaries when many races will be decided.

Do you know where your candidates stand on the issues that matter to public education? From vouchers to TRS to testing, you’ll find a wealth of information about the candidates’ views right here on Teach the Vote. Simply click on 2016 Races button to search for candidates by district, last name, map, or using your address. Our candidate profiles include incumbents’ voting records, links to the candidates’ own web pages, and their responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey where available.

If you live in House District 120, you’ll have an additional chance to cast your vote this election season. Gov. Abbott has set May 7 as the election day for the special election to fill the seat recently vacated by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D-San Antonio). The early voting period for this special election will be held Apr. 23 through Mar. 3.

One more reminder: Have you taken the educator’s oath to vote for pro-public education candidates this year? Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to learn more.

A congressional hearing entitled “Expanding Educational Opportunity Through School Choice” originally scheduled to take place during School Choice Week was held Wednesday in Washington, DC. Our federal relations team covered the hearing, which was postponed due to a weather system that shut down federal government buildings last week, and shared that the focus was on two main themes: (1) whether or not expanding school choice had a positive impact on low-income students, and (2) whether or not there is adequate accountability for existing school choice programs. The panel of invited testifiers consisted of three proponents of school choice and only one who testified to the risks associated with school choice programs. No other testimony was taken at the hearing.

We noted in a blog post last week that School Choice Week drew attention to some of the private school voucher and related proposals on the move around the country. The same post discusses that Texas is not immune to the push for private school vouchers and stresses the importance of educators voting in the upcoming election. As voucher proposals in Texas gain more steam, it is critical that we elect a Legislature that continues to stand in the way of those proposals ultimately passing. The upcoming primary election will determine the majority of the elected officials sent to Austin to serve in the next Texas Legislature. It is critical that voters send pro-public education candidates.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

Related content: We reported last week that Texas voucher proponents gathered in front of the Texas Capitol last Friday to rally in support of school choice. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed by several media outlets covering the rally. Exter raised serious concerns about voucher programs and highlighted the benefits to keeping public money within the public school system. A sampling of those interviews includes this Time Warner Cable News story and this piece in the Austin American Statesman.

We previously reported on two separate community meeting series taking place across the state. The State Board of Education is hosting meetings to gather feedback on Texas’ testing and accountability systems, and the Coalition for Public Schools is hosting meetings to discuss the value of public education and how communities can get involved to support public schools. Both meeting series have been updated by the respective hosts. The changes are reflected on our original postings linked below.

Please note the following changes:CPS square logo

The Coalition for Public Schools has moved the two meetings originally scheduled for Feb. 9 in Cleburne to Tuesday, February 23. The times and locations of the meetings remain the same. View the updated schedule here.

SBOE logo
The State Board of Education community meetings originally scheduled to be held in Brownsville, Dallas/Forth Worth, and Kilgore have been updated to reflect various time, date and location changes. View the updated schedule here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 29, 2016

You’re almost out of time to register to vote in the upcoming primary election. Read about the voter registration deadline, along with other election news and education stories from this week.

ThinkstockPhotos-481431733Monday, Feb. 1 is the last day you can register to vote in the upcoming March 1 primary elections. Click here to check the status of your voter registration through the Secretary of State’s office. For anyone not already registered, learn more about the voter registration process here.

Now more than ever, it’s critical for educators to show up at the polls in March. Many of the state’s most high-profile election contests will be decided in March through the primaries, making the November general election insignificant in many of those races. Voter turnout has been woefully low in recent years, but the 2016 races are too important for educators to ignore. Read more about why it’s so important for educators to exercise their right to vote in this recent letter from our allies at Friends of Texas Public Schools. Also, take a few minutes to visit the website of our partnership with TexasEducatorsVote.com and take the educator’s oath to show your commitment to participate in the elections.

Don’t forget about the great election resources available here on Teach the Vote. Search for legislative and State Board of Education candidates using our 2016 Races page, and then check out the candidates’ voting records and responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. If candidates in your area have not yet taken our survey, please encourage them to do so and share their views on public education with thousands of potential voters.

HD118map-smallerVoter turnout was extremely low in Tuesday’s special election runoff for House District 118, where former Rep. Joe Farias (D-San Antonio) stepped down from his seat leaving a vacancy. It’s reported that a total of only 3,601 voters in the San Antonio district went to the polls in the special election that wrapped up this week. Voters chose John Lujan (R) to fill the HD 118 vacancy for the remainder of this year. Lujan defeated Tomas Uresti (D) by a margin of only 161 votes, and overall turnout in the runoff was just over four percent of the registered voters in the district. Lujan and Uresti are among four candidates who are vying for the seat in the regular 2016 election. Access profiles of them on Teach the Vote’s 2016 Races search page.

In related news, a legislative resignation could prompt yet another special election in Bexar County. Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) this week submitted an official letter of resignation from her House District 120 seat effective Jan. 31, 2016. McClendon has been a longtime supporter of public schools and educators. She has held the seat since 1996, but has faced serious health challenges in recent years, including a battle with lung cancer. McClendon had already announced her intent not to run for re-election in 2016, but her early resignation creates an opportunity for Gov. Greg Abbott to call yet another special election for a House seat in the San Antonio area. The governor has not yet made any official announcement. Six candidates are already vying to assume the HD 120 seat in the 2016 open race, and their profiles are also available here on Teach the Vote.

The Senate Education Committee is planning a Feb. 10 meeting in McAllen, Texas. The agenda includes a briefing on English Language Learning and monitoring legislation to address training support for counselors, advising courses for middle school students, and placement of video cameras in some special education classrooms. Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) of nearby Brownsville vice-chairs the committee and was the author of last year’s Senate Bill 507 requiring the addition of cameras in certain classrooms. Limited public testimony will be allowed at the McAllen hearing.

The House Public Education Committee has scheduled an interim hearing for Feb. 9 in Austin. The purpose of this meeting is, in part, to review the state’s current education policies and initiatives regarding middle grades and make recommendations on strategies to help students in middle grades prepare for future success. The committee will also review current public education programs that address the needs of high performing students, including consideration of whether the state’s accountability system should include a separate indicator for the academic performance of high achieving students. Limited public testimony will be allowed.

Related content:
 The Coalition for Public Schools is partnering with other groups to host a series of community meetings in different parts of this state during the interim. House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), pictured at right, is a featured speaker at some of the coalition’s events. Read our blog post from earlier this week to learn more about how you can participate.


SBOE logoThe State Board of Education has been meeting this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the meetings and contributed information for this report. On Tuesday, the board heard hours of public testimony on possible revisions to 19 TAC Chapter 110, which includes the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) in elementary, middle, and high school grades. No action has been taken at this point.

On the board’s action agenda this week was an opportunity for the SBOE to decide which vendors should oversee the state’s high school equivalency assessments, often known as GED tests, in Texas. SBOE members voted to award contracts to three companies: GED Testing Service, Data Recognition Corporation, and Educational Testing Service (ETS). As the Texas Education Agency noted in a press release issued today, the decision by the board “marks a shift from the use of a single testing provider to three.”

The SBOE also had an opportunity once again to review proposed changes to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) rules for becoming certified as a superintendent. SBEC’s original proposal to remove many of the prerequisities for superintendent certification was opposed by ATPE and rejected by the SBOE in November 2015. As a result, SBEC had to take the issue up again and pass a newer, slightly less controversial rule revision in December, which was once again submitted to the SBOE for review this month. At this week’s meeting, SBOE members opted to take no action on it, which means that the SBEC rule as most recently revised in December will now go into effect.

This morning, the board also had a chance to recognize the Texas Teachers of the Year and Superintendent of the Year. Revathi Balakrishnan, who is the 2016 Texas Elementary Teacher of the Year and an ATPE member in Round Rock ISD spoke to SBOE members about the need to give teachers time to teach. She was joined by Mary Ann Whiteker, Superintendent of the Year from Hudson ISD, who spoke about difficulties surrounding the emphasis on STAAR testing.

School Choice Week has been observed around the country this week and will spill over into the first part of February. Supporters of private and home schools are expected to attend a rally at the Texas State Capitol today. While organizers of the annual event are again predicting a crowd of “thousands,” similar rallies in recent years instead have drawn hundreds, even during a legislative session year. It’s reported that featured speakers for the event will include Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), who has sponsored voucher legislation, and Land Commissioner George P. Bush, who also spoke at last year’s rally.

In Washington, D.C., a congressional hearing entitled “Expanding Educational Opportunity Through School Choice” that was originally scheduled for Jan. 26 but postponed on account of weather is now slated for Wednesday, Feb. 3. At the same time, lawmakers in several states are grappling with the issue of private school vouchers and related proposals to privatize public education. Read our blog post from yesterday to find out more about what’s being proposed in Tennessee, North Carolina, Indiana, and Virginia.

You can also read why vouchers are such a pivotal issue in the 2016 elections right here in Texas and why it’s so important for educators to help decide who goes to Austin for the 2017 legislative session. As we noted in yesterday’s blog post, vouchers passed the Senate last year and were blocked in the House. A shakeup in the composition of the legislature could produce dramatically different results the next time around. Keeping enough pro-public education legislators in the House will be essential, and there are a handful of Republican primary races in the Senate that could also have an impact on the legislative landscape and the likelihood of a voucher bill passing next year.

Related content: Did you know that Teach the Vote offers valuable insights on candidates’ views about “school choice” issues? Our candidate profiles include information on major endorsements, indicating those running for legislative seats who have been endorsed by groups that openly support private school vouchers and home schooling initiatives. Plus, you can find out how your legislators voted on bills calling for private school vouchers and other privatization proposals. Visit our 2016 Races search page to read about the candidates in your area.

The Coalition for Public Schools invites you to community meetings

CPS square logoThe Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, is hosting a series of meetings across the state to discuss the value of public education and how communities can get involved to support public schools. Attendees are encouraged to support their neighborhood public schools both in their community and with local and statewide advocacy. Some meetings are co-hosted by Pastors for Texas Children. Below are meeting dates, locations, and links to register.

  • Cleburne – February 23, 2016

A lunch meeting will be held in Cleburne, Texas to discuss the value of public education in the Cleburne community and surrounding towns.

Noon – 1 p.m. (lunch provided) at First Baptist Church of Cleburne, 414 N. Main St., Cleburne, Texas 76033. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-coalition-for-public-schools-tickets-20775083835.

  • Fort Worth – February 16, 2016

This meeting will be sponsored by Pastors for Texas Children along with the Coalition for Public Schools. House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock  will be the guest speaker for this meeting.

Noon – 1 p.m. (lunch provided) at  Amon Carter Center @ Lena Pope Home, 3200 Sanguinet Street, Fort Worth, Texas. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-21034855820.

  • Corsicana – February 22, 2016

These meetings will be sponsored by Pastors for Texas Children along with the Coalition for Public Schools. The meeting will be conducted as an interactive session.

Location:  First United Methodist Church – 320 N. 15th Street – Corsicana, Texas

6:00 – 7:00 pm

Register at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-21490185724

  • Texarkana – February 24, 2016

This will be a luncheon meeting hosted by the Texarkana Kiwanis Club featuring Pastors for Texas Children and the Coalition for Public Schools. Rev. Charles Johnson will be the featured speaker and Dr. Charles Luke will speak on behalf of the coalition. A follow-up Q&A will be held immediately following the luncheon for interested parties.

Noon – 2 p.m. at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church, 4000 Moores Lane, Texarkana, Texas. Register at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/public-education-meeting-tickets-21032639190.

  • Lubbock – April 27, 2016

This meeting will be sponsored by Lubbock ISD.  The meeting will feature Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock as the keynote speaker, joined by the coalition, Pastors for Texas Children, and Lubbock ISD officials. Location:  TBD  (No registration available at this time).

For more information on any of these events, contact Charles Luke, Ed.D. with the Coalition for Public Schools at (940) 768-8594 or Charlesluke43@gmail.com.

School finance case: ATPE attends Supreme Court hearing

$50,000 more per classroom.

That is how much more the top quarter of school districts have available to spend compared to the bottom quarter of districts. If it is broken down further, it can be shown where the top 10 percent of districts have over $100,000 more to spend per classroom than the lowest 10 percent. This is a glaring disparity, and the children in these classrooms are being presented very different educational experiences. If each school district had access to these funds, it would be money that could be spent on computers, supplies, increasing salaries, or even reducing the exorbitant health insurance premiums school employees are required to pay – all supporting the recruitment and retention of quality educators. Without question, these money-related factors would give schoolchildren greater educational opportunity.

Enter stage right: On Sept. 1, 2015, the Supreme Court of Texas (SCoT) met to hear arguments from parties involved in the four-year-old lawsuit. ATPE attended yesterday’s long-awaited hearing. Six separate parties, as well as the state, presented their arguments before the court. The six parties include four that represent school districts: The Texas Taxpayer and Student Fairness Coalition; the Texas School Coalition; Fort Bend ISD et al; and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF). The other parties include the Texas Charter School Association, which is arguing largely for increased facilities funding, and a group composed of voucher and privatization proponents known as Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education (often referred to as the “efficiency intervenors”). The attorney for the efficiency group argued that additional funding is unneeded, and that instead the court should require lawmakers to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, implement mandatory merit pay (almost certainly based on test scores), and allow public tax dollars to be used for private school vouchers (even though private schools, strangely, are not required by the state to test students at all).

On the other side of the dispute, the school districts won in the lower district court based on their argument that the current school finance system devised by the Texas legislature violates the Texas Constitution on three issues: efficiency, adequacy, and local discretion in setting property taxes. Further, the districts pointed out that during the same time that the STAAR test was being implemented and standards were increasing, legislators made nearly $5.4 billion in budget cuts to public education. Four years later, over 30 percent of districts are still operating on less funding per student than they were in 2011.

There is no timeline for when the SCoT will issue its ruling, and there are a number of possible outcomes, such as affirming the district court decision, overruling the district court, or affirming only some portions of the lower court’s ruling, which has been the case in recent school finance lawsuits. Depending on the timing of the ruling, lawmakers could be forced to return to Austin for a special session or be allowed to address possible judicial orders in 2017 when the Texas legislature is scheduled to meet next.

It may sound a bit dramatic, but the truth of the matter is that the outcome of this court case will determine what the Texas public education system looks like in the foreseeable future. Every child who enters a classroom in our state will be affected by this decision, and we believe that the SCoT justices are acutely aware of this fact.

Also yesterday, Pastors for Texas Children (PTC) filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in the school finance appeal. Like ATPE, the PTC has been a member of the anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools and a longtime advocate for fully funding Texas public education. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter assisted in the crafting of the PTC brief, through which the Texas pastors argue that a state-funded voucher system benefiting private, religious schools would not be more efficient than the current public education system. PTC filed its brief in response to another amicus brief recently filed by the U.S. Pastor Council advocating a private school voucher system as a means of solving the constitutional challenge to the state’s funding system. ATPE appreciates PTC’s efforts to weigh in on behalf of public schools that need greater support from the state. Read a copy of the full PTC brief here.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates on the school finance case.

Video from Coalition for Public Schools legislative symposium

The Coalition for Public Schools (CPS) represents over 30 education, religious, and child advocacy organizations, including the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE). Founded in 1995, CPS advocates for the support of public neighborhood schools while opposing privatization through vouchers and other means.

CPS held a pre-session legislative symposium on Dec. 2, 2014, at the Texas Capitol. The event featured panels of national education researchers and key state advocates discussing the topic of privatization. The event was open to members of the media, legislators and their staffs, education advocates, and the public. Video of the entire event can be viewed in sections using the links below:

  • First panel: Dr. Kevin Welner, Director of the National Education Policy Center; Dr. Julie Fisher Mead, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis, University of Wisconsin – Madison; and Dr. Luis Huerta, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • Second panel: Dr. David Anthony, Raise Your Hand Texas; Leslie Boggs, President, Texas PTA; and Gina Hinojosa, School Board Trustee, Austin ISD
  • Allen Weeks, Save Texas Schools
  • John Kuhn, Superintendent, Perrin-Whitt ISD
  • Steven Aleman, Disability Rights Texas
  • Dr. Charles Luke, CPS Coordinator, speaking on behalf of Rev. Charles Foster Johnson, Pastors for Texas Children