Tag Archives: committees

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

Whether you started school or not this week, nearly everyone is switching into back-to-school mode. Unwind and stay up-to-date with this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Gov. Abbott speaks in El Paso, August 13, 2020. (Source)

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Saturday, August 8, Gov. Greg Abbott renewed the COVID-19 disaster declaration for the state of Texas. The declaration continues many of the special provisions, funding mechanisms, and waivers that have helped Texans get through the pandemic. Abbott traveled to Beaumont, Victoria, Lubbock, and El Paso this week to speak about COVID-19. He stressed remaining vigilant in best practices to avoid contracting COVID-19, said that bars were hot-spots and the state would need to meet certain metrics before they could reopen, and added that the state is investigating its high test positivity rate. With regard to schools, Abbott reiterated that it is up to school districts to provide remote, in-person, or hybrid models under the flexibilities (and limitations) offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

ATPE sent a letter to all Texas superintendents this week that included recommendations for how to respond to COVID-19, based on the communications ATPE has received from its membership. These recommendations include implementing a process to consider and make accommodations for staff health concerns; granting requested contract releases or refraining from filing complaints with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) if a staff member resigns due to health concerns that cannot be accommodated; and providing paid leave for staff members who are ordered to quarantine.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was featured in an article by the Texas Signal this week on the confusion that has surrounded a safe school reopening. With an order to open schools but details left up to local decision-makers, educators have gotten lost in the mix of constantly changing messages and guidelines. Wiggins said, “It is a tough situation for people who have dedicated their lives to serving children. In some cases, parents will have a choice for their kids to receive remote instruction, but educators don’t get that choice. Confusion doesn’t inspire confidence.”

The ATPE COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page has frequently-updated answers to common questions from educators. Also be sure to check out ATPE’s recent legal webinar on COVID-19 with explanations of many issues facing educators during the pandemic. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues.


ELECTION UPDATE: State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) was ceremonially sworn into office this week after formally taking the oath two weeks ago. Eckhardt will serve out the remainder of the term left vacant by former Sen. Kirk Watson through 2022. Meanwhile, a potential shakeup is brewing in Senate District (SD) 30 in North Texas. State Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) is expected to be promoted to the U.S. Congress, creating a vacancy for his Texas Senate seat that is drawing interest from many candidates, including some members of the Texas House of Representatives. This sets up a unique dilemma surrounding the mathematical majority in the chamber and the election of a new House Speaker in January.

In national news this week, Joe Biden selected his former presidential rival and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Harris is the first African-American woman and person of Asian-American descent in U.S. history to appear on a major political party’s presidential ticket, and was among the first in the Democratic presidential primary to call for a raise for teachers.

Finally, the U.S. Census is underway and will have a significant impact on how much power Texas holds in Congress. Read more about what’s at stake, as well as the rest of this week’s election news, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


ATPE Vice President Karen Hames participated in a virtual forum hosted by CBS Austin.

ATPE members have been speaking up for their students and fellow colleagues all over Texas this week! ATPE State Vice President and veteran middle school teacher Karen Hames was featured in a statewide virtual forum hosted by CBS Austin this week. During the Wednesday evening broadcast, Hames detailed how her school is approaching in-service days and the school year. She provided advice to parents as they begin school in a completely different environment, saying that a parent’s encouragement during virtual learning is “incalculable.”

ATPE member Myra Rodriguez-Berrones took part in a Q&A panel hosted by Sen. Zaffirini.

Zapata ISD Special Services Teacher and ATPE Member Myra Rodriguez-Berrones also participated in “Back to School? Your Questions Answered,” a Q&A panel hosted by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) on Wednesday. Berrones has spent 20 years serving children with special needs and the hard of hearing in Zapata ISD, and shared her thoughts on serving children with special needs in the COVID environment. Berrones also shared tips for engaging children at home, as well as increasing participation for parents of English learners. The panel included representatives from the Texas Education Agency, as well as speakers representing administrators, counselors, and school nurses. You can watch the full Q&A session here.


The Texas Senate Finance Committee released its interim report to the 87th legislature last week. The report comes at a time when committees in both chambers of the Texas legislature have not been able to meet for interim hearings due to COVID-19 concerns and closures. Having just received guidance not too long ago on how to conduct interim business amid the pandemic, many Texas House committees have now posted “formal requests for information” on their websites to gain information without holding a formal public hearing in person. Read more about the Senate Finance Committee report and the House requests for information in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Communication is key in every relationship. That’s why ATPE has partnered with several other education organizations to develop a public online toolkit with tips and suggestions that parents and educators can use during the challenges of virtual instruction. Use ATPE’s open submission form to submit tips from either a parent or educator perspective for classroom engagement, parent and student communication, and more!


The Texas Education Agency updated nearly all of its COVID-19 resources this week, just as some school districts across the state opened for in-person and remote instruction. The agency answered new questions regarding full-day pre-K requirements and funding, the optional and extended transition periods in the beginning of the year, and attendance and enrollment. TEA also created a new “Education Rights and Responsibilities” document for families that outlines what options for instruction and reminds parents of attendance requirements. Districts were notified this week of free training provided by OnRamps for those who are teaching in distance or hybrid learning environments. Additionally, as in the spring, districts will be required to report “crisis codes” for students based on whether the student is receiving in-person, remote synchronous, or remote asynchronous instruction. Lastly, the agency’s resources on educator preparation remind  certification candidates that, under the Governor’s disaster declaration, TEA can reduce face-to-face requirements by 20%. Similarly, the agency is advising educator preparation programs to process probationary certificates for candidates who cannot meet testing requirements (under the Governor’s waiver) as quickly as possible.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 7, 2020

Sales Tax Free Weekend in Texas starts today and ends Sunday, August 9. Enjoy shopping online, by mail, or in-person (be safe!) as you gear up for the school year with some new clothing and supplies. Before you make your shopping list, check out this week’s wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Abbott holds press conference on August 4, 2020. (Source)

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: With congressional negotiations over additional COVID-19 relief legislation at the federal level apparently stalled this week, schools around the country are starting the new school year with lingering concerns about the availability of resources. Here in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott made a few media appearances this week, mostly reinforcing state actions pertaining to the start of the new school year. On Monday, Abbott told KXAN that teachers should not be concerned with the safety of the school setting, claiming teachers have ther option to teach virtually for “months on end.” As ATPE has been reporting on state guidance issued and revised over the past month, school districts are limited to a maximum of eight weeks of primarily remote learning without risking state funding. Districts are adopting varied remote learning models and are not necessarily offering all teachers the option to teach remotely. ATPE Board Member Christie Smith was featured in KXAN’s story, saying that even though she is eligible for retirement, she is staying in her position to maintain health benefits and job security.

At a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Abbott stressed that local school officials are best equipped to make decisions about when and how to return to school, and he ensured PPE will be provided to districts at no cost. While Abbott stated that Texas has distributed more than 59.4 million masks, 24,000 thermometers, 568,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, and 511,000 face shields to Texas schools, many argue that this allocation will not meet the needs of students and staff for an extended period of time. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has also said previously that schools should purchase additional PPE beyond what the state is providing. On Thursday, Gov. Abbott held another press conference to discuss considerations for flu season, mainly noting that COVID-19 preparations, precautions, and heightened hygiene and mask wearing practices should make this the tamest flu season yet. Abbott maintained that although COVID-19 vaccines will not be available this fall, flu vaccines are available and “treatments” for COVID-19 are increasingly available.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter participated in a town hall on school reopening this week with Dr. Eliz Markowitz. Exter emphasized the need for creativity and collaboration among district leaders, parents, and educators, as well as the need for consistent and clear state leadership. Other panelists included SBOE member and physician Dr. Matt Robinson and renowned education author Dr. Diane Ravitch.

The ATPE COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page has frequently-updated answers to common questions from educators. Also be sure to check out ATPE’s recent legal webinaron COVID-19 with  explanations of many issues facing educators during the pandemic. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues.


ELECTION UPDATE: Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally took office as state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) last Friday, filling the seat in Senate District (SD) 14 left open by former state Sen. Kirk Watson. Eckhardt finished the July special election with the most votes, but just under the 50% threshold needed to win the election outright. She was headed to a runoff with state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), until Rep. Rodriguez bowed out of the race. Sen. Eckhardt will fill out the remainder of Watson’s term, which is set to expire in 2022.

John Lewis 📷 Library of Congress

As the nation mourned the passing of civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), we were reminded of what the congressman had to say about the power of voting to bring about positive change. “My dear friends,” he told a Charlotte, North Carolina, audience in 2012, “Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”

It’s never too early to start preparing for the next election, which falls on November 3. Gov. Abbott extended early voting by an additional week, which means the polls now open on October 13 and early voting runs through October 30. That means voting begins in just two months!

Our friends at the Texas Educators Vote coalition have put together a handy checklist to make sure you’re ready. October 5 is the deadline to register in time to vote if you haven’t already, so step one is checking to see if your registration is up to date. If you are eligible and plan to vote by mail, apply as soon as possible and return your completed ballot at the earliest possible opportunity. This will help avoid delays in the mail service like we saw during the runoff elections. Finally, don’t forget to head over to the candidates section here at Teach the Vote and research who’s running in your area. And make sure your friends do the same!


David Pore

FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE Immediate State Past-President Tonja Gray and new State President Jimmy Lee finished a round of virtual meetings with the Texas congressional delegation last week. Along with the ATPE Governmental Relations team and our federal lobbyist, David Pore, Gray and Lee met with several members of the Texas delegation to talk about current issues of concern to educators. Read more about the meetings in this blog post written by Pore.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently posted the adopted Commissioner’s rules for the Local Optional Teacher Designation System under the Teacher Incentive Allotment, which was created by last year’s House Bill 3. The rules incorporated several suggestions made by ATPE during the public comment phase of the rule-making process back in May. These changes include a reference to the statutory definition of educator within the rules, a clarification of the eligible role codes for teachers to earn or receive designations, the requirement of an implementation plan in response to annual surveys about the designation system, and other clarifying language on teacher eligibility and the approval process for district plans.


School nutrition has been one of the many challenges incurred by the public education system since the COVID-19 pandemic began and schools were forced to close their doors. In the spring of 2020, school districts continued to pay nutritional services staff while taking on higher costs associated with food delivery and menu changes to make more hygienic and simple grab-and-go options for families. At the same time, and even with waivers in place, fewer students accessed school meals. This double-whammy created a financial strain for districts, which run a nearly net-zero food operation. Without more waivers or funding, districts could be looking at a tough year for food service in 2020-21, which isn’t good news for students who rely on the school for this basic necessity. Read more about nutrition and COVID-19 in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The U.S. Census Bureau announced this week that field data collection will end one month early, on September 30 rather than October 31. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham insisted that the remaining weeks of field work, which are crucial to an accurate count of hard-to-count communities, will be handled with diligence in order to provide apportionment counts by the statutory deadline of December 31, 2020. Texas currently ranks #39 in the nation with a self-response rate of 58%. Without a complete count, Texas risks an imbalanced and inaccurate congressional representation, non-representative redistricting, and funding cuts to programs that benefit all Texans, such as roads and public education. Encourage everyone you know to complete their census questionnaire and have their own network complete the census, too. It is easier than ever and can be completed online. Read more about this recent development in this census reporting by the Texas Tribune.


The closure of the Texas State Capitol on account of the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the ability of state legislative committees to conduct their interim work. On July 16, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen notified House committees of their options for carrying out interim committee business during COVID-19. One of the options is to post “formal requests for information” on the House website so that committees can gather written information from the public and post it publicly in lieu of holding an in-person hearing. Several House committees posted formal requests for information this week, including the House Higher Education Committee, House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee, and House Appropriations Article III subcommittee.

The Texas Senate has not yet provided notice on planned committee proceedings options during the pandemic. However, the Senate Finance Committee has gone ahead and released its interim report this Friday afternoon. In addition to general finance discussions, the report includes some recommendations for investment strategies of state funds such as the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension fund and the Permanent School Fund. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote on Monday for a more detailed look at the interim committee report released today.

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!

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.


 

Senate interim charges include investigating educators’ political activity

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) released interim charges for state senators late Wednesday. The Senate interim charges for the 86th Texas Legislature include language mirroring that used to justify a pair of bills this past session that were aimed at discouraging educators from being politically active.

After every legislative session, the Senate and House each release their own set of interim charges. Individual charges are assigned to each legislative committee and represent those legislators’ “homework” before returning to Austin for the next session. The idea is that members of each committee will study those charges, conduct hearings during the interim, and return the following legislative session prepared to file bills on those topics. The charges also typically include directions to monitor the implementation of bills recently passed into law and recommend any adjustments that may need to be made during the next legislative session.

The 2019 Senate interim charges include studying educator recruitment, preparation, and retention; a review of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP); studying the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) corrective action plan for special education; a review of how investments are made by the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and the Permanent School Fund (PSF); monitoring school districts’ implementation of the increases to teacher compensation ordered under House Bill (HB) 3; and investigating advocacy by local communities and public schools misleadingly characterized as “taxpayer lobbying.”

Of particular note is a charge directing the Senate State Affairs Committee to “ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.” While ATPE fully agrees that public funds should not be used for electioneering, unfounded accusations targeting educators were used during the 2019 legislative session to justify a pair of bills aimed at chilling educators’ political speech. It is particularly worth noting that these accusations were leveled by officials who have taken positions opposed to public education in the past and were made following a 2018 election cycle in which the public education community was acknowledged to have played a major role in electing pro-public education candidates.

Senate Bill (SB) 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would have dramatically expanded the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators. It would have subjected educators to criminal penalties for violating “political advertising” laws if they engage in the act of discussing anything of a political nature on school property, regardless of whether that conversation occurred in private, between friends, or off the clock. A similar bill, SB 904 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would have imposed cumbersome restrictions on e-mail signups and public WiFi systems. You can read more about those bills here and here. Notably, Sen. Hughes has recently been appointed by Lt. Gov. Patrick as the new chairman of the State Affairs Committee that will conduct this investigation during the interim and would likely hear any such bills filed next session.

The following list includes excerpts from the 2019 Senate interim charges that may be of interest to educators. The charges are broken up by committee, each of which is listed in bold. You can read the full list of all interim charges released on Wednesday here.

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

Crimes Against Students with Disabilities: Examine whether current laws are effectively protecting students with disabilities. Make recommendations to improve student safety, while also protecting educators’ abilities to maintain order and safety for everyone in the classroom.

Senate Education Committee

Teacher Workforce: Examine best practice models to recruit, prepare, and retain highly effective teachers. Review teacher professional development, continuing education, and training for teachers, and recommend improved training methods to improve student academic outcomes.

Alternative Education Students: Study current local, state, and national policies and programs for alternative education student populations. Make recommendations to strengthen existing programs and encourage the development of new innovative models.

Adult Education: Identify and evaluate current innovative programs that assist non-traditional students (first-time adult learners, re-enrolling students, working adults, and educationally disadvantaged students) in completing a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or workforce credential, including a review of adult education charter schools and their performance framework. Make recommendations to help successful expansion with partnered business and education entities.

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: Review disciplinary alternative education programs, including lengths of placement, quality of instruction, and the physical conditions of these facilities. Make recommendations to support and promote the academic success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of these students through innovative school models.

Digital Learning: Assess the Texas Virtual School Network and recommend model legislation that improves digital learning for students, families, and educators in a 21st Century classroom.

Special Education Services: Evaluate ongoing strategies to continuously improve special education services for students in public schools including, but not limited, to the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 11, relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium; House Bill 3, relating to public school finance and public education; and House Bill 3906, relating to the assessment of public school students, including the development and administration of assessment instruments, and technology permitted for use by students.

Senate Finance Committee

Investment of State Funds: Review the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System, the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. Make recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income to the state.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Finance passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 12, relating to the contributions to and benefits under the Teacher Retirement System; …House Bill 4388, relating to the management of the permanent school fund by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education and a study regarding distributions from the permanent school fund to the available school fund; House Bill 4611, relating to certain distributions to the available school fund; …District implementation of increases in teacher compensation provided by the 86th Legislature; and Efficiencies in state-funded health care programs that reduce or contain costs and improve quality of care. Assess the quality and performance of health plans that contract with the state, including contract compliance, financial performance and stability, quality metrics, and consumer surveys, among other indicators. Monitor the implementation of Health and Human Services Commission Rider 19 and Article IX, Section 10.06.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Elections: Study the integrity and security of voter registration rolls, voting machines, and voter qualification procedures to reduce election fraud in Texas. Specifically, study and make recommendations to: 1) ensure counties are accurately verifying voter eligibility after voter registration; 2) improve training requirements for mail-in ballot signature verification committees; 3) ensure every voter has access to a polling station, particularly in counties that have adopted countywide polling; 4) allow the voter registrar, county clerk, and Secretary of State to suspend an unqualified voter’s registration or remove an ineligible voter from a list of registered voters; and 5) ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.

Taxpayer Lobbying: Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.

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

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


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting began this week for the Nov. 5 constitutional election. Voters statewide will be deciding whether or not to approve 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, as well as other local ballot measures. Voters in three House districts will also be electing a new state representative in a special election on the same day.

Early voting continues through Nov. 1. We at ATPE encourage all educators to vote in every election and take advantage of the convenience of early voting at any polling place in your area. Make a voting plan! Use the weekend to learn about what’s on your ballot, and then build and print a sample ballot to take with you to the polls. (Remember that cell phones aren’t allowed to be used in the voting booth!) For additional voting resources, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com.

In other election news, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced this week that he will not seek re-election in 2020, paving the way for the election of a new speaker in 2021. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the announcement, which comes on the heels of a scandal involving a secret recording and allegations of bribery. Read more in this week’s election roundup post on Teach the Vote.


This week we wrapped up our blog series, “New School Year, New Laws,” in which ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier shared weekly highlights of many education bills passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year. In the final installment this week, we’re looking at how school districts around the state are implementing the requirements under House Bill (HB) 3 to increase teacher compensation. Check out the compensation-related post here.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee will hold an interim hearing to examine the implementation of HB 3. The meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, will feature invited testimony only. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week and follow us on Twitter for dispatches from the hearing.


 

 

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.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 26, 2019

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


This week Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2019.” The ETPSA aims to address unfair reductions to the Social Security benefits for many educators and other public employees under what is known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

While there are many similarities between this WEP replacement bill and a previous version of the ETPSA filed by Brady in the last congress, H.R. 3934 would produce a higher benefit payment for the majority of retirees, including those future retirees who are over the age of 20. For more details on the newly filed bill, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting to discuss several important items, including the adoption of changes to allow for the implementation of the EdTPA portfolio assessment pilot for teacher certification. The board is also discussing pending rule changes resulting from bills passed by the 86th Legislature, such as the repeal of the Master Teacher certificates within HB 3. Check the Teach the Vote blog later this weekend for a more detailed summary of the meeting by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


ELECTION UPDATE: November is right around the corner. Are you registered and ready to vote? This week the Secretary of State revealed the ballot order for constitutional amendments that voters will consider in November 2019, including one that pertains to education funding. Learn more about the proposed amendment, along with updates on campaign announcements for the 2020 primary elections in this new election update post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


In Washington, DC, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on school safety on Thursday, July 25, 2019. The specific focus of yesterday’s hearing was on examining state and federal recommendations for enhancing school safety against targeted violence. The committee heard from four invited witnesses: Max Schachter and Tom Hoyer, who are both parents of children killed in the Parkland School shooting; Bob Gualtieri, Sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida; and Deborah Temkin, PH.D., Senior Program Area Director, Education Child Trends. Mr. Hoyer identified three areas where policymakers can impact school safety, particularly with regard to school shootings: securing the school campus, improving mental health screening and support programs, and supporting responsible firearms ownership. Committee members focused their questions and attention on the first two issues. Archived video of the hearing and the testimony of the individual witnesses can be found at the links above.