Tag Archives: Commissioner of Education

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 27, 2020

Educators worked tirelessly this week to prepare distance learning materials for students, collaborate in virtual meetings with colleagues, and even pass out meals. As you press on into “pandemic-mode” learning, check out the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


Gov. Abbott gives a COVID-19 update, March 26, 2020.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR assessments and issued an executive order to close Texas schools through April 3, 2020, hoping to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Parents and districts await further guidance from the state as to whether school closures will be extended beyond this date. Both Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath have indicated there is a possibility of extended school closure (as some other states have done), but they are waiting to see how the situation unfolds.

Guidance for school districts regarding closure decisions beyond April 3, plus information to assist in the continuation of instruction can be found on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) coronavirus resource page. TEA’s frequently-updated resource page also includes guidance and FAQs on numerous issues such as special education, staffing, grading, and assessment. The agency added to its site this week updated guidelines on SPED and special populations, assessments, Individual Graduation Committees, funding, instructional continuity, sample notifications of infected students or staff, educator evaluations, contract nonrenewals, reading academies, and more. You’ll also find on the TEA resources page a link to the new “meal finder” tool that helps parents find the locations of meals as provided by school districts. In related news, Texas has also secured flexibility this week from the federal government to enable parents to pick up meals without their children being present in the vehicle.

On the federal front, President Donald Trump last week signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which included school meal service flexibility and paid family/sick leave. This week, a third coronavirus relief bill has been passed by the U.S. House and Senate and signed by the president late this afternoon. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act contains $13.5 billion in funding for K-12 education, plus additional amounts for child nutrition, and child care; temporary deferment on payments and interest for federal student loans; and authorization for the U.S. Secretary of Education to waive numerous testing, accountability, and funding mandates. The $2 trillion bill was passed unanimously by the Senate on Wednesday, and the House approved it today by a rare voice vote.

The CARES Act will impact education in terms of finance and support, as well as in terms of workforce and labor as it provides benefits that could directly or indirectly benefit educators. This includes a one-time cash rebate payment of $1,200 to each individual earning below $75,000 per year and $500 per child for families that earn under $150,000 per year. Individuals earning up to $99,000 and families earning up to $198,000 will be eligible for smaller payments. This calculation will be based on your 2019 tax return, if you have already filed it; otherwise it will be based on your 2018 tax return. Individuals earning Social Security benefits and/or government pensions are also eligible. The Washington Post has created a calculator to estimate your rebate amount. Read more about the rebate checks, which federal officials have said they hope to distribute within three weeks, here. The CARES Act also provides approximately $260 billion for enhanced unemployment benefits.

While the CARES Act passed by Congress today addresses education-related waivers, states including Texas have already been applying for waivers of federal testing requirements, which we’ve reported previously on Teach the Vote. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos indicated last week that waivers of federal testing requirements will be granted following a “proper request” from states. DeVos is expected to appear this evening at a White House briefing on the coronavirus response. As always, ATPE’s lobby team will be monitoring the press briefing and sharing pertinent updates via Twitter.

For the latest pandemic-related news and as a complement to TEA’s resources, we encourage you to visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page. The frequently updated resource offers expert answers and guidance for Texas educators during this unique time. Also, watch for updates from the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter account as more regulatory developments occur.

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ELECTION UPDATE: Election dates are being pushed later into the year amid fears that the coronavirus risks make voting unsafe. Last week, Gov. Abbott announced local governments, such as city councils and school districts, may postpone their May 2 local elections until November 3, 2020. Multiple school districts are taking advantage of this change, while others are choosing to stick with their May election date for now. These municipal elections are separate from the Texas primary runoff elections, which will now be held on July 14, 2020 instead of May 26, 2020.

Voting in the Texas presidential primaries seems like ages ago, but not everything has come to a stop. Some states are still conducting primaries, which means presidential candidates are still accruing delegates. Other states are delaying primaries into the summer. While campaign tactics may have changed, there are still many candidates at all levels of government who are hanging in the balance as we wait for the pandemic to be behind us.

For more news on campaigns and elections in Texas and the nation, visit yesterday’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus threat unsurprisingly are affecting the outreach efforts related to the 2020 U.S. Census. As of yesterday, the census response rate in Texas was 24%, compared to the national response rate of 28%.

Most responses in Texas have been completed online, which is good and bad. On one hand, the new modality of online completion is perfect for busy lives (and pandemics). On the other hand, Texas has WIDE swaths of areas with limited or no internet access (as indicated by all non-purple areas in the map above). Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed the U.S. Census Bureau to delay its timeline by two weeks, which means census workers will have to traverse the Texas heat to hand-deliver census packets in these areas. Texas historically has lower response rates than the rest of the nation because of our vast expanses of (beautiful) land and hard-to-count populations. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education.

For FAQs on the 2020 Census, check out this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


SEL Competencies from casel.org

Today is International Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Day. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Research shows that incorporating these core SEL competencies into schools can lead to significant increases in academic achievement, post-graduation outcomes, and improved behavior and attitude.

Visit selday.org for more information and resources and check out these resources from Inside SEL for parents, educators, and school communities on implementing SEL strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out this video from Edutopia for a quick overview of SEL and its benefits!

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 13, 2020

School closures, election news, the census, how to wash your hands – many important topics are circulating right now. Rest assured, the ATPE Governmental Relations team has your education news update.


The ever-developing impacts of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 have left many educators feeling uncertain. To help you navigate these uncharted waters, ATPE has a new FAQ page to answer your questions, including information about districts’ ability to keep staff at home and how to deal with students who may be infected. As developments occur, check ATPE’s FAQ page frequently and watch for updates here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter account.

Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency due to the effects of the novel coronavirus on March 13, 2020.

During a midday news conference today, Gov. Greg Abbott declared a state of emergency in response to the crisis. As the number of confirmed cases in Texas continues a slow rise, many schools are implementing extended spring breaks, investigating options for online instruction, cleaning facilities, and taking other preventive measures. Some experts recommend proactive school closures to stem the spread of the virus, but recommendations have been mixed and local districts are making their own decisions.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has increasingly been in the spotlight as districts seek guidance on how to respond to the virus. In his Texas Tribune interview last Friday and in his testimony to the House Public Health committee (see 1:40:00) this week, Morath erred on the side of “local control,” leaving it up to districts to coordinate with local health authorities on how best to serve students. The commissioner added that low attendance waiver policies remain in effect and other measures could be taken to address low attendance should Gov. Abbott declares a state of public health disaster, which he did today at the press conference that Commissioner Morath also attended. Some are already urging the state to consider testing waivers, too, with STAAR assessments looming. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has set up a landing page with resources, including the latest guidance for districts that provides specific information regarding district decision-making and communication; funding questions; potential attendance waivers; special populations, and online learning.

Commissioner Mike Morath testifies before the House Public Health committee, March 10, 2020.

In addition to concerns about childcare, missed instruction and testing, and how to pay teachers, one of the biggest questions facing schools is how to feed children who rely on their schools for nutrition. As noted by Gov. Abbott during his press conference today, the state is also seeking federal waivers to help schools continue to provide meals to students who need them, even in the event of an extended closure. According to reporting by the Texas Tribune, some school districts are considering paying hourly employees to pass out food for students at a central location while others are considering options similar to food operations during the summer. Some districts already have begun operating mobile meal delivery stations for students. Another concern in light of anticipated school closures is the number of households that do not have the Internet access that would facilitate online instruction. According to Gov. Abbott, at least one private Internet provider is waiving fees to help its customers obtain access.

Elsewhere, TRS announced they are no longer taking walk-in appointments to their Austin headquarters, and numerous state legislative hearings and state capitol meetings have been postponed in an abundance of caution. In Washington, D.C., President Donald Trump also held a press conference this afternoon to make a national emergency declaration, which provides additional resources for states. Flanked by executives of companies such as Walgreens and Walmart, the administration announced plans to launch a screening website and new testing resources facilitated by the private retailers. Pres. Trump also said there would be a temporary waiver of interest on student loans during the crisis. Congressional leaders are also working to negotiate legislation could potentially provide relief in the form of sick leave, tax cuts, and aid to schools.

ATPE issued a press statement today and will continue to update our online resources as additional information about dealing with COVID-19 becomes available to us.


ELECTION UPDATE: Even if you didn’t vote in the March primary election, you may still be able to vote in a runoff on May 26, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in a primary election runoff is April 27, and early voting will begin May 18. Learn more about who is on the ballot and the rules regarding eligibility to vote in a runoff in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Election news continues to come out this week. Check out updates from the campaign trail here, including some big endorsements and a new Central Texas race shaping up to succeed state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). With Sen. Watson resigning next month to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick this week appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to fill his seats on the Senate Education and Senate Higher Education committees. These are committee posts Sen. Zaffirini held previously. She has taught at the higher education level and is a former chairperson of the Senate Higher Education committee.

As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


Money matters graphic from Villanueva’s CPPP report on HB 3

The Center for Public Policy Priorities (CPPP) released a new report this week analyzing House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance bill passed during the 2019 legislative session. The report written by Chandra Villanueva, CPPP’s Economic Opportunity Program Director, is entitled, “There’s a new school finance law in Texas… now what?” Villanueva’s report lauds the successes of HB 3, such as increased streams of funding for dual language, college and career readiness, and early education, but she argues there are aspects of the bill that could be improved to enhance equity. Villanueva stresses throughout the report that the legislature’s focus on reducing property tax collections and recapture while increasing funding commitments to school districts may hamstring future legislatures from being able to adequately fund schools. By highlighting the lack of new revenue sources to help Texas appropriators fill the gaps, the report reflects the apprehensions many educators feel about the sustainability of HB 3. The report also makes several useful policy recommendations, including full-day pre-K funding and regular adjustment of the basic allotment for inflation (which would trigger regular teacher pay raises).


In late 2019, the Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM conducted a State of Teaching Survey of more than 5,000 teachers around the world. The study highlighted several findings that likely resonate with all teachers. First, teachers feel overwhelmed, undervalued, and believe they are not treated as professionals. Teachers work long hours, take work home, pay for supplies out-of-pocket, and don’t feel they have the resources (including administrator support) to adequately address factors such as student behavior. Second, and on the positive side, teachers do feel they have access to curriculum, planning time, and professional learning resources. Lastly, the role of social media is rapidly evolving as teachers increasingly rely on resources such as Teachers Pay Teachers and Pinterest for curriculum and professional learning. These findings underscore the importance of continuing to advocate for supportive working conditions in schools, adequate pay and benefits, and opportunities for collaboration and creativity among teachers.


Checked your mail lately? By April 1, households across America will receive an invitation to complete the 2020 Census. The census, conducted once every 10 years, counts EVERY person living in the United States. Getting a complete count will help to ensure Texans have fair representation in our state legislature and in Washington, D.C. Plus, census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education! Your response to the census is just as crucial as helping to spread the word to others. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


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

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



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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 14, 2020

While you’re enjoying conversation hearts and sweet notes on this Valentine’s Day, enjoy this week’s Texas education news.

XOXO, from your ATPE Governmental Relations team!


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary begins in just FOUR days!

Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

Races all over the state are heating up and drawing endorsements. Texas Parent PAC this week released a list of 10 endorsements of pro-public education candidates in contested primaries. Read the entire list and other election news in this week’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Educators face an incredibly important decision in this primary election cycle. The additional funding for schools and educator compensation provided by last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 could easily be taken away in 2021 if educators don’t show up to the polls and vote for pro-public education candidates like they did in 2018. We’re already seeing a renewal of attacks on public schools and educators. It’s important to know your rights when it comes to being an educator and a voter, and this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell offers helpful reminders about rules educators should follow during elections.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and more. Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know that it’s not too late! Contact ATPE’s GR team for additional details.

There are still some upcoming “For the Future” candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here to find out if there’s an event in your area where you can meet the candidates and hear more about their views on public education. For other resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Finally, be sure to check out the latest issue of ATPE News, our quarterly magazine. The brand new Spring 2020 issue features additional election-related coverage to help you navigate the 2020 primaries.


FEDERAL UPDATE: Earlier this week, President Trump released his budget proposal for 2021. The education portion of the proposal includes plans to consolidate 29 federal education programs, including funding for charter schools and Title I, into a single block grant. While reducing overall funding for the U.S. Department of Education, the plan would increase funding by nearly the same amount in order to pour billions of dollars into a private school voucher program. Read more about the budget proposal in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

In other news this week, the federal government introduced SchoolSafety.gov, which is a new clearinghouse for school safety resources. This bank of resources, meant to aid in all stages of emergency situations, was a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The website houses a variety of resources relating to bullying, mental health, school security personnel, school climate, action planning, and recovery, among others.


On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott charged the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative with building upon the reforms in House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature to work towards long-term workforce development in Texas. Gov. Abbott created the initiative in 2016 to help develop links between education and the workforce, with the goal of “helping Texas grow in economic prosperity.” The commissioners of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission who make up the tri-agency initiative submitted a February 2020 report on their progress, which you can read here. According to the governor’s press release issued February 13, 2020, the three agencies will collaborate on a report showcasing strategies to achieve multiple educational and workforce goals. The report will be due to the governor by September 1, 2020. Check out a short summary of the initiative here.


Gary Gates, Lorraine Birabil, and Anna Eastman were sworn in Tuesday as new state representatives for Texas House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. The swearing-in ceremony for Gates and Birabil took place at the Texas State Capitol, while Eastman was sworn in at Waltrip High School in Houston. Elected to replace state representatives who resigned in late 2019, these newly minted legislators will serve up to the start of the 2021 legislative session. All three are on the ballot in 2020, vying for the same House seat to begin a full term in 2021.


A recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center reflects that likely voters “love” their public schools and oppose public funding of for-profit charters and private schools. Sixty-four percent of the poll respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, with eight in 10 supporting an increase even if it meant an increase in taxes. Seventy-three percent do not want to send public dollars to private, religious, and home schools. Sixty-five percent agree that charter schools need oversight by local school boards and 80% are favorable to teachers in their community. Find the full poll results and a press release here.


ATPE advocacy never stops. Get involved outside the legislative session.

When people think about public education advocacy, many naturally think about the legislature and the 140-day legislative session that occurs every two years. To be sure there is a lot of action during session, but there are also plenty of ways for public education advocates, including ATPE’s professional lobby team and members of the general public who care about the issue, to stay engaged outside of a legislative session.

Two primary areas of engagement during the interim are interacting with state regulatory boards and agencies and following interim charges to legislative committees.

Boards and agencies, such as the State Board of Education or the Teacher Retirement System, do the day-to-day work of implementing the laws enacted by the state legislature. This work happens year-round and these entities have a huge impact on shaping the law through their interpretation and implementation of it. Stakeholders can share their input with boards and agencies through administrative rulemaking processes and at public meetings.

State board and agency rules are contained in the Texas Administrative Code. Each week, proposed and newly adopted rules are published in the Texas Register through the Secretary of State’s office. Both resources are available to the public.

For example, just this week ATPE submitted comments on multiple administrative rules.

  • ATPE formally commented on proposed changes to commissioner’s rules governing school district-charter partnerships under Senate Bill 1882 of 2017.
  • We joined with the Texas Association of Future Educators in recommending rule revisions by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that could benefit high school students who are interested in careers in the classroom.
  • ATPE also shared concerns about SBEC rules relating to master teacher certificates that are slated to be eliminated as a result of 2019’s House Bill 3 (2019).

In addition, we attended this week’s State Board of Education meetings, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has reported on here and here for Teach the Vote. These are examples of advocacy efforts that, while related to actions taken by the legislature, take place in entirely different arenas. Rulemaking happens at the federal level, too. Through our Washington, DC-based lobby team, we are able similarly to stay on top of federal regulatory actions that might affect ATPE members.

Legislative committees have also begun conducting interim hearings that will continue to ramp up over the summer. These hearings give lawmakers an opportunity to monitor the implementation of recent legislation and to discuss the House interim charges and Senate interim charges. Public testimony is often allowed at these meetings, and committees may also invite expert witnesses to sit on panels or speak about an issue. Interim charges, and the hearings at which they are discussed, often provide the basis for major legislation in the upcoming legislative session. Becoming involved in the shaping of bills before they are ever filed puts savvy advocates way ahead of the game.

ATPE will engage in these and many other advocacy opportunities throughout the interim on behalf of our 100,000 members, and we encourage educators and others who care about public education to do the same. Take the time to share your input with decision-makers during this important, sometimes overlooked advocacy period. ATPE advocacy never stops!

Commissioner presents SBOE with annual report

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

Texas SBOE meeting, Jan. 28, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Compensation, testing, and TRS top issues in ATPE’s “Your Voice” survey

From November 2019 through early January 2020, ATPE members had the opportunity to take a short, three-question survey through Advocacy Central. Powered by a service called Voter Voice, Advocacy Central is a tool that ATPE members can use to be active advocates for Texas education policy.

Respondents were asked to choose their three top education policy issues from a comprehensive list. These issues were ranked most important by survey respondents:

#1 – Educator Compensation and Benefits

#2 – TIE: Standardized Testing / Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

In this blog post, we dive deeper into each of these issues, highlighting recent legislative actions and policy considerations. Then we’ll look at what’s next and pinpoint specific ways that educators can actively influence the treatment of these issues in the future.

Educator Compensation and Benefits

The issue of teacher pay skyrocketed as a priority among Texas legislators and state leaders after educators hit the polls in 2018 – from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick including teacher pay raises in his campaign messaging, to Governor Greg Abbott declaring teacher pay an emergency item, to a non-negotiable inclusion of teacher pay into school funding proposals. Teacher pay is obviously a major factor in the state’s ability to recruit and retain a high-quality teaching workforce. Also, with healthcare costs on the rise, educators’ take-home pay has a direct influence on their health and wellness, which impacts productivity and absenteeism along with costs to the employer.

Due to its far-reaching importance in the short- and long-term, increasing educator compensation has been an ATPE legislative priority. In the 2019 legislative session, the ATPE lobby team advocated for compensation plans that included educator input, meaningful factors other than students’ standardized test scores, and alignment with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the major school funding proposal passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2019, did several things that impact educator compensation and benefits. The bill made it possible for many school districts to access substantial additional funding, such as through allotments for mentoring and incentive pay for teachers,  money for extending the school year, and an increase in the basic allotment to facilitate pay increases for classroom teachers and other full-time employees in non-administrator roles. HB 3 also raised the state’s minimum salary schedule (MSS) for teachers and other certified educators, up to $5,500 to $9,000 per year of service. This change to the MSS lifted the base pay for many educators, provided raises for some, and increased the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

As it stands, most (but not all) Texas public school teachers received a pay raise due to increased school funding under HB 3. The bill mandated that districts use 30% of their state funding increase on compensation, with a special priority for teachers with more than five years of experience. The jury is still out on what those raises looked like across the state and whether teachers feel positively impacted by their raise, if any. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is expected to begin gathering data from districts on compensation with a report to legislators in March of 2020. See what some districts have done for their teacher raises in this blog post from our “New School Year, New Laws” series.

HB 3 also included the “teacher incentive allotment” (TIA), which began as strictly merit pay but was eventually modified to specifically prohibit school districts from being required to use standardized tests to evaluate teachers for purposes of this funding. For districts that are ultimately approved to participate in the TIA, they must create local designation systems that will allow for additional state funding ranging from $3,000 to $32,000. The additional funding from this allotment flows to the district, not directly to the teacher, and is based on the number of teachers in the district who receive certain designations as determined by the district (Master, Exemplary, or Recognized) and where those teachers teach (high-needs or rural campuses draw down more dollars). TEA recently released correspondence to districts regarding their TIA applications to the agency. Some districts that already have incentive programs in place, like Dallas ISD and Austin ISD, will likely apply to TEA to be in the first cohort to receive funding in the fall of 2020.

Learn more about the intricate ins-and-outs of HB 3 in this blog post here on Teach the Vote and in TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which details several aspects of the bill relating to compensation.

Standardized Testing

Testing is a major issue for teachers, especially when there is so much riding on the results, such as school grades, closures, sanctions, and even teacher pay. Testing also seems unfair for many students who have special needs, are learning English, are new to the country, or have test-taking anxiety. Teachers know that an entire year of their students’ hard work and social, emotional, and academic growth could never be captured on a single day’s standardized test.

The largest testing bill that passed during the 2019 legislative session – HB 3906, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) – made several changes to state assessment administration and content. Here are highlights of what the bill prescribes:

  • Multiple smaller test sections that can be administered over multiple days (operational by the 2021-22 school year).
  • Elimination of writing tests in grades 4 and 7 (beginning with 2021-22 school year).
  • Prohibiting the administration of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests to students on the first instructional day of the week.
  • Districts will transition to electronic assessments by 2022-23.
  • By Dec. 2020, TEA will create and share with lawmakers a plan to transition districts to electronic assessments.
  • No more than 75% of any STAAR test can be multiple choice by 2022-23.
  • TEA will establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments (with a pilot program to launch in the spring of 2021).
  • TEA will develop interim assessments for districts to use as actionable test data.
  • The educator assessment advisory committee, still awaiting commissioner appointment, will provide recommendations to TEA on assessment development.

Read more about HB 3906 from the TEA website here, and learn more about changes to testing that occurred due to the last legislative session in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE.

The merits of the STAAR test itself were also questioned heavily by parents, educators, and other stakeholders this past session. As a result, HB 3 mandated that a “readability study” be conducted to ensure that the test items and passages on the STAAR tests are at an appropriate level for the test-taker. The University of Texas at Austin Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk released part one of the study at the beginning of December. In a nutshell, the study (which was not peer-reviewed) was lauded by Commissioner Mike Morath as proving that the tests were on-level, but it left many questions unanswered. Specifically, the study was inconclusive about the grade-level readability of test items, it found that some STAAR test questions did not adequately assess the standards they were meant to address, and the authors noted that a majority of STAAR passages were within or below specified levels for narrativity (which has to do with the use of common vocabulary for a certain age/grade). We expect the second part of this study to come out by Feb. 1, 2020. Read more in this blog post here on Teach the Vote.

Teacher Retirement System (TRS)

After accounting changes adopted by the TRS board of directors in July of 2018, the TRS pension fund was in need of additional funding going into the 2019 legislative session. The 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which reduced the funding window for the TRS fund from 87 years to 29 years, and allowed for a supplemental payment or “13th check” to be issued to retirees in September 2019. SB 12 functions by slowly increasing the state’s contribution to TRS up to 8.25% by the year 2024. Additionally, the school district contribution will increase from 1.5% to 2%. Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at the existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years and eventually increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

SB 12 also requires that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. Additionally, the few school districts that pay into Social Security will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS.

Read more about TRS and the 86th Legislature in this ATPE blog post here on our blog.

What’s next?

We are not finished with compensation. While HB 3 made great strides in improving school finance, many aspects of the bill that could raise educator pay are left at a school district’s discretion. Compensation and benefits should be increased for educators across-the-board to bring the profession to an appropriate level of pay, ensuring that educators can live balanced, healthy lives.

Likewise, we are far from done with testing. However, this topic has been heavily dictated at the federal level since the implementation of No Child Left Behind, which is now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The state is limited in how much it can reduce testing and remain in compliance with federal accountability requirements. That being said, there is flexibility built into ESSA that would allow Texas to alter its assessment structure in ways that are more holistic, such as through the use of portfolio or performance assessments. Additionally, we must be vigilant in resisting the use of standardized tests for purposes of teacher evaluation and pay, as these tests have been shown to indicate more about poverty and other student factors uncontrollable by educators than how well students are learning in any given school year.

TRS is not a done deal either. Educators still face exorbitant healthcare costs and family needs. Prioritizing investments in healthcare, particularly with an emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, can pay great dividends in the form of a healthier school employee population. The state needs to increase its share of healthcare costs for both active and retired employees.

One of the most effective ways for educators to influence future legislative actions around these and other issues is to stay in touch with their own legislators. ATPE members can use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to quickly and easily send messages to their lawmakers at any time.

Your Vote is Your Voice

As the 2020 election cycle proceeds, it is important for voters to be aware of candidates’ positions on these issues, as well as incumbent legislators’ voting records on education bills like the ones mentioned above. The ATPE Governmental Relations team has invited all candidates for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year to participate in our education-specific candidate survey. On TeachtheVote.org, find candidate and legislator profiles to view their survey responses and voting records, where available. Learn more about which of the legislature’s 2019 votes were included on our site and why in this blog post.

As an additional resource, if you’d like to hear directly from candidates and maybe even ask a question, attend a free, public education-focused candidate forum being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation in several Texas cities this year. Find one near you here.

Voter registration for the Texas primary elections on Super Tuesday, which is March 3, 2020, ends on February 3. Find out if you are properly registered here. Educator Voting Day is slated for the first day of early voting, February 18, 2019.

Find more voting resources and take the Educators’ Oath to Vote on TexasEducatorsVote.com.

SBOE hears from commissioner on NAEP scores, STAAR study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Election Week! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Thank you to all who voted in Tuesday’s general election!

All three special elections to fill vacated Texas House of Representatives seats are headed to runoffs. Additionally, of the 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot Tuesday, nine were approved by voters. Check out this election results post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins to learn more about how candidates and ballot measures fared on Nov. 5. Wiggins also has you covered on nationwide election news, including the recent exit from the presidential race of former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. This just in: State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) announced late Friday he will not run for reelection in 2020. Nevarez chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. You can read more about his announcement in this post by the Texas Tribune.

In additional election-related news, our friends at TexasISD.com report that local voters passed 81 percent of the 63 school district bond elections held around the state during Tuesday’s election. When votes were tallied up, more than 93 percent of the total value sought by all districts statewide being approved. These high passage rates are a continued sign that the public overwhelmingly supports their local public schools and additional spending on those schools’ and students’ needs.

If you didn’t get the chance to vote this time, your next opportunity will be the primary election on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Feb. 3, 2020. Check to see if you are registered to vote here. Need some inspiration? Read ATPE Lobbyist and former educator Andrea Chevalier’s voting story.


Do you have a couple of minutes to spare? The ATPE Governmental Relations team invites all ATPE members to take a short, three-question survey about the most recent legislative session and your education priorities. Help us best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol by taking our new “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. You must be signed into the ATPE website as a member to participate in the survey, so call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced on Wednesday plans for the state to take over management of Houston ISD and two rural school districts, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath cited two reasons for the takeover of Houston ISD: “failure of governance” and the consistent under-performance of Wheatley High School in the district. Houston ISD serves over 200,000 students. The takeover of all three school districts will entail replacement of each elected school board by a state-appointed Board of Managers and the appointment of a state conservator. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


This week the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center released a comprehensive analysis of targeted school violence. The report, focused on K-12 schools for the period of 2008 to 2017, details common trends among the school attacks. One significant finding was that, while there is no typical “profile” of a perpetrator, they do exhibit certain warning signs and traits. These include having been a victim of bullying, an adverse childhood experience, a mental health issue, access to firearms, and motive typically involving a grievance with classmates or school staff. Read a summary of the report from Education Week here, or read the full report here.

Back home in Texas, the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its third public meeting this week. The hearing took place in Odessa, the site of one of the recent shooting attacks that garnered national attention. The committee heard several hours of testimony from local families and law enforcement, some of whom had lost loved ones in the Midland and Odessa shooting on Aug. 31, 2019. Testifiers pleaded for a more effective background check system and the integration of mental health information into the public safety system. Legislators and law enforcement officials discussed prevention strategies focused on more cohesive communication, such as a regional communications center. A recording of the hearing can be found here. Read more about the hearing from local CBS7 in Midland here.


Next week on Teach the Vote, we’ll be updating all state legislators’ profiles on our website to incorporate voting records from the 86th legislative session. ATPE’s lobbyists have analyzed all the education-related votes taken during the 2019 legislative session and selected a collection of recorded votes that will help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities. By sharing this information, we hope to help voters gain insight into legislative incumbents’ views on public education so that they can make informed decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle.

The candidate filing period opens this weekend for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020. Once the candidate filing period ends, ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Stay tuned!


 

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

Happy Friday! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the first day of November, but it’s your last day to vote early in the constitutional amendment election slated for Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

ATPE is urging all educators to learn what’s on the ballot. (Since you’ll be turning back your clocks this weekend, you’ve got an extra hour to read up on the proposed amendments!) If you miss your chance to vote early today, be sure to go vote on Election Day next Tuesday.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has written an update today on a closely watched special legislative election that is also taking place on Tuesday. Additionally, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter has written a post for our blog this week on how to build a culture of voting and get into the habit of voting in every election. Don’t miss your chance to shape the future of public education in Texas. Go vote!


The House Public Education Committee was in town this week for an interim hearing on the implementation of House Bill (HB) 3 and other recent legislation. Monday’s hearing featured invited testimony only, including a presentation by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about the meeting in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Members of the Texas State Senate received their homework assignments this week. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate, formally released the Senate’s interim charges on Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019. The charges direct members of the Senate’s various committees to spend the rest of the legislative interim studying particular issues and making recommendations for any new legislation that might be needed in 2021 to address those issues. The interim charges related to public education include a range of topics including teacher recruitment, student discipline, and restricting educators’ political activities. Learn more about what’s in the Senate interim charges in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) issued a formal report to the legislature this week about Houston ISD, the largest public school district in Texas. Following an investigation, TEA is recommending that  a board of managers be appointed to oversee the district in place of its current elected school board. The school district, meanwhile, has gone to court seeking injunctive relief to prevent Commissioner of Education Mike Morath from taking that action. The lengthy TEA report shared with lawmakers on Wednesday cites improper contracting procedures and violations of the state’s open meetings laws by HISD’s board of trustees. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


On Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2019, the Texas Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met again to take testimony from experts and discuss two of its charges. The emphasis of this meeting was on the role of digital media, the dark web, and culture on violence and policy regarding the wearing of masks. Panelists and senators discussed how social media, video games, mental health, and juvenile justice policies have impacted violent occurrences and explored potential legislative actions. Watch the archived hearing here.