ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019
Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).
ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.
Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.
Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.
The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.
Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.
Last Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
In each fiscal year (FY), which runs October 1 through September 30, the President releases his vision for the country’s budget. It really is just that- a statement on how the President believes money should be spent based on his (or her) priorities. Actual fiscal determinations are made by Congress. For example, past presidential budgets have proposed eliminating Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which provides over $2 billion in grants to states to improve teacher effectiveness. However, Title II has remained intact because Congress will not eliminate it.
The 2020 presidential budget proposal includes $62 billion for the Department of Education (ED) to provide K-12 and higher education programs and funding, which is an $8.5 billion or 12% decrease compared to what Congress enacted in the last budget. President Trump’s budget plan cuts K-12 education by $5.1 billion and calls for eliminating at least 16 programs. While maintaining current levels of funding for large programs such as Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the President’s budget pushes multiple controversial programs such as school privatization marketed as “school choice,” charter school expansion, and performance-based compensation, as well as funding for magnet schools and school safety. The proposal includes the following:
Creating a federal tax credit costing up to $50 billion over 10 years for donations to scholarship programs for families of elementary and secondary students to subsidize private school tuition
$500 million (an increase of $60M) to fund the opening, expansion, and facilities of charter schools
$107 million to expand magnet schools
$50 million in new funding for districts participating in the Title I student-centered funding pilot, which allows districts to to use federal, state, and local funding for public school choice
Raising the percentage of Title I dollars states can use to fund expanded educational choice for disadvantaged students from 3% to 5%
Increasing the funding for the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, which awards scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools in Washington, DC
While the bulk of Title II under ESSA would be eliminated yet again, the FY 2020 Presidential budget proposes two main initiatives that affect teachers:
$200 million for the Teacher and School Leader Incentive grant program, which would support performance-based compensation systems and human capital management systems that include either mentoring of new teachers or increased compensation for effective teachers
$300 million (an increase of $170M) for Education Innovation and Research, mainly for studying teacher-driven professional development (PD) and providing stipends for teachers to attend PD
As for school safety, the budget includes:
$700 million ($354M increase) in Department of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services grants to give states and school districts resources to implement the recommendations of the Federal Commission on School Safety (FCSS)
$200 million (increase of $105M) will go to ED for School Safety National Activities, which provides grants to states and school districts to develop school emergency operations plans, as well as counseling and emotional support. $100M of this will be used for a School Safety State Grant program to implement the recommendations of the FCSS
Other points of interest include TEACH grants, which award annual amounts up to $4,000 to eligible undergraduate and graduate students to become full-time teachers in high-need areas for at least four years. The Presidential budget proposes cutting funding to this program by $3.1 million. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which allows the cancellation of federal student loans for non-profit and government employees after 10 years of on-time payments, is also eliminated in the budget.
In addition to the aforementioned maintained levels of Title I and IDEA funding, the FY 2020 Presidential budget proposal would maintain current levels of funding for many programs including state assessments, English language acquisition programs, migrant education, neglected and delinquent education, education for homeless children and youths, and rural education.
The budget would decrease funding to Indian education programs and impact aid, which helps to offset revenue loss to districts that serve areas that include federal lands. The budget plan also shifts around more than $12B in IDEA funding, cutting some programs entirely while increasing funding to others.
Lastly, the budget proposes elimination of many programs, including arts in education, full-service community schools, Promise neighborhoods, and Special Olympics educational programs. However, don’t despair! Remember, the president’s proposed budget is a suggestion and a statement of his priorities. Given the split control of the U.S. House of Representatives, it is even less likely that President Trump’s proposals as described here ultimately will be enacted.
The entire proposal includes all areas of funding across the government. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, check out the administration’s three-page overview. Keep in mind that these documents were created by the White House and do not represent an objective analysis.
ATPE will continue to monitor and report on the federal budget discussions in Washington with assistance from our DC-based federal lobby team. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.
The Democrat wants to draw teachers and education-minded voters away from the Republican Party. But can he win over enough educators to unseat a powerful incumbent?
Democrat Mike Collier (left) is challenging Republican incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Photos by Bob Daemmrich: Collier/Marjorie Kamys Cotera: Patrick.
TAYLOR — It was a weekday morning, and Williamson County’s retired teachers were back in school.
Dozens of them gathered one October Friday in a large conference room off of Main Street Intermediate School, where the walls were beige concrete blocks, the sunlight was sneaking through the blinds, and the speakers — a slate of Texas candidates — were fighting to keep the room’s interest. Casting a shadow on the projector screen at the front of the room was Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who was preparing to hit a softball: Does Texas need its state retirement benefits system for teachers?
“Yes,” he said simply. “First of all, it’s the right thing to do. … It’s self-evident.”
He began to make a pulpit of his plastic table.
“And we’re a prosperous state! And we can afford it!” he continued, finger-wagging for emphasis. When he sat down, the room applauded.
On his longshot campaign to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is hoping he’s popular in a lot of rooms that look like this one — where after hearing from him, education-focused voters in a reliably red county said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, then cross over to back Collier.
Collier, a Houston accountant and a failed 2014 candidate for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, perhaps insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, where Patrick has served in state government for more than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as much cash on hand.
Still, Collier says he can see a path to victory — and it starts here, in a crowd of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like sheets they’ve prepared for the occasion, sipping coffee out of teeny foam cups, some nodding along and a few nodding off.
But are there enough rooms like this to carry him to victory?
“The most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas”
Patrick is the heavy favorite to keep his seat in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than 20 years. He has the fundraising muscle, the endorsements and, more than likely, the reliable voters of a reliably dominant majority party.
As the leader of the Texas Senate, Patrick is one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and he’s used his influence to push socially conservative policies through the upper chamber at an impressive clip — abortion restrictions, border enforcement, anti-“sanctuary cities” laws. Republican senators credit him with firm, effective leadership; liberals consider that effectiveness perhaps the state’s greatest threat to their values.
Patrick chaired President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign efforts in Texas, and shared the stage with him at a campaign rally in Houston this week, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night. Patrick is, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said at a recent campaign event, “the most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas.”
But his party isn’t without its disagreements. Some have pointed to a split between Patrick, who heads a Tea Party-aligned faction of the party, and retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, a more moderate figure. During the last legislative year, that split emerged in full force when Patrick pushed forward a bill that would have restricted transgender individuals’ access to certain public facilities. Straus condemned it as bad for business, and never brought it to the House floor for a vote — a move that contributed to his censure by the State Republican Executive Committee.
Tensions from the 2017 legislative sessions have bled into this fall’s campaign, if in limited fashion. One example: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who leads Texas’ most populous county, said he plans to vote for Collier.
But a family feud won’t keep a Republican incumbent from getting re-elected, strategists and elected officials predict. Patrick has the public support of Texas’ top Republicans; his campaign boasts the endorsements of both of Texas’ U.S. senators, the governor and all but one Republican state senator.
“There’s no question” that Patrick will win re-election, said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, an ally of the lieutenant governor. Bettencourt represents the Houston district Patrick served until 2014 — heavily overlapping with Emmett’s turf — and said he’s confident that Patrick has the support of the region. “Dan Patrick is going to be re-elected. Dan Patrick is very popular in the Republican party.”
Still, if there are disenchanted Republican moderates to be picked off, Collier is working to endear himself to them.
In a year when even Texas Democrats are running as unabashed progressives, Collier has charted a more careful path. His party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate is a former punk rocker who went viral for skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot while on the campaign trail. For governor, Democrats have nominated Lupe Valdez, the state’s first openly gay and Latina candidate to win the nod.
Collier does not ride a skateboard. At 57, he’s spent much of his life working as an accountant, and he only recently committed to the Democratic party — he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. He seems most comfortable talking numbers — “I’m Dan Patrick’s worst nightmare! I’m a Democrat and an auditor!” he likes to say — and seems less sure-footed discussing social issues.
On the death penalty, for example, Collier said he is still “evolving” toward a more liberal point of view. Collier justifies his support for undocumented immigrants in Texas in financial terms, not on moral grounds: They draw about $2 billion in state resources a year, but contribute about $2.7 billion back through property taxes, he says, so, “it doesn’t bother me that they’re here.” His line is similar on LGBTQ rights. In an interview last month, he couldn’t list inclusive legislation he’d push, but said he did “have in mind blocking” measures considered hostile to the gay community, like the so-called “bathroom bill.”
“Tolerance and inclusiveness is good for business,” Collier said, a line he could almost have borrowed from Straus.
“Public enemy number one for public education”
If Collier is positioning himself to draw center-right Republicans back over the line, public education may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial figure among teachers, retired teachers and public school parents.
As a former chair of the Texas Senate’s public education committee and as the leader of the upper chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, many of them public school educators, call “vouchers” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. During last summer’s special session, as the Legislature debated an influx of cash for public schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion more than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.
“When you have 700,000 school employees, they’re not all going to be on the same page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one person out there that they’re most unified about it’s probably the lieutenant governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was pushing reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t seem to favor class-size restrictions and they really, really do. He really does favor vouchers and they really, really don’t. And the funding issues have died in his hands or at his hands.”
Meanwhile, Patrick portrays himself as a champion for public schools. This summer, after his urging, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas opted not to raise health care premiums for retired teachers. In an ad last week, he reiterated his proposal to raise teacher salaries by an average of $10,000.
“Teachers are more valuable than expensive buildings and fancy stadiums,” Patrick says in the commercial, standing on a sunny hill in front of a truck. “It’s my priority, it’s best for our kids and it’s the right thing to do.”
But many in the public education community are skeptical about that plan in a system they say is already underfunded. Tracy Fisher, the president of Coppell ISD’s board and a Republican precinct chair in Dallas County, called the lieutenant governor’s proposal “deceptive.” He is “public enemy number one for public education,” she added.
And the effort hasn’t won Patrick favor from major teachers groups, some of whom have called his efforts disingenuous. Collier won the endorsements of the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas’ chapter of American Federation of Teachers; AFT president Louis Malfaro said Patrick has “tried to browbeat local school districts.” In its first-ever endorsements of statewide candidates, the public education group Texas Parent PAC also backed Collier, calling Patrick a bully and ideologue “who cannot be trusted to protect and strengthen our neighborhood public schools.”
Patrick’s campaign said those groups hardly speak for all Texas teachers. But the incumbent’s recent teacher raise ad shows he’s still focused on courting educators.
“While almost all the organizations that represent teachers are left-leaning and Democrat, in fact, Texas teachers tell us that most are Republicans who support border security, property tax reform and the innovative education reforms, including career tech, that have been championed by the Lt. Governor,” said Sherry Sylvester, a top Patrick aide.
Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser said dissatisfied educators may narrow Patrick’s margin of victory, but they won’t threaten it.
“Do I think that feeling is widespread enough to cause concern for Dan Patrick? No,” he said.
A “sleeping giant”?
There are about 700,000 public school employees in Texas; that number doubles when you include retirees in the system, and multiplies if you add parents who consider public education their top voting issue. Collier is counting on that diverse group to back him as a block — but those voters have a wide range of backgrounds and political leanings. And they don’t always show up.
“The expectation is that teachers just don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of elections is that the enthusiasm and participation of educators is on the rise.”
Last year, in the wake of disappointments at the Legislature, many educators pledged to come together — including, and especially, across party lines — to support pro-public education candidates. In the months since, they’ve moved their advocacy from the Capitol steps to the internet, where nearly 27,000 have joined a Facebook group, Texans For Public Education, whose stated mission is block voting. The group, which color-codes its list of candidates, marked Collier green — “friendly,” “block vote” — and Patrick red: “unfriendly” to public education.
Collier is counting on turning them out to vote for him. But that bet has failed before.
Just ask Jim Largent, who retired as Granbury ISD superintendent this year after a failed primary challenge to state Rep. Mike Lang, a fellow North Texas Republican. Running as the pro-public education candidate, Largent won just 38 percent of the vote. In the Houston area, Fort Bend ISD board president Kristin Tassin suffered the same fate, taking just 27 percent of the vote in a challenge to state Sen. Joan Huffman that Tassin hoped teachers would swing in her favor.
A similar pattern emerged in the lieutenant governor’s race, where Patrick was one of just a few statewide officials to draw a serious primary challenger. Patrick’s opponent was Scott Milder, the founder of the advocacy group Friends of Texas Public Schools, who drew some attention for bad-mouthing Patrick — he called the incumbent a “bully,” a “jackass” and even a “fake conservative” —but remained the clear underdog in financial support and name recognition. Milder pushed the Patrick campaign to spend over $5 million on advertising, but ultimately won just under a quarter of Republican primary voters — a smaller share than either Tassin or Largent. Within days of the loss, Milder endorsed Collier.
Looking back on his attempt, Largent called Texas educators the electorate’s “sleeping giant.” The question, he said, is whether in a general election they’re more likely to wake up.
“I have always thought that Mike had a better shot than I did in the primary,” Milder said. “So few people actually turn out in the primary. … But a much broader base of Texans shows up in the general.”
Collier argues that the pro-public education voting block he envisions is more likely to swing a general election than a primary. Considering Democrats and Republicans who backed Milder, more people voted against Patrick in the primary than for him, Collier likes to point out.
There is also a Libertarian candidate in this fall’s race, Kerry McKennon.
“I do think that my race is as competitive as any,” Collier said. “There are going to be Republicans who stay home because they hate Dan Patrick. There are going to be a lot of Democrats who turn out because they hate Dan Patrick.”
The incumbent’s team isn’t so sure of that, though they did spend some $6.5 million on advertising in the last quarter to make extra sure. They have history on their side — and history suggests they have the numbers on their side, too.
At a rainy get out the vote rally in New Braunfels last week, Patrick projected confidence.
“There are folks like us who are going to keep Texas red — who are not going to let the blue wave take us out,” Patrick promised a cheering, bundled-up crowd.
While introducing Patrick, Campbell, the Republican state senator, summed it up neatly.
“I’ll tell you, they are motivated!” she said of Democrats. “But there are more of us than them.”
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
Congress passed legislation this week to rewrite the primary federal law concerning career and technical education (CTE). The bill now goes to President Trump for his signature.
On Monday, the Senate passed its version of a bill to reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by a voice vote. The upper chamber amended a reauthorization bill already passed by the U.S. House, H.R. 2353, with substitute text containing the Senate’s preferred language to reauthorize the law. The U.S. Senate education committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), said the bill limits the role of the Department of Education (ED), giving states more freedom to make decisions about how to utilize federal CTE funding.
The House quickly responded on Wednesday by agreeing to the Senate’s changes and sending the bill to President Trump’s desk for his signature. The Trump Administration has been increasingly supportive of the legislation. White House advisor Ivanka Trump has actively supported passage of the legislation and President Trump released a statement on Wednesday saying that “by enacting it into law, we will continue to prepare students for today’s constantly shifting job market, and we will help employers find the workers they need to compete.”
Still, groups like the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE and the American Association of School Administrators have expressed opposition for varying reasons. The CTE group expressed concern once the Senate bill was passed that it leaves the potential for unambitious state performance targets and low academic standards for CTE students. The administrators have previously called the legislation too prescriptive.
As we have previously outlined, current funding levels will be continued, and the bill gives states more authority in crafting their goals, as long as they are aligned with requirements under the bill. States will be required to meet those goals within two years or face a potential loss of funding. The bill does provide for some additional funding that will be disseminated to states based on population. President Trump is expected to sign the bill soon.
Earlier today, President Donald Trump signed into law a major tax overhaul bill approved by Congress this week. The president also signed off on a short-term funding bill to keep the federal governmental operational for a few more weeks until longer-term legislation can be passed. The final $1.5 trillion tax bill omits some provisions that were worrisome for educators employed in public schools, which ATPE urged our congressional delegation to remove from earlier versions of the legislation. For more on the tax law that was approved, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.
Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) has announced his appointments to two key state commissions. First, the speaker revealed his picks to serve on the new Texas Commission on Public School Finance, authorized by the legislature earlier this year. The House appointments include Reps. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and Ken King (R-Canadian). Fittingly, all three of the representatives chosen by the speaker also hold leadership roles on the House Public Education Committee: Huberty as committee chair, Bernal as committee vice-chair, and King as chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality. Also appointed to serve on the commission is Nicole Conley Johnson, who is currently employed as Chief Financial Officer for Austin ISD. Additional members of the school finance commission were previously announced by Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick.
Yesterday, Straus also announced that Reps. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), Stan Lambert (R-Abilene), and Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) would serve on the Sunset Advisory Commission, along with public member and retired accountant Ron Steinhart of Dallas. The commission is charged with overseeing and making recommendations to the legislature on periodic reviews of various state agencies.
Twenty Texas school districts will have an opportunity to take part in a pilot program using locally designed accountability measures. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath named the districts selected earlier this week from a pool of 50 applicants. The pilot program falls under Rep. Dan Huberty’s House Bill 22 passed earlier this year. For more on the local accountability pilot study, view information on the Texas Education Agency’s website here.
The full U.S. Senate is expected to vote Monday on the confirmation of Betsy DeVos to become Secretary of Education. DeVos arguably has been President Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet pick. As proof of just how much disagreement exists over DeVos, Monday’s vote is predicted to come down to a 50-50 split, forcing Vice President Mike Pence to cast a rare tie-breaking vote to confirm the nominee. Read more in this most recent blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, and visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central if you’d like to send a message this weekend to U.S. Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) about Betsy DeVos. (Member login is required to access Advocacy Central.)
The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover all the action. Check out Mark’s latest blog post about new committee assignments for the board members, changes that are in the works to some curriculum standards, charter school finances, and more.
For months, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has been touting his major private school voucher legislation that will be pushed hard this legislative session. This week we finally got the first look at his signature voucher bill for 2017, which is Senate Bill 3 being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill filed on Monday calls for both corporate tax credit “scholarships” for private schools, as well as education savings accounts (ESAs). The latter would offer a debit card for parents, pre-funded with taxpayer dollars to be used for private school tuition, home school costs, or even college savings.
On more positive note, Rep. Jason Isaac (R-Dripping Springs) this week filed a new bill aimed at reducing standardized testing. House Bill 1333 calls for delinking teacher evaluations from student test scores, but the measure would also require Texas to seek a waiver of federal laws that require several tests currently administered to students starting in grade three and moving through the high school grades.
Stay tuned next week as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter will offer an in-depth look at SB 3 and the voucher debate for our blog. We’ll also have more on the newly filed testing bill, HB 1333. ATPE members can read more about these bills and all our legislative priorities over on Advocacy Central.
Governor Greg Abbott delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the 85th Legislature on Tuesday. It was an opportunity for the governor to share his declared “emergency items” earmarked for earliest consideration this session, but no education issues made that list. The governor did still talk about some legislative priorities of his that relate to education.
Gov. Abbott urged lawmakers to work on an overhaul of the beleaguered school finance system and reiterated his strong support for pre-K programs, as long as they are done the “right” way. He also encouraged lawmakers to do something about the small number of teachers who’ve engaged in inappropriate relationships with students and strengthen reporting laws to address school administrations that have allowed some of those individuals to move on to jobs in other districts rather than being excised from the profession permanently.
Unfortunately, the governor also expressed support for private school voucher legislation and praised two lawmakers who have filed bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues. Adding his voice to those spreading misinformation about the payroll deduction issue, Gov. Abbott stated, “Taxpayer resources should not be used for that.” ATPE and other groups have pointed out that payroll deduction for association dues produces no cost to taxpayers. State law even specifically authorizes school districts to charge associations like ATPE a fee if any such costs ever did arise.
The governor’s reference to taxpayer burdens that don’t exist is yet another example of the misleading information being spread about these two so-called “union dues” bills. The bills are being pushed mainly by business groups that have complained vociferously about anti-business activities by certain organized labor unions. But the bills filed, Senate Bill 13 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) and House Bill 510 by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston), have no impact on private businesses whatsoever.
This week, Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) signed on as a co-author of Senate Bill 13, joining a handful of other senators backing the bill. The House version includes two co-authors: Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo) and Rep. Tan Parker (R-Flower Mound).
Both of these bills unfairly target educators for retaliation against their decisions to join professional associations like ATPE. While being touted as “union dues” bills, the measures actually affect groups that aren’t unionized, including ATPE, and they specifically exempt certain other public employees who would continue to benefit from payroll deduction for their union dues. The decision to single out educators while exempting other public employees highlights the political and discriminatory nature of these bills, which are clearly meant to silence the voices of educators on hot-button issues like private school vouchers, public pension reform, testing and accountability, and labeling public schools as failures.
Educators are urged to send messages to their lawmakers about these harmful payroll deduction bills that are tied directly to other legislative efforts to destroy public education. It’s easy for ATPE members to send a message, call, tweet, or communicate with lawmakers via Facebook using our communication tools at Advocacy Central.
ATPE members, today is your last day to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event scheduled for March 5-6, 2017, at the Renaissance Austin Hotel and the Texas State Capitol. Be sure to sign up for our political involvement training and lobby day activities here, and don’t forget to book your hotel rooms and submit any requests for travel incentives by today, too. (ATPE member login is required to register for ATPE at the Capitol. Contact the ATPE state office if you need assistance logging in.)
Our training event on Sunday, March 5, features an opening keynote address by John Kuhn, presentations by the ATPE lobbyists, and a panel discussion with legislative leaders sharing their perspectives on the issues. Our website includes a schedule for Senate meetings and more details. Check it all out here. We look forward to seeing hundreds of ATPE members next month in Austin!
The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced the nomination of Betsy DeVos to the Senate floor on Tuesday. The 12-11 vote broke down on party lines, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposed to the vote. However, two Republicans expressed some indecision during the hearing and later confirmed they’ll vote against her nomination on the Senate floor.
The partisan breakdown over the nomination of Betsy DeVos has been on display since her confirmation hearing. The vote this week was no exception. HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) continued to express his support for the nominee and denied a request from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) to delay the vote. Alexander called DeVos the “most questioned” education secretary in Senate history, which again had Murray pointing to the fact that this nominee is different from previous education secretaries and more time is needed in order to adequately vet the nominee.
This time, however, Alexander didn’t seem to have the full backing of all of his Republican colleagues on the committee. Two Republican Senators, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-WA) and Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), expressed uncertainty with regard to their position on DeVos’s nomination. Both ultimately advanced the nomination to the Senate floor, but acknowledged the nominee had not yet earned their full support.
Today, both Republican senators announced that they have decided to oppose DeVos’s nomination when a vote is taken on the Senate floor. This is a big development as now only one additional Republican would need to join Democrats in opposing DeVos in order to block her confirmation. A simple majority on the Senate floor is all that is needed to confirm DeVos.
Opposition has grown since DeVos fumbled her confirmation hearing and calls to Senate offices have increased. The opposition has expressed serious concerns over DeVos’s credentials, lack of commitment to public education, understanding of federal law, and financial connections and contributions, among others. Murray asked for Tuesday’s committee vote on the nominee to be delayed in order to have more time to review DeVos’s responses to questions senators were not given time to ask during her confirmation hearing. Answers to most of the follow-up questions asked of DeVos can be found here.
Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz will now have a chance to vote on Betsy DeVos when her confirmation vote hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write, call, or contact their senators via social media and express their position on the nomination of Betsy DeVos. A date for the final vote has not been set.
Related Content:The U.S. House Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education will meet tomorrow (Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017) for a hearing entitled, “Helping Students Succeed Through the Power of School Choice.” Among the invited testifiers is Former Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams. Read more about the hearing and access to information to view the hearing live here.
President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Immediately upon being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Trump gave a rather nontraditional inauguration speech more reminiscent of his days on the campaign trail, painting a bleak picture of the current state of U.S. economic affairs and vowing to help America “win again.” On education, Trump made reference to “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Media pundits were quick to respond that measures such as graduation rates have generally shown improvement despite the fact that a majority of states have decreased their education spending in recent years.
The inauguration festivities this weekend cap off a busy week in Washington, where Trump’s cabinet picks have been undergoing confirmation hearings on the hill. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, fielded questions yesterday during a low-key and noncontroversial session with the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is expected to face little resistance to his confirmation. The same cannot be said of Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department (ED). Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos failed to temper growing fears at her confirmation hearing earlier this week. The hearing was held late Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. While HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised her nomination and his Republican colleagues on the committee seemed in step with advancing her nomination as early as next week, Democrats expressed serious concerns.
As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her full report of this week’s hearing, the questions DeVos refused to answer, or in some cases couldn’t answer, are getting the most attention. She failed to promise to preserve funding for public schools and expressed confusion over the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Not surprisingly, she also dug in hard on her support for vouchers, refusing to tie apples-to-apples accountability and reporting requirements to public money sent to schools outside of the traditional public school system.
A mandatory ethics review on DeVos was also released today. The review identified 102 potential financial conflicts of interest, from which she has agreed to disassociate. Senators will have until Tuesday to look over information on these conflicts of interest; the committee’s vote is expected to be held that day. Look for more from Kate on the vote and the ethics review next week.
Following the hearing, concerns about DeVos grew outside of the Capitol as well, and the expressed dissatisfaction for her nomination grew significantly on social media. Texans can call or write their senators to register their disapproval for DeVos’s nomination. ATPE members, log in to Advocacy Central to access contact information for Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) if you’d like to send a quick message to your senators about Betsy DeVos.
The U.S. Education Department (ED) wrapped up its final days under the Obama administration this week. As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, it is the department expected to be headed up soon by billionaire Betsy DeVos, who despite nationwide opposition from the education community has ample Republican support to achieve more than the votes needed for Senate confirmation. In the meantime, though, there will be a very temporary change in leadership at ED. It was announced this week that Phil Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for ED, will be the acting secretary between the end of Secretary John King’s term as of today, and the confirmation of ED’s next secretary.
In his final week of work, Secretary King oversaw the issuance of two new non-binding guidance documents (find those here and here) and withdrawal of the controversial proposed rule on “supplement, not supplant.” The latter is a piece of federal law that requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget, not replacing any dollars that would otherwise be dedicated to education. ED’s interpretation of the law as it was slightly altered under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered the way states must demonstrate compliance. While the department compromised on many elements of the original proposal as it progressed through the rulemaking process, the latest version still garnered considerable disagreement among stakeholders. Most expected the rule to face elimination under the Trump administration. The department explained that it simply ran out of time under the current administration.
Earlier this week, Texas Senate and House leaders shared details on their respective plans for writing the state budget to cover the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter shared highlights of the two proposals in a blog post earlier this week. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired once again by Sen. Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), will commence hearings on its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, next week. The committee is slated to begin taking testimony Tuesday on Article III, the portion of the budget that covers public education, and ATPE’s Exter will be there to share our input. Watch for more coverage of the budget hearings next week on Teach the Vote.
The House budget proposal calls for spending a bit more money on public education than the Senate’s version, and leaders on the House side have even expressed interest in looking to the state’s Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund for additional resources this session. The House plan includes contingency language that would authorize an extra $1.5 billion for public education if the 85th Legislature passes a school finance bill that reduces recapture and improves equity. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes for our blog today, increasing the state’s share of education funding is the key to lowering property tax burdens at the local level, and that is expected to be a prominent talking point during Tuesday’s budget hearing.
The first major private school voucher legislation was filed this week. Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and its companion House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, are a rehash of the tax credit scholarship legislation filed last session by Bettencourt, Bohac, and others. The tax credits for funding scholarships to be used at private schools are one of several varieties of private school voucher that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and like-minded senators have been pushing for multiple sessions. While a related voucher bill did pass the Senate in 2015 with significant assistance from the lieutenant governor, Bettencourt and others pushing for privatization found little appetite for vouchers in the House.
ATPE circulated this letter to lawmakers in 2015 opposing similar, though not identical, tax credit voucher bills in the 84th session. ATPE continues to oppose this and all forms of voucher legislation during the 85th legislative session and urges lawmakers in both chambers to do the same this year. For a preview of what is likely to the session’s other primary voucher vehicle, Education Savings Accounts, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent blog post, ESAs: A Bad Deal for Students in Need.
Related: The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, will hold a legislative briefing and press conference on Monday, Jan. 23. A pro-voucher rally sponsored by Texans for Education Opportunity, Aspire Texas, and other groups is happening Tuesday at the capitol in connection with National School Choice Week.
Sen. Larry Taylor
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislature this week. There were few changes from last session in terms of committee leadership, with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) continuing to oversee the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) again chairing the Senate Finance Committee that will write the state’s budget. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) stays on as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where her bill to take away educators’ right to payroll deduction for their association dues is expected to be heard.
Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will no longer serve on the Senate Education Committee, having been tapped instead to chair the Senate Committee on Administration. She is one of three senators from last session’s education committee roster being replaced; also gone are Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). The new senators joining the education committee this year are Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). These appointments reflect the lieutenant governor’s decision to change the Republican-Democratic split on the committee from 7-4 back in 2015 to its new party breakdown of 8-3. Patrick also stacked the committee with several supporters of privatization, hoping to clear a path for his priority voucher legislation to move quickly through the Senate.
For more on the Senate committee announcement and a link to the full roster, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committee assignments have not yet been released.
Finally, ATPE members are reminded to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training and lobby day event in March. This is the best chance for educators to learn more about the high-profile education bills being deliberated this session with presentations from ATPE’s lobbyists and legislative leaders like Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Best of all, ATPE members will be empowered to add their voices to the debate, meeting with their lawmakers face-to-face on Monday, March 6, at the Texas State Capitol. The registration deadline is Feb. 3, and complete details for ATPE at the Capitol are available on our website here.
President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced her confirmation hearing yesterday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee. The hearing, which was scheduled for late-in-the-day and allowed for each senator to ask only one five-minute round of questions, hardly resulted in a serious vetting of DeVos’s credentials and policy positions, but still provided a look at the potential-next-secretary’s agenda.
HELP committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing with praise for DeVos, pointing to her efforts to expand charter schools and push vouchers in states throughout the country, which he called “mainstream” ideas in public education policy. With his Republican colleagues largely in agreement and Democrats pressing her on concerns about her record, the hearing became a partisan debate that failed to offer specifics on many major education policy issues. In fact, while the hearing offered some perspective on the agenda DeVos would support, it was what she wouldn’t or, in some cases, couldn’t answer that offers the most perspective.
DeVos often turned to some version of the response “I look forward to working with you on that” when answering questions. She used the reply to dig in on her support for vouchers, dodging a question from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding whether she would promise to prevent funding cuts to public education or privatization of the system. She also leaned on the reply when asked about universal childcare for working families and whether all schools receiving federal funding (think vouchers) should be required to report instances of harassment, discipline, or bullying.
DeVos similarly failed to state whether all schools receiving federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards, instead diverting to the lack of apples-to-apples accountability standards traditional public schools and charter schools currently face.
Another regularly asserted answer by DeVos was that certain education policy issues are better left to states, a response that raised eyebrows when she was asked whether all schools receiving federal money should meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal law is the nation’s second largest federal education program and distributes about $13 billion in funding to states. When DeVos later admitted that she “may have confused” the law, one senator and many following the hearing expressed concern over her lack of familiarity. In another exchange, DeVos had trouble deciphering the difference between student growth and student proficiency when using tests to measure student performance.
Democrats on the committee advocated strongly for an additional round of questioning, an opportunity afforded to senators vetting cabinet picks in other committees, but the request was denied by Chairman Alexander who reminded committee members that the same process was used for several previous education secretaries as they faced confirmation. Still, Democrats argued unsuccessfully that those picks had been individuals with established credentials in education, unlike DeVos.
Per the chairman’s instructions, senators have until Thursday evening to submit any additional questions to DeVos in writing. She committed to attempting to answer those questions prior to the committee’s vote on her nomination, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Committee members were assured that the vote would only take place if the final Office of Government Ethics letter is sent to the committee by this Friday, giving senators time for review the relevant information about potential conflicts of interest.
Despite the above, DeVos has the support of Republicans, which is enough to garner the simple majority needed for her to sail through confirmation in both the HELP committee and on the floor of the Senate. If confirmed, she will take the reins of the Department of Education having no professional experience in our public schools, never attended public schools, and never enrolled her children in public schools.
Tuesday marked the opening of the 85th legislative session. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided a report on the first day’s activities, including the unanimous election of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) will preside once again and is actively pursuing a number of controversial priorities he wants lawmakers to enact this session. Patrick’s 2017 wish list includes private school vouchers, naturally, and politically motivated bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues.
One thing that won’t be on the Senate’s agenda, according to Patrick, is repealing the “A through F” rating system that sparked outrage when school districts got a recent preview of how they might be graded when the system takes effect next year. In a pair of public speeches on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor insisted that A-F is “not going away” and seemed almost giddy about Ds and Fs being slapped on the same school districts that have “met standards” in the current accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more about the reactions to A-F in today’s blog post.
The news from the state capitol wasn’t all negative this week. On Thursday, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) held a press conference to announce a bill, Senate Bill (SB) 463, to permanently extend the now temporary law on graduation committees. The committees create graduation pathways for students who cannot pass all STAAR tests but are otherwise qualified to move on post-secondary life. Seliger authored the original bill creating the committees in 2015, which ATPE strongly supported.
We encourage ATPE members who are interested in these issues to use our new grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to learn more about what’s at stake, follow related bills as the session continues, and send messages to their lawmakers.
As one of the Texas’s largest areas of expenditure, the public education budget is frequently a target for possible budget cuts, and this session will be no exception, unfortunately.
On the eve of the 85th legislature’s first day in Austin, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate (BRE) Monday. The BRE reflects a forecast of future revenues and economic trends for the next two years, and it provides the budgeting framework within which lawmakers have to operate this legislative session. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog on Monday, the $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending is less than we need and will force lawmakers to prioritize. The hard decisions on those priorities are a stark reminder that elections have consequences.
Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that has long supported education reforms like privatization, merit pay for teachers, deregulation, and limiting spending. In addition to boasting of the success of “A through F” accountability ratings as a means to a voucher end, Patrick pointed to healthcare and education as areas of the state budget that would be ripe for cuts. If talk of education budget cuts by the state’s second highest ranking elected official don’t alarm you already during this first week of the session, consider also that Patrick’s remark sparked a roomful of applause at the TPPF gathering.
As Mark stated in his blog post, “Get ready to tighten your belts.”
The 115th Congress continued its second week of business this week, one that was originally slated to include the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to conduct the confirmation hearing for billionaire and alt-school-choice supporter Betsy DeVos on Wednesday, but announced late Monday that the hearing had been postponed for a week “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Calls for the postponement of confirmation hearings had surfaced after news broke that the Office of Government Ethics had not completed its ethics reviews for many of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos. The hearing on her nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Education is now scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 4 PM CST.
Read more about the start of the 115th Congress and the DeVos hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week. Kate’s post has been updated to include information on a letter that ATPE sent this week to the two newest members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. The letters welcome Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R) of Lubbock and Vicente Gonzalez (D) of McAllen to Congress and highlight ATPE’s top federal policy goals, namely the passage of Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security.
While the Department of Education (ED) awaits the appointment of a new boss, it is looking for qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. The peer review process is required by law and serves to provide recommendations that will inform ED as it reviews states’ plans. ED is looking for teachers, principals or other school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among other qualified educators to serve. Learn more about the peer review process, ED’s call for qualified reviewers, and how to apply here.
As we have reported recently on Teach the Vote, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is proposing significant changes to the performance standards for STAAR tests. A public hearing was held today to give stakeholders another chance to weigh in on plans to accelerate a jump in the cut scores. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at today’s hearing with concerns about the proposal. He’ll have a blog post coming up soon with more on the proposed rules and why they are drawing negative reactions from parents, teachers, and school district officials.
ATPE members still have a few weeks left to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event set for March 5-6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. There is no registration fee to attend, and incentive funds are available to help defray travel costs. The deadline to register and reserve hotel rooms at our special group rate is Feb. 3. Visit Advocacy Central on the ATPE website (member login is required) to view all the details, including news about our speakers and panelists.
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