Tag Archives: Commissioner of Education

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.


 

House Public Education Committee gets an update on accountability, school finance bills

House Public Education Committee interim hearing, Oct. 28, 2019.

The House Public Education Committee met on Monday, Oct. 28, to hear an update on legislation from the 85th and 86th legislative sessions and testimony from panels of invited witnesses.

The interim hearing began with an overview from Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on public school accountability. Specifically, the committee heard about House Bill (HB) 22 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) passed by the 85th Texas Legislature in 2017. That bill shrank the accountability system from five to three domains. HB 22 also created a distinction between campus and district accountability “grades” of “D” and “F,” such that a rating of “D” would represent a “needs improvement” condition rather than a “failing” status. As the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has implemented HB 22, several problematic scenarios have emerged due to multiple interpretations of the law.

One such scenario pertaining to the timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions has left districts wondering where they stand and waiting for guidance in the form of commissioner’s rules or clarifying legislation next session. Specially, does a “D” rating break up a series of “F” ratings in a manner that would restart the clock for purposes of determining required interventions? Since HB 22 is slated to take full effect in the 2020-21 school year, legislators and TEA officials are facing pressure to find a solution, such as delaying the adoption of rules, for districts grappling with questions like these. Commissioner Morath told the committee on Monday that he will be reaching out to affected districts to try to provide guidance.

Due to issues like these, we can probably expect another accountability clean-up bill to be filed in the 2021 legislative session. The commissioner suggested two statutory changes that may help alleviate the problems. The first is to eliminate required interventions for failure in a domain grade, leaving mandatory interventions in place based on a district’s or campus’s overall grade. The second suggestion is to change the “D” rating so that it continues to advance the intervention clock but would not require school closure or the appointment of a Board of Managers unless performance falls to an “F” and no less than six years have elapsed.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath

Commissioner Morath also gave the committee an update on the local accountability system pilot, which allows school districts to use additional indicators that their communities find important. Nineteen districts participated in the 2017-18 pilot year and submitted pilot data. The commissioner identified three big challenges that districts faced when creating their systems: would the local accountability system produce 1) reliable results over time, 2) results that accurately measure a desired result, and 3) a reasonable accountability score that was “calibrated” with the state accountability system. The commissioner stated that these challenges were used as the criteria against which districts were rated in determining whether to approve their local accountability system.

Ultimately, only two districts, Dallas ISD and Snyder ISD, had their local accountability systems approved by the commissioner, which prompted committee members to raise concerns during Monday’s hearing. One superintendent who testified during the hearing stated that his district’s application was denied because, according to the TEA, the district had focused too much on “adult behavior” inputs that were not directly measured using student achievement data. The superintendent gave the example of using incentives to increase the use of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) as part of its local accountability system proposal. ATPE has long advocated for including inputs in the accountability system, such as ensuring that students are taught by educators who are certified in the subjects and grade levels they are teaching. We believe that such measures are more directly controllable by districts and individual educators than other factors and typically lead to better student outcomes. During Monday’s committee meeting, a panel of school superintendents and other public education advocates also gave feedback on implementation of the state’s accountability system, similarly expressing a desire for the inclusion of inputs related to such “adult behaviors.” They also recommended enabling the state accountability system to be more nuanced to account for the correlation between poverty and student tests scores, and they advocated for delaying the adoption of commissioner’s rules until the HB 22 implementation issues can be cleared up with legislation in 2021.

The committee also received an update from the commissioner on the implementation of HB 3, the school finance overhaul bill passed during the 86th session of 2019. Commissioner Morath stated that there was a $635 average increase in per pupil funding as a result of the bill, and he plugged TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video series, which offers in-depth explanations of various aspects of HB 3. Other updates were given to the committee on the following:

  • The STAAR readability study required by HB 3 is being conducted by the University of Texas at Austin. An initial report is due to the legislature by Dec. 1, 2019, and a second portion of the report is expected by Feb. 1, 2020. The commissioner told the committee that if the study concludes that changes to the test are needed, then those will be made.
  • The commissioner shared that TEA plans to collect data on pay raises resulting from HB 3 starting sometime near January 2020. A report to the legislature would then be expected by March 2020.
  • There has been a 56% growth in students receiving special education services over the past three years, which could reflect more students being identified as having dyslexia.
  • The committee discussed unintended funding consequences for fast-growth school districts and career and technical education (CTE) funding in small/mid-sized districts as a result of HB 3’s changes.

Another panel of public education advocates and practitioners gave feedback on the implementation of HB 3, telling the committee members that more clarity is needed on aspects of the legislation, such as its incentive pay program and related merit designations for teachers. Some panelists expressed concern about the sustainability and mechanisms of funding under the bill, such as outcomes-based funding in which money for one group of students is based on the performance of a previous group of students. As the rulemaking process for implementing HB 3 continues, ATPE will monitor TEA’s interpretation of these concerns.

At the end of Monday’s hearing, Chairman Huberty stated that he did not anticipate any more House Public Education Committee hearings this year. Stay tuned into our blog and keep up-to-date with legislative developments by following ATPE’s lobby team on Twitter via @TeachtheVote, @ATPE_JenniferM, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_AndreaC, and @MarkWigginsTX.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 11, 2019

Happy Friday! Here’s a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been tracking the latest election-related announcements and news for Teach the Vote. This week, read about recent news of planned departures from the State Board of Education next year, plus a look at the election coming up on Nov. 5. Check out our latest election roundup here. Also, be sure to follow our Teach the Vote blog next week when we’ll posting everything you need to know about voting in the constitutional amendment election.


We have been reporting on the special committees formed this year to examine issues related to school safety and preventing mass violence. A series of meetings are planned around the state during the interim to hear testimony from experts and the public and generate recommendations for the Texas Legislature to address in 2021. One such committee, the Texas House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety met Thursday, Oct. 12, 2019, in Farmer’s Branch.

The 13-member committee was formed earlier this year after the deadly mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa. The committee levied criticism at several major tech companies Thursday for failing to work with law enforcement in a timely and efficient manner in order to stop potential threats of mass violence. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and Microsoft were invited to testify, but only Facebook sent a representative. Lawmakers pressed Facebook over how quickly it is able to respond to requests for information from law enforcement, and were frustrated by the company’s inability to give a specific response. You can read a full report on Thursday’s meeting courtesy of the Dallas Morning News. The House committee is scheduled to meet again next Thursday in Odessa.


FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE is continuing its work in Washington, DC, spearheaded by our longtime federal lobbyist, David Pore, to advocate for Social Security reform that will help Texas educators earn fair and predictable retirement benefits. In this Congress, two bills have been filed to repeal and replace the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), which reduces the Social Security benefits earned by many ATPE members and other public employees. Pore spoke about the bills earlier this week during a panel presentation on advocacy moderated by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell as part of the annual meeting of the national Coalition of Independent Educator Associations.

As we first reported on Teach the Vote back in July, Rep. Kevin Brady (R–The Woodlands, Texas) has filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act” (ETPSA), which is an updated version of similar legislation he previously filed in an attempt to fix the WEP. Rep. Richard Neal (D–Springfield, Mass.) followed suit at the end of September, filing H.R. 4540, the “Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act” (PSPFA). Both bills would replace the WEP with a more predictable, proportional formula for calculating Social Security benefit payments of future retirees, and provide a monthly stipend for those workers over the age of 60 who are already retired and eligible for Social Security.

This week, ATPE issued a press release in support of both bills and urged Congress to take action on the issue. It is unclear if or when the WEP legislation might be heard this year, particularly in light of the congressional focus having shifted recently and almost exclusively toward the prospect of impeachment proceedings. Still, ATPE is thankful for the bipartisan effort being made to address the WEP. We especially appreciate the longtime work of both Congressmen Neal and Brady on this front, and their willingness to involve stakeholders like ATPE in the development of the bills. Congressman Neal chairs the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means in which the bills would be heard, while Congressman Brady is the ranking member on the committee and its former chair.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on our federal lobbying efforts. As a reminder, ATPE members can also use our communication tools on Advocacy Central to call or write to their representatives in Washington asking for their support of the ETPSA and PSPFA. (ATPE member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)


This week, the ATPE lobby team continued its “New School Year, New Laws” blog series with a report on how the laws enacted during the 86th Texas legislative session will impact educators’ pension and benefits. Chief among the changes enacted this year was Senate Bill 12, which will make the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) actuarially sound and allowed for the issuance of a 13th check to retirees last month. Check out the latest blog post in the series by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and watch for another installment on Monday.

Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a new “HB 3 in 30” video on the Blended Learning Grant Program. TEA’s ongoing video series is intended to make this year’s omnibus school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, more digestible by breaking out key provisions and explaining them in 30 minutes or less. Visit TEA’s HB 3 in 30 video website to watch the newest video and access others in the series.

Also related to HB 3, the commissioner of education has proposed new administrative rules to implement the new “Do Not Hire Registry” required by the bill. Public comments on the proposed rule are being accepted now through Oct. 21. Learn more about the rule and how to submit your comments here.


In case you missed it earlier this week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier provided a comprehensive summary of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) meeting held Oct. 4, 2019. One of the most interesting discussions at the meeting was about what should constitute “good cause” for educators to abandon their contracts. The board opted to defer taking any action last week to change the criteria for SBEC sanctions in those instances, but you can expect the board members to have continuing discussions on this topic in the coming months. Read more about this and all the other matters discussed by SBEC last week in this blog post.


 

ATPE attends Texas Tribune Festival

The Texas Tribune held its annual TribFest event in Austin this past Friday and Saturday, Sept. 27-28, 2019. The festival brought together state and national candidates, officeholders, policymakers, and thought leaders to discuss a range of topics, including public education, in a series of panels and one-on-one interviews over the course of the event. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter were on hand to engage with policy makers and other key advocates while taking in the panel discussions regarding Texas public education

At the Texas Tribune Festival, Evan Smith discussed “The Future of Education” with Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, Texas 2036 co-founder Margaret Spellings, 2018 Texas Superintendent of the Year Dr. LaTonya Goffney, and former President of UT Brownsville Juliet Garcia.

This year’s education line-up for the festival included panels discussing how states can more effectively work with the U.S. Department of Education, reforms coming out of Dallas ISD, challenges for rural schools and the importance of solving them, school finance considerations following the passage of House Bill 3, the “Future of Education,” and four Texas teachers giving their take on Texas public education, school choice partnerships, and standardized testing.

Texas Tribune education reporter Aliyya Swaby moderated a panel made up of four Texas teachers.

Click here to access archived live-streams of the festival’s keynote addresses and many of the one-on-one interviews, including those with Texas Congressman Will Hurd, Senator Ted Cruz, and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

New School Year, New Laws: Professional Responsibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This law took effect Sept. 1, 2019.


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

New School Year, New Laws: Special Education

In this week’s blog post in the “New School Year, New Laws” series, the ATPE lobby team looks at changes to special education resulting from the 86th legislative session earlier this year.

Three years ago, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative series on how Texas was systematically denying special education services to students through an arbitrary 8.5% cap on special education enrollment. After confirming the findings, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ordered the state to complete a Special Education Strategic Plan and Corrective Action Response. In the interim before the 2019 legislative session, special education advocates worked diligently with lawmakers, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the strategic plan, corrective action response, and special education funding to try to mitigate the negative effects of having denied years of services to students. This involvement from stakeholders helped to prioritize special education in the legislative session.

Below are some of the bills passed this year to address special education funding and various initiatives for students with special needs.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Special education funding and advisory committee

Special education in Texas is currently funded through a system of weights based on student placement. For example, the weight for a homebound student is 5.0 (meaning that a school district receives 5 times the amount of the basic allotment for that student). The mainstream weight covers approximately 85% of students receiving special education services, according to the TEA. Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) amended HB 3 to increase the mainstream weight from 1.1 to 1.15, which will generate hundreds of extra dollars for every student receiving special education services in the general education classroom. As an aside, stakeholders and agency officials alike are urging that the rhetoric around special education shift to characterize special education as a service rather than a placement.

HB 3 also creates a new dyslexia weight of 0.1, which will help direct even more money to students with special needs. The dyslexia weight will also capture and fund students who are receiving services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is not federally funded like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Lastly, HB 3 establishes a 14-member special education allotment advisory committee that will make recommendations on special education funding. In September, the commissioner of education will appoint committee members, to include a variety of stakeholders both within and outside of the school setting, including two teachers.

These provisions of HB 3 became effective immediately upon the passage of the bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound): Addressing maintenance of financial support in the supplemental budget

Just before the 2019 legislative session began, news broke that Texas had failed to maintain “state financial support” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Essentially, the state spent $33.3 million less on special education in 2012 than it spent in the prior year, which is not allowed. Unfortunately, the state continued this trend in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and it is now estimated that the resulting federal penalty will reach $233 million.

This year’s supplemental spending bill, SB 500, included over $219 million to settle maintenance of financial support costs and to prevent future penalties.

SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso): Notification of enrollment opportunities

SB 139 specifically addresses the aforementioned 8.5% cap on enrollment in special education by requiring TEA to develop a notice regarding the elimination of the arbitrary limit. The notice must also include the rights of children under state and federal law and how parents and guardians can initiate referral and evaluation for special education services.

HB 111 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint): Trafficking, abuse, and maltreatment training

As part of their district improvement plan, school districts are required to adopt and implement a policy on sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of children. Districts must incorporate methods to increase awareness of these issues by providing training for new and existing employees on prevention techniques and the recognition of sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of students. HB 111 specifically adds that the training should also include prevention and recognition for students with significant cognitive disabilities. HB 111 became effective immediately.

HB 165 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio): High school endorsements

Effective immediately, HB 165 allows students receiving special education services to earn high school endorsements on their transcripts if they complete, with or without modification, the foundation high school curriculum requirements and the additional endorsement curriculum requirements. Under previous law, a student receiving special education services was unable to earn an endorsement by virtue of being enrolled in a modified curriculum. This prevented the student from earning a Distinguished Level of Achievement upon graduation, which is an eligibility requirement for automatic admission to a public institution of higher education in Texas.

SB 522 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo): Services for students with visual impairments

SB 522 aims to improve the educational services provided to students with a visual impairment by aligning the terminology in state law with federal law regarding these students. Additionally, the individualized education plan (IEP) for students with a visual impairment must now include instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the student’s admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee determines that a different form of instruction is more appropriate. Under SB 522, instruction in braille must be provided by a teacher certified to teach students with visual impairments. This law became effective immediately.

SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and HB 3630 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park): Prohibiting aversive disciplinary techniques

SB 712 and HB 3630 by are identical bills that prohibit the use of certain techniques on students that are meant to discourage recurring behaviors. These aversive techniques are defined in physical terms, such as inflicting pain on a student, as well as in social, emotional, and mental terms, such as verbally demeaning a student or using a timeout when such breaks are not a part of the student’s individualized education plan (IEP). This legislation does not affect a teacher’s ability to remove students under Texas Education Code Section 37.002, which allows teachers to remove students who are repetitively disruptive and limiting the learning of others. Both bills were effective immediately upon their passage earlier this year.


See the TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video on special education for additional detail on legislative changes. For more information on the issues featured in our “New School Year, New Laws” series, be sure to check out “An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” in which ATPE’s attorneys provide a comprehensive look at new education laws passed in 2019. Join us next Monday here on Teach the Vote to read about legislative changes regarding professional opportunities for educators.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 13, 2019

Here’s this week’s education news wrap-up, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


SBOE Committee on School Initiatives meeting, Sept. 12, 2019

This week, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) gathered in Austin to hold a series of meetings over Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, which ATPE’s lobbyists have been attending. View the full SBOE agenda and additional information about this week’s meetings here.

To kick things off, the board on Wednesday discussed the Texas Resource Review (TRR) process, formerly known as the Instructional Materials Quality Evaluation (IMQE). Acting as a rubric for instructional materials for English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR) in grades 3-8, the TRR will serve as a type of “consumer reports”  resources for school districts and educators looking for quality instructional materials. Read a full recap of Wednesday’s board meeting in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Other topics of discussion during this week’s meetings of the board and its committees include a new procedure for nominating members to the School Land Board (SLB), the ed prep assessment pilot known as “EdTPA,” and the Generation 25 charter application that would establish charters with new operators as opposed to letting existing charter holders expand their operations. ATPE’s Wiggins has more on the discussion of these items in this blog post from Thursday.

The board will wrap up its September meetings today. The full board’s agenda for today includes hearing from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. Read more about his remarks at today’s SBOE meeting, which covered accountability and new reading academy requirements, in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath speaking to the ATPE Board of Directors, Sept. 7, 2019

The board also took time today to recognize outgoing chair Donna Bahorich for her leadership with an honorary resolution. This will be the last meeting over which Bahorich will preside, pending the governor’s naming of a new chair for the SBOE.

Related: Commissioner Mike Morath also visited the ATPE Board of Directors meeting in Pflugerville on Sept. 7, 2019. The commissioner updated the board on accountability ratings, discussed the issue of merit pay, and more.


This year’s legislative session saw a slew of bills relating to assessments, from their administration and content to their duration and much more. For an in-depth look at which laws from the 86th session will affect things like end-of-course exams, individual graduation committees (IGCs), and the length of standardized state assessments, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. On Monday, we’ll have a another new post for our ongoing “New School Year, New Laws” weekly series here on Teach the Vote. You can also learn more about many new laws affecting educators in this comprehensive digital guide compiled by ATPE’s legal staff.


The latest iteration of “HB 3 in 30,” the Texas Education Agency’s weekly video series that breaks down the signature education bill of the 86th session, focuses on reading practices. Click here to watch the most recent video and access all the prior videos in the HB 3 in 30 series.


It was announced this week that Harrison Keller will become the new Commissioner of Higher Education, following the recent retirement of Commissioner Raymund Peredes. The announcement came Wednesday after a unanimous vote by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). Keller, who assumes the post on Oct. 1, has worked for the University of Texas and was a longtime education policy adviser to a former Texas Speaker of the House, Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland).


ELECTION UPDATE: Yet another big retirement announcement came today with Sen. José Rodriguez (D-El Paso) announcing that he will not seek re-election. An attorney, Sen. Rodriguez has described himself as the first member of his family to attend college. He was first elected to the Senate District 29 seat in 2010 and has also chaired the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Early voting for the upcoming November election begins on Oct. 21, just five weeks from now. For more information about what’s going to be on the ballot, check out our previous Teach the Vote blog posts on proposed constitutional amendments and some special elections that will be taking place on the same day. You can also use the resources provided by the Texas Educators Vote coalition to help ensure you are ready to vote. The deadline to register to vote for the November 5 election is Oct. 7, 2019.