Tag Archives: Congress

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 8, 2017

It’s a snowy edition of today’s education news wrap-up from ATPE Governmental Relations:


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is attending and testifying at today’s meeting, which had a delayed start on account of the overnight snowfall and concerns about road conditions in central Texas. The board today gave final approval of educator disciplinary rule changes implementing Senate Bill 7 as passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year to address teacher misconduct. Also approved were standards tied to a new early childhood teaching certificate and a preliminary rule revision to clarify the continuing professional education requirements for teachers renewing their certificates. SBEC declined to act today on one board member’s request to consider loosening requirements for individuals to become certified as superintendents. ATPE and other educator groups testified in opposition to diluting the superintendent certification standards. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote on Monday for a more detailed summary of today’s SBEC meeting from Kuhlmann.


Voters participating in the Texas Republican Party primary in March 2018 will be asked to share their views about private school vouchers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has a look at 11 non-binding propositions approved by state GOP party leaders for placement on the March ballot. They include questions about property taxes and revenue caps, along with a proposed statement of support for funding vouchers for private or home schooling “without government constraints or intrusion.” Read more in the blog post here.


In case you missed it, ATPE has provided input to Texas’s congressional delegation on tax reform proposals still pending in Washington, DC this week. Read more about the proposals put forth by the U.S. House and Senate respectively and how they could impact educators in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Monday, Dec. 11, is the deadline for candidates to file for inclusion on the ballot in one of the state’s primary elections on March 6. ATPE will be updating our TeachtheVote.org website to include any newly filed candidates once the filing period closes. All candidates running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, State House, State Senate, or State Board of Education (SBOE) are invited to participate in ATPE’s candidate survey and have their responses and additional information featured in individual candidate profiles on the website. Candidates must provide ATPE with a campaign email address in order to participate in the survey. Several candidates have already taken our survey and shared their views on public education issues with voters. We look forward to receiving additional responses as the election nears and hope you’ll check out and share our election resources on TeachtheVote.org.

 


 

ATPE weighs in as Congress hashes out differences on tax bill

Over the weekend, the U.S. Senate passed a $1.5 trillion tax bill designed by the upper chamber’s Republican leaders. The measure passed largely on a party line vote, with just one Republican joining Democrats in opposition, and it comes after the U.S. House passed its own version of a bill to reform the tax code last month. Now, the Senate and House must reconcile their respective differences and develop a bill that can pass both chambers before it heads to President Trump for his signature.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday wrote members of the Texas Congressional delegation to weigh in on two provisions in the House and Senate bills that affect educators and their classrooms. The first pertains to the educator expense deduction, which currently allows educators to deduct up to $250 dollars from their tax bills when personal money is spent on classroom supplies and materials. The bill passed by the House eliminates the deduction altogether, while the Senate’s bill increases the deduction to up to $500.

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday

“While not the ideal approach to filling budget shortfalls or equalizing access to supplies and materials among students,” Canaday writes, “the deduction offers some form of reimbursement to educators who dip into their own pockets to purchase materials for students, classrooms, and schools that might otherwise go without.”

The second issue ATPE highlighted in its letter to Texas members of Congress involves the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). The House tax bill would apply a new tax, the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT), to public pension investments, including the TRS trust fund.

“Weakening the financial soundness of the TRS trust fund by subjecting it to new additional tax liability on the front end, in addition to the taxes already paid by individual retirees, is a cost that neither the State of Texas nor the teachers who spent their working years serving our state can afford,” wrote Canaday.

In both instances, ATPE asks members of the Texas delegation to encourage House and Senate leaders and other members of Congress currently negotiating a final bill to retain the Senate approach: doubling the Educator Expense Deduction (or, at a minimum, maintaining the current $250 deduction) and forgoing the inclusion of language applying the UBIT to public pension investments.

Read the full letter here, and check back for more as the U.S. Congress continues its work to reform elements of current U.S. tax law.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Dec. 1, 2017

The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) provided a guest post this week on the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). He calls the WEP “unfair to public servants in Texas and across the nation” and says it is time for a fix.

ATPE has worked for decades to repeal the WEP, an arbitrary formula that affects the retirement earnings of some public employees who are eligible for both Social Security and government pensions (such as TRS). More information from ATPE on the WEP as it currently exists can be found here. In recent years, ATPE has joined with a coalition of active and retired public employee groups from Texas and across the country to bolster our work specific to this issue, working closely with Chairman Brady and his staff in order to repeal the WEP and replace it with a fairer formula for affected active and retired public employees.

Chairman Brady’s guest post addresses his thoughts on the current WEP and his vision for a new approach.

 


The Permanent School Fund (PSF), an endowment used to help fund public education in Texas in a variety of ways, has hit a record value: $41.44 billion as of August 31. The Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education (SBOE), which manages the majority of the fund, announced the milestone this week, adding that a projected $2.5 billion from the PSF is expected to be distributed to Texas schools during the 2018-2019 biennium. For more on the announcement, the fund’s purpose, and the a brief history of the fund, check out this post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Guest Post: It’s Time to Fix the WEP

U.S. Representative Kevin Brady (R-Texas)

By Kevin Brady, Chairman
U.S. House Ways and Means Committee

The Windfall Elimination Provision or “WEP” is unfair. It’s unfair to public servants in Texas and across the nation, including places like California, Massachusetts and Ohio.  I’ve been working to repeal and replace the WEP for a decade. This is something we must do for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

You probably know the history: When Social Security was created in 1935, state and local governments were excluded from participating due to Constitutional concerns.  Later, the law changed to allow state and local governments to offer Social Security to their employees.

As a result, many teachers, police, and firefighters still contribute to these longstanding retirement plans instead of Social Security since these substitute plans are often tailored to their chosen careers.  But many of these public servants also hold second (or third) jobs or have a second career where they’ve paid Social Security taxes. These folks rightfully expect to receive their earned Social Security benefits when they retire.  However, due to the WEP, their Social Security benefits end up being much lower than they were expecting.

Although the WEP may have been well intentioned in the start, today it’s simply unfair. Those affected by the WEP are subject to a different benefit formula than all other workers.  This arbitrary formula is based on a 1980’s one-size-fits-all Washington compromise and ignores a person’s actual work history.  The WEP also makes it harder to plan for retirement since the reduction doesn’t show up on a worker’s Social Security statement. When you are nearing retirement, surprises are never a good thing.

I think we can all agree that our teachers, police, and firefighters deserve better.

Working with my Democratic colleague from Massachusetts, Representative Richard Neal, and teacher, police, firefighter, and retiree groups, we’ve come together on a solution for addressing the WEP based on fairness, equal treatment and personal work histories.

Here’s how it would work.  The new proposal repeals the WEP as it exists today. Instead of only counting Social Security earnings as the current WEP does, we count all earnings of workers. This helps tailor benefits to your real-life work history.  This “proportional approach” calculates Social Security benefits using all earnings and then adjusts this amount based on the percentage of earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes.  This way, two workers with the same average earnings receive a Social Security benefit equal to the same percentage of their Social Security earnings.

Let’s look at an example for two teachers – one from Virginia who paid Social Security taxes on all of her earnings and another from Texas, who paid into a substitute retirement system like TRS but also tutored and paid Social Security taxes on these earnings.  Both teachers had average monthly earnings of $4,000.  The Virginia teacher had all of these earnings counted for Social Security purposes, while the Texas teacher only had $2,285 credited toward her Social Security benefits.

Under today’s law, the Virginia teacher would receive an initial monthly benefit of $1,776 if she claims at her full retirement age. That represents about 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings.  On the other hand, because of the WEP the Texas teacher under today’s laws would only receive a monthly benefit of $800, which represents about 35 percent of pre-retirement Social Security earnings.

Under the new proposed “proportional approach”, the Virginia teacher would still receive a monthly benefit of $1,776.  But the Texas teacher would receive a monthly benefit of $1,015, which represents 44 percent of her pre-retirement Social Security earnings – or the same percentage as the Virginia teacher.

While the new proportional formula addresses the WEP for future retirees, we cannot leave current retirees behind. Our plan provides Social Security relief to current retirees affected by the WEP by providing special payments to these retirees. That’s only fair.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey met with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017 to discuss fixing the WEP.

Over the years – with the help of groups like the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Retired Teachers Association and Mass Retirees – we have taken important steps toward finally fixing the WEP.  With your help, we will finally ensure equal treatment for our teachers, firefighters, police, and other public servants.

This is a top priority for me, and we will not rest until we have a solution in law.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 6, 2017

Here’s the latest education news from Texas and Washington, DC, supplied by your ATPE lobby team:

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting in Austin today, Oct. 6,. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter is attending the meeting and has provided this update.

The board is adopting a number of updates to the Texas Administrative Code (containing SBEC rules) both as part of the board’s regular rule review cycle and as the board pursues its role in active oversight of educator preparation programs and educator certification and assignment.

In addition to adopting rule changes, the board also considered today several items outside of their administrative rule review, including updating the Classroom Teacher Advisory Committee; approving modified principal and teacher surveys associated with the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP); and discussing updates to the board’s mission statement and statement of core principles for better alignment. At the conclusion of the discussion of rule items posted for action, the board heard presentations from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff on 50 cases of pending or considered litigation.

Finally, the board is considering today four agenda items that were posted for discussion only:

  • A proposed amendment to rules in 19 TAC Chapter 227, implementing statutory requirements of SB 1839 and HBs 2039 and 1508 from the last regular legislative session, dealing with educator preparation candidates;
  • Proposed amendments to rules in Chapter 228, implementing SBs 7 and 1839 as well as HBs 2039, 3349, and 1963 with regard to requirements for educator preparation programs;
  • Proposed amendments to Chapter 233 rules regarding categories of classroom teaching certificates; and
  • Implementation of SB 1839 with regard to requirements to provide data to educator preparation programs to help those programs assess their impact and improve program design and effectiveness.

For additional information on the topics above, view the full board agenda and its related materials here.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-177533853Are you curious about efforts to reform Social Security laws that have had a negative impact on some educators when they retire? Read the latest update on our blog from David Pore, one of ATPE’s lobbyists representing our members on Social Security and other federal issues in Washington, DC.

 


Hurricane Harvey remains the focus of interim legislative hearings. On Monday, the House Appropriations Committee met in Houston to discuss the state’s response to the massive storm. The committee heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other state officials about Harvey’s impact and the recovery efforts. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Next Thursday, Oct. 12, the House Public Education Committee will meet to investigate the hurricane’s financial impact on schools and their facilities. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-128960266_voteTexans have only a few days left to register to vote in the next election. Next Tuesday, Oct. 10, is the last day to register to vote for the upcoming election on Nov. 7, 2017. In that election, voters will be asked to weigh in on proposed constitutional amendments, as well as several local ballot measures. Below are some tips from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter on what you can do to prepare for upcoming elections.

While the big election isn’t until March 2018, now is the best time to begin, or continue, developing a culture of voting within the education community. Voting is more than just a right that has been handed down to us through the spilled blood of our forefathers and –mothers, it is also a responsibility of good citizenship, and like all positive behaviors, voting is learned by your students and colleagues through modeling and discussing good habits.

The best way to ensure that your voter registration is complete and up to date is to get into the habit of annually checking your voter status with the Secretary of State. Thankfully, this is as easy as going to the Am I Registered web page, entering one of three simple sets of information, and hitting submit. The site will then pull up your voter registration data and let you confirm that your “voter status” is active and that your name and address information are up to date.

If you have moved within the same county, you can update your address by simply clicking the “change your address” link. If you have moved to a new county, or if your voter status is not listed as active, then you will need to complete and submit a voter registration form. You can complete your voter registration on the Secretary of State’s voter registration page. After you fill out the web form, you will need to print it and drop it in the mail.

ATPE members with questions about voter registration are always encouraged to contact the ATPE Government Relations team at government@atpe.org. Happy voting!

 

Federal Update: Efforts to protect educators’ Social Security benefits

An Update from David Pore, ATPE’s Washington, DC-based lobbyist

David Pore

David Pore

For many years, your ATPE Governmental Relations team has worked to fix two provisions in federal law that unfairly reduce the Social Security benefits of some retired educators and other public employees. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) reduces the spousal benefits of some educators based on their eligibility for a government pension, and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) reduces the individual benefits of public retirees who have worked in jobs covered by Social Security in addition to their non-covered teaching careers. The WEP hits Texas educators particularly hard because the vast majority of our school districts in Texas do not pay into the Social Security system.

Every Congress, legislation is introduced to fully repeal both the WEP and the GPO. So, what’s the problem you ask? Why won’t the Congress repeal these unfair offsets and bring much-needed relief to retired public educators, cops, and firefighters living on fixed incomes? In short, it’s about the money, the politics, and the policy. Full repeal of the GPO and WEP would cost the Social Security trust fund tens of billions of dollars and create new inequities in the benefits formula, which in turn would create new winners and losers.

While ATPE has supported federal legislation to fully repeal these offsets, we have done so with the knowledge that passage of a full repeal bill is extremely unlikely in the current fiscal and political climate in DC. Therefore, consistent with our ATPE values, we have been working on bipartisan legislation that will take a huge first step in the right direction by repealing the arbitrary WEP and replacing it with a much fairer formula that will base your Social Security benefits on your service and contributions, just like everyone else. In the last Congress, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX)  and Rep.  Neal (D-MA) introduced HR711, the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act.  Working through a coalition of other associations, including the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA), ATPE had significant input on this important bipartisan legislation that would have also provided a modest annual rebate check to current retirees who have had their benefits reduced by the WEP. We were able to get 29 of Texas’s 36 U.S. House members to cosponsor HR711, and in July of last year, it was scheduled for consideration by the House Ways and Means Committee, which Congressman Brady chairs.  Unfortunately, the bill stalled when one organization in the coalition demanded changes that would have upset the careful funding balance necessary to repeal the WEP going forward and provide current retirees some relief as well.

ATPE's Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

ATPE’s Monty Exter, Carl Garner, and Gary Godsey meet with U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady in June 2017.

This year, we have been working with Chairman Brady, his committee staff, and the coalition to reach a consensus that will allow the bill to be reintroduced in the near future and hopefully attached to larger package of “must-pass” legislation. ATPE’s lobbyists have been in frequent contact with the Chairman and his committee staff and have been assured as recently as yesterday that reintroduction and passage of this bill is Chairman Brady’s top Social Security priority as Ways and Means Chair and will happen during this Congress. Meanwhile, the Congress continues to grapple with enormously challenging reform of our healthcare and tax systems, which has delayed consideration of other federal legislation.

What can you do? Continue to stay active and informed on the policy issues that affect your profession as well as the retirement benefits you have earned. When the bill is reintroduced, we will need ATPE members to mobilize and contact your Members of Congress and urge co-sponsorship and support to get this legislation to the President’s desk for signature. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on this important topic.

TEA submits ESSA plan for review

tea-logo-header-2The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), on Monday. Submission of the plan triggered a 120-day window for the U.S. Dept of Education LogoU.S. Department of Education (ED) to review Texas’s proposal, a process that includes conducting a peer review and an evaluation by ED staff, primarily to ensure our state’s compliance with statutory requirements.

ATPE weighed in with input on the draft Texas plan during the public comment period last month. The plan saw some changes prior to submission to ED, but is largely similar to the draft plan that received public comment. ESSA provided flexibility to states in terms of using federal money to foster innovative approaches to accountability and assessments, among other areas covered under the law. Texas’s plan takes advantage of only some of that flexibility.

More on the final Texas ESSA plan and additional information on ESSA in Texas can be found at TEA’s ESSA web page. All states were required to submit final plans to ED this month (both Alabama and Texas received a deadline extension due to timing of hurricanes and hurricane recovery efforts).

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Deadline extended for public input on Texas ESSA plan

ThinkstockPhotos-476529187-hourglassToday’s deadline for members of the public to comment on Texas’s draft state plan for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has been extended.

After seeking an extension from the federal government, Texas Education Agency (TEA) officials announced today that the public comment period will remain open until the close of business this Friday, Sept. 1, 2017. TEA will submit its state plan to the U.S. Department of Education on Sept. 25.

For more on the content of the draft state plan to comply with the federal education law, check out this earlier blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. View the draft state plan in its entirety here. Submit your comments this week to TEA via email to essa@tea.texas.gov.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 25, 2017

Welcome back to school, educators! Here’s this week’s ATPE wrap-up of education news:

 


TRS logoTRS has posted info on its website and social media telling plan participants in areas affected by Hurricane Harvey that they can fill prescriptions in advance of the storm.

Both CVS Caremark and Express Scripts are allowing one-time emergency refills of medications for those in areas affected by the hurricane.

The article on TRS’ website informing participants they can pick up medications in advance of the storm and which provides the PBMs’ phone numbers can be found here.

Participants with questions about how to access prescriptions, can contact TRS pharmacy benefit managers at the following numbers:

• Active employees: CVS Caremark 1-800-222-9205 (option 2)
• Retirees: Express Scripts 1-877-680-4881

TRS participants can get to the article from the “What’s New” section of the TRS homepage and from the health care news main page.

 


Retirement planning written on a notepad.The board of trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) was scheduled to meet today for the first time following the conclusion of the 85th legislature’s special session. However, the meeting has been postponed until Sept. 1 on account of Hurricane Harvey and the inability to secure a quorum.

To learn more about changes the board is expected to consider for TRS-Care when it meets next week, check out this recent post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


ATPE Input on the Texas ESSA Plan_FINAL_Page_1As we reported yesterday, ATPE has submitted formal input this week on the draft Texas state plan for ESSA compliance recently shared by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Click here to read ATPE’s feedback, prepared by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, which focuses on aspects of the federal such as student assessment, setting long-term performance goals for students, and analyzing school climate as a quality indicator.

 


tea-logo-header-2This week, TEA also announced the availability of a new Equity Toolkit to help school districts comply with ESSA requirements to submit equity plans reporting on whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers” in the district. Learn more about the toolkit in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


ATPE state officers and staff have been talking to the media about the 85th legislature recent special session and how educators feel about issues heading into the 2018 election season.

Jennifer Canaday

Jennifer Canaday

A guest editorial by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Canaday was published this week by both the Houston Chronicle and the Austin American-Statesman. In her piece entitled “Maybe it’s time for a legislative gap year,” Canaday writes about the legislature’s decision not to make any major changes to the state’s school finance system in a way that would also provide local property tax relief. “The Legislature, unfortunately, punted on an opportunity to make structural changes to our beleaguered school finance system, opting to study the issue for two more years,” writes Canaday. “Like a seventh- or eighth-year college student still living at home, at some point the Texas Legislature must complete its studies and start working on the real job of fixing what is broken.”

Tonja Gray

Tonja Gray

The legislature will instead appoint a new commission to study and recommend improvements to the school finance system. ATPE State Secretary Tonja Gray spoke to reporters with KTXS in Abilene  about the commission and about her experiences testifying at committee hearings during the regular and special sessions. Gray said she was happy to see the legislature’s passage of a measure to provide additional funding for retired teachers’ healthcare needs.

Gary Godsey

Gary Godsey

Byron Hildebrand

Byron Hildebrand

ATPE State Vice President Byron Hildebrand and ATPE Executive Director also taped an appearance for the debut episode of “In Focus,” a new public affairs program produced by Spectrum News Austin and Spectrum News San Antonio. Local viewers can catch the program at 9:30 am on Sunday mornings beginning Sept. 3, 2017. For a sneak preview, check out this clip featuring Hildebrand discussing retired teachers.