Tag Archives: Commissioner of Education

Senate committee advances campus turnaround proposal, hears variety of bills

Senate Education Committee meeting, April 16, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met Tuesday, April 16, 2019. The committee postponed until April 23 a hearing scheduled for Tuesday on House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance reform bill that the House passed last month. For more on HB 3 and the Senate committee’s anticipated hearing of the bill next week, please see this related post on our blog. Instead of hearing HB 3 today, the committee took testimony on a number of unrelated items and approved several pending bills.

The committee heard testimony Tuesday on SB 784 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), which would add Texas Education Agency (TEA) oversight of human sexuality instruction and require that parents receive notification in advance of when instruction is to be provided, along with a detailed description of the content.

Other bills heard included the following:

SB 722 by Sen. Campbell states that “the board of trustees may not make a severance payment to a superintendent in an amount greater than one year’s salary under the superintendent’s terminated contract.” Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) suggested including charter schools in the bill, and Sen. Campbell indicated she would be willing to work together on such an amendment.

SB 725 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) would remove the Brownsville ISD bracket on an existing low-income pre-K pilot program and expand it to any students who are “educationally disadvantaged” in a district operating an early high school graduation program. Sen. Lucio explained the bill would allow a district to take money saved by a student who graduates in three years instead of four and use it to fund two additional full-day pre-K students.

SB 740 by Sen. Hughes would create a “Texas Public Finance Authority” empowered to loan money to districts no larger than 1,600 students in average daily attendance (ADA).

SB 968 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) would require municipalities to regard charters as school districts for purposes of zoning, permitting, code compliance, and development. The bill would also apply land development standards to charters and would prohibit municipalities, counties, or political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing an ordinance that prohibits a charter school from operation.

SB 1133 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) states that a school district may not have a business interest in an entity or own real property associated with real estate and rental and leasing; arts, entertainment, and recreation; or accommodation and food services — in other words, a water park.

SB 1182 by Sen. Campbell, would add charter language to the approval section of the Texas Public Finance Authority’s bond issuance authority. Sen. Campbell explained this would transfer authority to approve charter bonds from local governments to the state attorney general. Sen. Watson raised questions over how this would cut locally-elected officials out of the loop and whether it would remove discretion.

SB 1454 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would create a mechanism through which TEA could elect to transfer the remaining funds of a defunct charter to another charter holder.

SB 2117 by Sen. Bettencourt, would allow districts that have been granted program charters by their board and have contracted with a charter to jointly operate a campus and receive district-charter funding under last session’s SB 1882.

SB 2285 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would require the TEA committee responsible for reviewing accountability appeals to review challenges by school districts or charters. It would require that the commissioner not limit the challenge if the school district or charter created the inaccuracy and requires that the commissioner correct the rating if the rating assigned was too low.

SB 2293 by Sen. Fallon would make charters subject to the provision of Chapter 617, Government Code, prohibiting collective bargaining and strikes. ATPE supports this bill to create parity between the laws pertaining to charter schools and those that already apply to traditional public schools.

SB 2266 by Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) would give the TEA commissioner authority to consider local charter school saturation in deciding whether to reject an application for a new charter or a charter expansion. ATPE supports this bill.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to approve the following pending bills during Tuesday evening’s hearing:

  • SB 1412 would allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan, which includes paying high performing teachers a premium to work at the struggling campus. The bill includes ongoing support and a three-year commitment from participating teachers, 80 percent of which would be required to come from the top quartile in terms of demonstrating student growth. ATPE submitted neutral testimony that focused on eliminating a vendor contracting requirement from the bill and clarifying that districts may not be required to base their hiring decisions upon test performance of students taught by the educators.
  • SB 351 would include completion of a coherent sequence of career and technology courses to the indicators of achievement under the public school accountability system.
  • SB 426 would ensure that school counselors spend no less than 80 percent of their time on actual counseling, as opposed to unrelated work, such as monitoring tests. ATPE supports this bill. Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • SB 686 would require a personal financial literacy course for high school graduation.
  • SB 712 lists types of behavioral interventions that are prohibited for use with students who receive special education services. This includes such actions as electric shock, suffocation, etc.
  • SB 723 would require a school district to post the superintendent’s annual compensation on its Internet website. Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Burleson) voted against the bill.
  • SB 1297 would require uniform general conditions for school district building construction contracts.
  • SB 1390 would add physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention to the foundation curriculum. The bill includes corresponding guidance to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and school health advisory committees (SHAC) to include risk factors such as alcohol.
  • SB 1746 would add previous incarceration of a student or the student’s parent or guardian to the list of factors qualifying a student as being at risk of dropping out.
  • SB 2075 would move some rulemaking authority from SBOE to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) related to dyslexia screenings, specifically to monitor and develop remedial strategies.
  • SB 2135 would require information shared by law enforcement with a superintendent on student offenses to include whether it is necessary to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to the student.
  • SB 2282 would add mental health to the menu of services that may be provided by a school-based health center. ATPE supports this bill.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 29, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


The Texas House of Representatives debated its budget bill, March 28, 2019.

During a late night floor session on Wednesday, the Texas House unanimously approved a $251 billion state budget billHouse Bill (HB) 1. The bill includes a $9 billion appropriation for improving the state’s school finance system and providing property relief to homeowners. The public education-related funding increases in the House budget would be implemented via HB 3, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) omnibus bill that ATPE supports. The full House is slated to debate HB 3 on the floor next Wednesday, April 3.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to approve its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, in the coming days. During a meeting yesterday, the committee decided to add money to its bill to match the House’s $9 billion funding proposal for public education. The two chambers are likely to disagree, however, on how that money should be spent.

Read more about the House’s big budget vote in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our Teach the Vote blog. We urge ATPE members to use our convenient tools on Advocacy Central to send a message to House members thanking them for their vote on the budget to increase public education funding and urging them all to similarly support HB 3 next week.


ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified before a House committee, March 26, 2019.

This week two important bills affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) advanced in both the House and Senate.

House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which increases contributions to TRS and provides retirees with a 13th check, received a hearing the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services on Tuesday. The bill was left pending in  committee but is expected to be voted out favorably in the near future. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified in favor of HB 9 during the hearing.

Also, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) was voted out of the full Senate by a unanimous vote on Monday. SB 12, which ATPE also supports, raises the contribution rates into TRS, albeit differently from the House’s bill, and provides retirees with a 13th payment, but the payment would be lower. For more information on the differences between the two bills, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), heard a number of bills focused on student discipline issues. ATPE supported bills such as Senate Bill 1451, which prohibits negative action on a teacher’s appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct, and Senate Bill 2432, which would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a student from the classroom. For more information on the bills heard, plus other pending bills that were voted on during this week’s committee hearing, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Meetings of the House Public Education Committee have been known to take on a theme and focus on bills that pertain to the same issue. The theme of this week’s meeting of the committee was school safety. Members of that committee on Tuesday heard 35 bills related to topics in school safety such as school hardening, access to mental health resources, and increased law enforcement on school campuses. ATPE registered a position in support of six bills including House Bill 2994 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would require the Commissioner of Education to develop mental health training material for school districts. A thorough breakdown of the bills heard during this committee meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


FEDERAL UPDATE: On Thursday, March 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sat before the Senate Appropriations Committee to defend President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for the Department of Education. DeVos faced questions on her support for increasing federal funding for school choice while eliminating or decreasing funding aimed at teacher effectiveness, special populations, and loan assistance. Watch more coverage of the hearing here for the full scoop.


ELECTION UPDATE: The 86th Texas Legislative session is more than halfway over, and issues like school finance, teacher pay, and school safety remain key topics. This is a direct result of the tremendous educator turnout during the 2018 elections and proof of the power of democracy – informed and engaged citizens holding their elected officials accountable. Practicing and modeling civic engagement require voting in every election. On May 4, 2019, many Texans will have the chance to vote in local elections for school boards, mayoral seats, bonds, and more. Make sure your voter registration is up to date so you will be able to participate. The last day to register to vote in the May election is April 4. Early voting runs April 22-30, 2019. Visit VoteTexas.gov to learn more about how to register and vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 15, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of education highlights from another busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).

ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.

Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.

 


Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.

 


The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.


Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyLast Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


House Public Education Committee hears hours of testimony on school finance plan, HB 3

On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard over 12 hours of testimony from 116 individuals on the House school finance plan, House Bill (HB) 3. Testifiers ranged from elementary school students to superintendents and teacher associations. There were 187 individuals registered, with 131 for the bill, 46 neutral (including ATPE), and 10 against. Public comment was largely positive, with concerns bubbling to the surface on the teacher merit-based-pay portion of the bill, increased inequity between property wealthy and property poor districts, and the integration of the current gifted and talented allotment into base funding.

Every testimonial began with gratitude for the many aspects of the bill that improve school funding. These include reimbursements for real costs associated with administration of SAT/ACT and certifications for career and technical education (CTE) students, a substantial increase to the basic allotment from $5,140/student to $6,030/student, new dual language and dyslexia weights, the extension of CTE funding to middle school students, increases to early childhood through the early reading allotment, and efforts to target funds to schools serving students in concentrated poverty.

The majority of testimony, including that from parents and children, focused on the bill’s proposal to roll the gifted and talented (G/T) allotment into the basic allotment instead. Currently, G/T students are funded at a 0.12 weight, but district enrollment is capped at 5%. Most, if not all, districts enroll the maximum of 5% of students. Therefore, districts receive the maximum funding for G/T students. By rolling G/T funding into the basic allotment, the base level of funding is raised and all districts still get the money and are still statutorily required to provide the G/T program. Testifiers advocating for G/T expressed concern that districts would no longer implement G/T programs to fidelity without the allotment, even with the ability under HB 3 for G/T funding to be 100% stripped should a district opt not to certify that it is providing a G/T program.

The concern with the merit-based teacher pay portion of the bill was mainly voiced by teacher groups such as ATPE, the Texas- American Federation of Teachers, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, along with a number of teachers who took time to come to Austin to personally express similar disapproval of the inclusion of merit pay in the bill. Testifiers stated that the bill gives the Commissioner of Education (who is un-elected) too much power, assumes that data exists to evaluate all teachers in every subject area, allows for very subjective and potentially biased student surveys to be used for evaluating and ranking teachers, and does not include factors for teachers’ years of experience. Several witnesses told the committee that teachers deserve an across-the-board pay raise before legislators discuss a state framework for differentiated pay, which is similar to but far more acceptable than traditional notions of merit pay. Another area of concern in HB 3, which ATPE noted in our testimony yesterday, is that the bill complicates state laws regarding the minimum salary schedule – creating a new, separate salary schedule for most teachers while keeping counselors, nurses, and librarians on the minimum salary schedule currently found in law – and would allow any school district to simply opt out of using the state’s minimum salary schedule.

The concern over linking teacher pay to student performance metrics, which most see as little more than paying for STAAR scores, is especially concerning amidst ongoing reporting that STAAR has been shown to be unreliable. This spurred discussion from Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who repeatedly argued that the bill does not mandate the use of the STAAR test for the teacher designations and merit-pay outlined in the bill. However, a reading of the bill clearly outlines the criteria for the tests that can be used, as well as the requirement for the commissioner to use comparative state data to create forced rankings of teachers.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on HB 3, echoing many of the same concerns and was able to tease out many of the push-backs from committee members. Exter expressed that although the bill has some very positive qualities in that it manages to provide at least some level of funding increase for almost all districts while also increasing funding for special populations, a nearly herculean task, aspects of HB 3 that promote merit pay tied to testing are not appropriate for stimulating educational improvement. Exter noted for the committee that ATPE members through the member written and adopted legislative program, “oppose the use of student performance, including test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.” As with other witnesses testifying on behalf of teachers yesterday, ATPE’s testimony included the fact that we are aware of no other common metric shared by districts across the state that the commissioner could use to rank teachers for purposes of the proposed merit pay program other than STAAR test results.

In the end, Exter implored the committee not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, noting that the few parts of the bill educators oppose, including merit pay, are not integral to the functioning of the larger bill; if those parts of the bill were removed, Exter tstified, Texas educators could very likely enthusiastically support HB 3. Watch Exter’s full exchange with the committee here beginning at the 5 hour and 24 minute mark. Exter’s testimony was preceded by ATPE member and former Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe. ATPE State Vice president Tonja Gray also testified later in the hearing. View ATPE’s written testimony on HB 3 here.

Other education stakeholders focused their testimony in yesterday’s hearing more on concerns surrounding financial equity. While we won’t get into the weeds about tax effort and the guaranteed yield of different tax rates (and thus, golden and copper pennies), the general sentiment expressed was that HB 3 would increase inequity between property wealthy and property poor districts over time. For much more detailed information on this issue, please see testimony provided by the Equity Center and the Center for Public Policy Priorities on HB 3.

In addition to the tax inequity aspect, small and midsize districts and their representatives argued against moving the small and midsize adjustment, which adjusts the basic allotment to a higher amount to account for diseconomies of scale, to an allotment under HB 3. In current law, the adjustment is applied to the basic allotment before additional  funding weights (compensatory education, bilingual education, special education) are applied for various types of students, adding more money. Under HB 3, the adjustment would be applied to the basic allotment just like any other student weight, which advocates argue would reduce overall funding for specific student populations.

Yesterday’s hearing was likely to be the only opportunity for public comment on this version of HB 3 in the House. Once HB 3 is brought up in the House Public Education Committee again, which we expect to happen next week, it will likely be in the form of a committee substitute (a changed version) and the committee is not required to take additional testimony before voting on the bill. Follow ATPE Lobbyists on Twitter @ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_JenniferM, and @MarkWigginsTX to get up-to-date news on HB 3 as it moves through the legislative process.

House Public Education Committee hears bills and testimony on assessment

On Tuesday, March 6, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard six bills related to testing and the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The committee began by hearing seven panels of invited testimony from superintendents and other district leaders, teachers, Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff, and parents. Their comments generally centered around the reliability of STAAR testing in light of recent articles reporting that reading tests are written at a grade level above that of the students being tested (Texas Monthly, The New York Times, Washington Post, Houston Chronicle). Many issues arose during the rich discussion, including the misalignment between the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) curriculum standards and how the TEKS are tested; the misalignment of expectations between TEA and school districts; the negative impact of testing on students; and the flawed public narrative that inaccurate tests create.

The first panel was composed of superintendents from Alief ISD, Northside ISD, San Marcos ISD, and Granger ISD. The general sentiment among the panelists was that the state should have assessments with appropriately rigorous standards, but make sure they are valid, fair, meaningful, and timely. Additionally, witnesses testified that the tests should undergo rigorous review and field-testing. The danger lies in misalignment between the expectations of test and the expectations of standards, as well as misalignment with other assessments and what teachers know about tests. This results in the STAAR tests creating an inaccurate narrative and in students giving up on their passions.

The second panel included Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, who stated that the STAAR tests were meant to predict post-secondary outcomes. Morath emphasized that National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) outcomes have remained flat or declined over the past decade, and he defended the reliability of the STAAR tests. He did admit that the Texas student population has increased significantly over time and grown progressively poorer. Appearing with Morath were three reading experts, one of whom was from the organization that developed lexile scores, Meta-Metrics. Dr. Sanford-Moore of Meta-Metrics explained that lexiles are based on a computer algorithm and measure language structure based on the number of ideas in a sentence and the vocabulary used.

Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park), and Mary Gonzalez (D- Clint) all made compelling points about the tests. VanDeaver stated, “These are children and not machines. What happens when we reach that level that goes beyond challenging and becomes frustrating and the child shuts down?” Similarly, Meyer shared a story of his fourth-grade daughter, who cried on the way to school the day of the STAAR test and came home defeated. Meyer said, “You call it challenge, I call it frustration.” Gonzalez reiterated her previous comment that it is imperative for the public purpose of the tests to be clear.

This led to a flurry of discussion, bouncing from issue to issue within the educational system, including the A-F accountability grading system; expectations for teachers and district leadership to understand the STAAR test; the use of tests for grade promotion and teacher evaluations; teacher and student stress; curriculum; professional development; and educator preparation. Overall, the range of topics that arose seemed to point to a disconnect between the agency’s expectation of teachers, districts, and students, and the practices and understandings of school districts.

At the four-hour mark of the hearing, the testimony of the third through seventh panels proceeded much more quickly. Another panel of superintendents from Comal ISD, Wylie ISD, and Frisco ISD testified that they used multiple interim assessments and instructional quality improvements to perform well on the STAAR. Additionally, Dr. Mike Waldrip of Frisco ISD said that the timing of the STAAR test at the end of the year wasn’t particularly useful for making preparations for the next year. A fourth panel composed of district leaders in literacy and learning expressed a key takeaway: that there is a disconnect between the reading level of instruction using the TEKS versus the reading level of assessment. The fifth panel, composed of teachers and an interventionist, was deemed the best panel of the day by Rep. Dr. Alma Allen (D-Houston), a long-time member of the committee who is also an educator. Notably affecting the committee members, one of the panelists announced that the time elapsed in the hearing was about the same amount of time students sit for a STAAR test. This panel also spoke to the needs of students and teachers in having the appropriate tools to provide relevant and effective instruction so that students can succeed on state tests. The sixth and seventh panels, which included other district leaders, parents, and stakeholders echoed much of the sentiments in of the previous panels, such as the negative impact of testing on students.

After nearly six hours of testimony from the invited panelists, who provided invaluable insights on the reliability, validity, and usefulness of testing to the state’s educational system, the committee turned its attention to hearing the bills posted on the agenda.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testifies in the House Public Education Committee, March 5, 2019.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified neutrally on House Bill (HB) 671 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian). HB 671 would eliminate end-of-course (EOC) examinations and replace them with a school district’s choice of  either the TSI or a nationally recognized, norm-referenced assessment such as ACT or SAT, to be administered in grade 11. Under the bill, the commissioner would contract with a vendor to administer the assessment. HB 671 also mandates that each district require students to attend a preparation course to succeed on the test and defines college readiness. Chevalier expressed that while ATPE supports the reduction in mandated state tests, we want to ensure that any test used to replace the STAAR is both appropriate as an input into the state accountability system and provides the appropriate accommodations for students receiving special education services, students under a 504 plan, and English language learners.

ATPE registered positions in support of the following bills:

  • HB 525 (Tinderholt, R-Arlington): Would limit the required assessments to just mathematics, reading, and science (eliminating writing, social studies, English II, and US History tests)
  • HB 851 (Huberty, R- Kingwood): Would eliminate the September 1, 2019 expiration date of the law authorizing Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs)
  • HB 1480 (VanDeaver, R- New Boston): Would create an accelerated learning committee (ALC) for students who do not perform satisfactorily on third, fifth, or eighth grade reading or math assessments. Also would allow accelerated instruction to be provided to the student in the following year. The ALC would develop an educational plan for the student, provide assistance to student, and perform additional duties if the student doesn’t meet the standard for a second time after accelerated instruction. HB 1480 would also eliminate the requirement that assessments are used for promotion. The bill would eliminate social studies and US History assessments and require the commissioner to gather input from districts on an assessment schedule that minimizes disruption and maximizes instruction time.

Other bills heard in committee were:

  • HB 843 (Springer, R-Gainesville): Would allow for the inclusion of optional post-secondary readiness assessments in Algebra II and English III in the accountability system under the student achievement domain
  • HB 1244  (Ashby, R- Lufkin): Would eliminate the US History EOC and create an electronic civics test as a requirement for graduation, which would contain all questions on the U.S. Citizenship test in a multiple-choice format.

The House Public Education Committee plans to meet again next week. On Tuesday, March 12, the committee will to hear Chairman Huberty’s comprehensive school finance reform bill, HB 3, filed earlier this week. Chairman Huberty also said he expects HB 3 to reach the House floor by the first week of April. Over half the members of the Texas House have already signed on as co-authors for HB 3. The committee also expects to meet next Wednesday to hear other bills. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates.

Major Texas education groups agree on charter school policy agenda

This month, 15 major education groups in Texas agreed on a policy agenda for charter schools.

The groups include the Association of Texas Professional Educators (ATPE), the Texas State Teachers Association, the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the Texas Association of School Boards, the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association, the Coalition for Education Funding, Pastors for Texas Children, Raise Your Hand Texas, the Fast Growth School Coalition, the Texas Association of Community Schools, the Texas Association of Midsize Schools, the Texas School Alliance, and the Intercultural Development and Research Association.

In Texas, 5.5% of students attend charter schools yet they receive 10% of state funding for education. Because charters cannot levy taxes, charter schools are 100% funded by the state. Each charter school student generates the sum of the statewide average adjusted allotment (basic allotment adjusted using various weights for special populations and circumstances) and the statewide average property tax revenue across school districts. Last session, charters gained access for the first time to $60 million in facilities funding, or about $200 per student.

While charters are subject to the same accountability as traditional school districts, there are many differences in how charters operate. Texas law allows charters to accept and expel students based on academics and discipline, to employ non-certified teachers, and to choose whether or not to employ any counselors or school nurses. Additionally, the majority of charter expansion is under the charter amendment process, which allows for uninhibited growth of charter schools.

The joint policy agenda of the groups listed above focuses on increasing the transparency and efficiency of charter schools through seven recommendations for lawmakers:

  1. Allow for public transparency and input before any new charter amendments are approved in a certain community.
  2. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) should consider creating a standard charter application process and maintain an accurate charter school wait list to correctly document the number of unique students desiring charter admission.
  3. Charters should not be able to admit and expel students based on academics and discipline, as this creates inequality between charters and traditional school districts despite the fact that both receive public funds and are expected to educate all students.
  4. The Commissioner of Education should adopt procedures to analyze and report on the expected fiscal, academic, and program impact of each new charter school in order to maintain efficiency of the entire public school system.
  5. Since charters receive nearly $3 billion in public funds each year, they should publicly disclose their financial dealings, including leases, mortgages, contracts, and bond debt.
  6. Parents need to make informed decisions about where to enroll their children and should therefore have access to information on each charter school’s website such as student rates of expulsion, teacher certification and attrition rates, and the percentage of special education students.
  7. Charters received an estimated $882 million more than the school districts in which they reside during the last biennium. It is important to equalize this funding and require charters to pay into the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) just as districts do in order to create parity.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 8, 2019

Here’s your chilly edition of this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


Andrea Chevalier

ATPE is excited to welcome Andrea Chevalier, the newest lobbyist to join our Governmental Relations team.

Andrea joins us most recently from the office of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), where she served as Legislative Director and oversaw a host of issues, including public education. She is also a former classroom teacher with experience working in both the traditional public school and charter school environments. Andrea attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied chemistry; earned her Masters of Education in Secondary Education at the University of North Texas; and is currently working on completing her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT.

Andrea will be lobbying and reporting on a variety of issues being debated by the legislature this session, working closely with the House Public Education Committee, and covering educator quality regulations considered by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Watch for her blog posts here on Teach the Vote and follow her on Twitter at @ATPE_AndreaC.

 


On Tuesday, Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed a joint session of the 86th Legislature, delivering his traditional “State of the State” address. He outlined his legislative priorities for the session, punctuated by the declaration of six issues as emergency items that would warrant expedited action by lawmakers. All six of the issues bear close ties to public education, including most notably school finance, school safety, and teacher pay. Abbott’s declaration of these school-related emergency issues is a testament to the impact of the 2018 election cycle in which the Texas public education community was much more noticeably vocal and active. Tuesday was also the day for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address. That speech, which had been postponed due to the recent federal government shutdown, contained far less education-related content. Read more about both the State of the State and State of the Union speeches in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee public education policy issues in Texas have begun holding regular meetings and hearing testimony. The Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the legislative session this week, receiving an overview presentation by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The committee also learned about the status of special education programs in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this detailed summary for Teach the Vote.

The House Public Education Committee, which began its work a little earlier this session, held two meetings this week, both heavily focused on the topic of school finance. The committee similarly heard from Commissioner Morath, along with members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about those hearings in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee is slated for two more meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the agenda will include testimony by stakeholders about school finance and the recommendations of the commission that studied the issue last year. ATPE has been invited to testify on Wednesday, and we’ll provide details next week here on our blog and on @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

 


On Monday of this week, the House Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittees that will work on various sections of the state budget. Committee members were also briefed by staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided an in-depth report here for our blog. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee has also been holding several meetings to review the draft budget. Next week, Senate Finance committee members turn their attention to Article III, which contains the education budget. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter will be there for those meetings starting Monday and will provide updates next week for Teach the Vote.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s House District 125 will head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new state representative. Early voting has taken place this week for the special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez, after he resigned to serve as Bexar County Commissioner. The five candidates vying for the HD 125 seat are Steve Huerta (D)Ray Lopez (D)Fred Rangel (R)Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Art Reyna (D).

There also remains a vacancy in Houston’s HD 145, where Democrats Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales have advanced to a runoff in that special election. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced, but is likely to be held in March. Read more about the two runoff candidates in this article from the Houston Chronicle.

 


 

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 1, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators and SBOE members gathered for the board’s swearing-in ceremony, Jan. 28, 2019.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) held its first meetings of the new year this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meetings and provided updates for our blog.

Things kicked off on Monday when all members of the board, both newly elected and re-elected, were sworn in by Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Members of the board adopted operating rules for the body, discussed the board’s authority in relation to charter schools, and also approved committee assignments and officer elections,  including naming Marty Rowley (R) of Amarillo as Vice Chair and Georgina Perez (D) of El Paso as Secretary of the board. Additional committee assignments and chair appointments can be viewed in this blog post from Wiggins.

On Tuesday, the board was briefed by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on the “State of the State of Public Education” annual report. Morath also discussed the creation of curriculum guides by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), educator compensation, and other topics as noted in this blog post. Wednesday, the board participated in a learning roundtable at the Austin Convention Center where it discussed its Long-Range Plan for Public Education, a list of goals and recommendations to improve public schools by 2030.

Lastly, the SBOE ended its meetings by unveiling today the new logo for the Permanent School Fund, which was designed by Melissa Richardson of Dripping Springs High School as part of a contest. The board will meet again on April 2-5, 2019.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: El Paso residents turned out on Tuesday to elect a new state representative for Texas House District 79. El Paso Community College Chairman, Art Fierro, won the House seat with 53% of the votes in the special election. Fierro will be completing the term of former Rep. Joe Pickett who resigned recently due to health complications. Fierro’s term will expire in 2021. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Fierro and looks forward to working with him.

Meanwhile, some Houstonians will still have to wait in order to find out who will be replacing former Rep. Carol Alvarado, who vacated her House seat in District 145 order to run successfully for the Texas State Senate in another special election for Senate District 6. As for the new representative for House District 145, the race has been narrowed down to two Democratic candidates, Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced.

Lastly, one more seat in the Texas House remains vacant, that of San Antonio Democrat Justin Rodriguez who vacated his seat to run for (and get elected) Bexar County commissioner. Early voting for the House District 125 special election begins Monday with the election being held on Feb. 12. View profiles of the special election candidates on Teach the Vote, and read more about each race in this article by The Texas Tribune.

 


Earlier today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its accreditation statuses for Texas public schools for the 2018-19 school year. The statuses based on academic accountability ratings and the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (also known as School FIRST) recognize schools and districts that meet certain academic and financial benchmarks. According to TEA, 99% of Texas schools were designated as accredited for the 2018-19 year. More information can be found in this press release from the agency.

 


House Committee on Public Education

The House Public Education Committee convened its first meeting of the regular session this week. Led by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who is serving his third term as chair, the committee heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff about issues such as STAAR testing, educator certification, and TEA’s Special Education Strategic Plan. The committee will reconvene several times over the next two weeks to hear invited testimony from members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and other stakeholders regarding the commission’s recommendations for school finance reform. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended this week’s first hearing.

 


The House Appropriations Committee also began meeting this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the first few meetings and provided this update. After opening remarks from Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), including some gentle ribbing about punctuality that will likely turn into a session long running joke, the committee heard from what is likely the last stop on the Comptroller’s biennial revenue estimate tour. The committee also received from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) some high-level budget numbers, including  on public education and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). The committee is scheduled to hear more in-depth testimony on TRS, school safety, and school finance on Monday, Feb. 4. Most of the truly in-depth work on the initial House budget bill is done by subcommittees, including an Article III subcommittee that reviews the education portion of the budget. The members of those subcommittees are determined by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and will likely be named next week.

The Senate Finance Committee also continued to meet this week but on areas other than public education. The Senate committee will turn its attention to education funding later this month, and ATPE’s lobby team will provide updates here on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 25, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen released his chamber’s committee assignments for the 86th legislature. Speaker Bonnen assigned chairmanships to Republicans and Democrats alike with each party having a number of chairmanships roughly proportionate to its representation in the House, which is contrast to the Senate where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed only a single Democrat to chair a committee. Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) will continue to chair the House Committee on Public Education with Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) again serving as Vice-Chair. A full list of House committee assignments can be found here. View Senate committee assignments as previously reported on Teach the Vote here.

Meanwhile, there remain three vacancies in the House pending upcoming special elections. Voters in House Districts 79 and 145 will elect a new state representative (unless there is a need for a runoff) during a special election on Tuesday, Jan. 29. ATPE encourages educators in El Paso and Houston to visit the Candidates page on Teach the Vote to view the candidates who are vying for election in those two districts. A special election will take place to fill the third vacancy in San Antonio’s House District 125 on Feb. 12, 2019.

 


Earlier this week the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the recipients of Cycle 2 of the agency’s Grow Your Own grant period. An initiative created as a result of Commissioner of Education Mike Morath’s 2016 Texas Rural Schools Task Force, the Grow Your Own grant program was designed to help school districts inspire high school students to pursue careers as classroom teachers, certified paraprofessionals, or teacher aides.

Research shows that 60 percent of educators in the United States teach within 20 miles of where they went to high school,” said Commissioner Morath. “Because we know our future teachers are currently in our high schools, the goal of Grow Your Own is to help increase the quality and diversity of our teaching force and to better support our paraprofessionals, teacher’s aides and educators, especially in small and rural districts.”

Thirty-six school districts and educator preparation programs were selected for Cycle 2 of the program: Bob Hope School (Port Arthur), Bridge City ISD, Brooks County ISD, Castleberry ISD, Del Valle ISD, Elgin ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Fort Hancock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Hillsboro ISD, La Vega ISD, Lancaster ISD, Laredo ISD, Longview ISD, Marble Falls ISD, Mineola ISD, Muleshoe ISD, New Caney ISD, Palestine ISD, Presidio ISD, Region 20 Education Service Center, Relay Graduate School of Education, Rosebud-Lott ISD, Sabinal ISD, Somerset ISD, Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University- Commerce, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, Vidor ISD, Waxahachie Faith Family Academy, West Texas A&M University, Westwood ISD, and Woodville ISD.

The full press release from TEA can be found here.


Two congressmen from Texas will be serving on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee for the 116th Congress.

Both Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX 20) and Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX 03) will be serving on the committee, which has gone several years without a Texas member among its ranks. In press releases published earlier this week, both Castro and Taylor spoke of their commitment to finding bipartisan solutions to challenges faced by America’s education system and workforce. ATPE congratulates Congressmen Castro and Taylor on their appointments and looks forward to working with them in Washington on federal education issues.

 


With the legislative session underway and committees in place, we’re beginning to see a busy calendar of upcoming hearings, which ATPE’s lobby team will be participating in and reporting on throughout the session for Teach the Vote. State agencies and boards also have upcoming meetings of interest to education stakeholders, and we’re your go-to source for updates on any developments.

Next week, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will hold its first meeting of the new year starting Monday in Austin, where new members will be officially sworn in. Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood), Pam Little (R-Fairview), and Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) are joining the board following the 2018 election cycle. The board will also elect a vice-chair and secretary and announce the chairs of its three standing committees: School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

SBOE members will host a learning roundtable Wednesday at the Austin Convention Center that will focus on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, which the board released at the end of 2018.

Rep. Dan Huberty

Also on Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee will hold its first meeting of the 86th legislative session. The committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), is expected to consider major bills related to school finance and teacher pay this session. Wednesday’s meeting will feature invited testimony from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

 


The Senate Finance Committee began its work on the state budget this week with its chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) introducing Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Senate’s version of the budget. The budget is broken down into several different articles that represent different policy areas. Article III, which includes TEA, the Foundation School Program, and TRS, as well as higher education funding, is set to be discussed the week of Feb. 11.

In addition to SB 1, the Senate Finance committee also laid out SB 500, the Senate’s supplemental appropriations bill. SB 500 includes approximately $2.5 billion in proposed funding from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), or Rainy Day fund. With about $1 billion of that money going to Hurricane Harvey relief, the bill includes a substantial amount for affected school districts. Another $300 million has been slated toward the TRS pension fund.

The House Committee on Appropriations was also named this week and will begin its work right away, including naming the members of the subcommittee that will oversee the portion of the budget dedicated to education for the House. Initial hearings are slated for next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from ATPE’s lobbyists as various budget-related proposals move through the legislative process.