In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog post, we discussed changes to pension and retirement benefits for Texas public school educators. This week, we will discuss legislative changes made during the 86th legislative session that will impact charter schools in Texas. The 2019 legislative session saw a number of bills filed and debated regarding charter schools, both from charter proponents looking to expand the footprint of charters in Texas and from those hoping to impose additional restraints and regulations on charter schools. Below is a look at the charter-related bills that passed this year.
HB 1051 makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices. The Goodwill Excel Center is a charter school that has resulted in improved outcomes for older students who are in unique circumstances and need a more flexible school setting. This law became effective immediately upon its passage earlier this year.
HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi): Children of charter employees
HB 2190 allows children of charter school employees to attend the charter school in which their parents work, regardless of where they live. This bill also took effect immediately.
HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland): Charter operation of re-purposed campuses
HB 4205 is a two-part bill that includes provisions regarding repurposed schools as well as school turnaround. The portion of the bill dealing with repurposed campuses allows for large charter operators to repurpose a public school district campus that has been closed. The new school operator is required to admit the same students who were at the campus before it was closed. The author of this bill referenced a Midland campus as the impetus for the idea. This bill became effective immediately.
HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), co-authored by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio): Charter school bonds
HB 4258 provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the previous authority held by municipalities. Charter supporters contended that municipalities could prevent charter schools from expanding by withholding the tax-exempt status of the charter school bond. This bill became effective immediately.
SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels): School safety in charters
SB 372 allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers to charter schools. The bill created parity by giving charter school governing bodies access to the same safety resources already available to boards of trustees for traditional public schools. This law became effective immediately.
SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper): Charter employees and common application
SB 2293 subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining prohibitions and anti-striking laws that apply to all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application to be used for charter school admission throughout the state and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the “charter waiting list.” Charter proponents have often cited claims of a massive list of students who are waiting for slots in a charter school as justification for expanding charters in Texas; however, no such statewide list has been shared. ATPE will be monitoring the rule-making process for the development and implementation of the common application and charter reporting.
Visit Teach the Vote next week for our next “New School Year, New Laws” blog series update post on funding and compensation changes that resulted from the 2019 legislative session. ATPE believes it is vitally important for educators to make sure they know and understand the laws that govern their profession and affect their classrooms. For even more information on new laws impacting public education in Texas, be sure to check out ATPE’s comprehensive report, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” created by the experienced staff of ATPE’s Member Legal Services department.
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.
The Senate Education Committee recently invited testimony from former US Senator Phil Gramm in favor of vouchers. Gramm said, “I am worried about an education system that doesn’t work. We know our system of public education is failing.”
Senator Donna Campbell, a member of the Senate Education Committee and a strong supporter of vouchers, has publicly stated, “Today we have a monstrosity, a monopoly. It’s called public schools.”
My good friend Scott Milder, founder & CEO of Friends of Texas Public Schools, recently wrote a letter to the Texas Senate. The following quote from Scott’s letter reflects the mindset of some of our Texas state senators: “It is unfortunate that you (a few Texas senators) feel the need to vilify our Texas public schools because your top campaign contributions come from folks who are determined to see vouchers finally pass. Condemning our public schools and casting harsh accusations of widespread failure is not only disrespectful and counterproductive, it is just flat inaccurate.”
Are Texas public schools failing, or is there more to the story?
Consider this: There are 24 hours in one day, 365 days in one year (8,760 hours per year). Students are required to attend school 180 days each year, seven instructional hours per day (1,260 hours per year). To determine how much time a student spends in school, divide 1,260 by 8,760. You’ll get .143, or 14 percent.
Public schools have control/influence over only 14 percent of a student’s time throughout the year, leaving 86 percent of a student’s year controlled/influenced by factors outside our public schools.
Texas public schools are achieving extraordinary success, contrary to the rhetoric and lack of support from several of our state legislators:
In 2013, 88 percent of ninth graders completed high school in four years (another 4.6 percent continued high school).
Graduation rates from 2007-2013 reflect increases for the following:
African American students rose from 70.7 to 84 percent.
White students rose from 88 to 93 percent.
Hispanic students rose from 66 to 85 percent.
Graduation rates in Texas compared to the nation:
Asian students rank first. o Hispanic students rank second.
Economically disadvantaged students rank first.
Texas students rank eighth in the world in math and 11th in science, surpassing countries such as Finland, England, Germany, and France.
The new Texas accountability ratings revealed that 92.59 percent of Texas school districts achieved the rating of “met standard” based on a new assessment system and curriculum standards that are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”
US students rank No. 1 internationally in reading.
Although public education falls short of rescuing every child, factors beyond the school, such as lack of community support or communities strained by poverty and social dysfunction, must be recognized and acknowledged as powerful deterrents. It is time for the state to focus efforts and resources on helping students overcome these deterrents in the classroom, rather than creating systems that mislabel students, schools, and communities.
The full Senate today approved on second reading a bill to create a massive private school voucher “scholarship” program in Texas. The vote on Senate Bill (SB) 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) was 18 to 12, though originally announced as being 17 to 13. (Click here to read more about the vote breakdown.) Sometimes referred to as a “backdoor voucher,” SB 4 sets up a mechanism for businesses to receive a state franchise tax credit in exchange for contributions to private school scholarships.
Today’s floor vote came after less than an hour of debate and four unsuccessful attempts by Democratic senators to amend the bill. Sens. Jose Menendez (D), Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), and Sylvia Garcia (D) attempted to add floor amendments that would prohibit private schools that accept voucher dollars from discriminating against students in their admission policies; prevent the voucher schools from using the Common Core State Standards (already prohibited in Texas public schools) as part of their curriculum; require voucher schools to administer tests and be subject to accountability ratings in the same manner as public schools, and require voucher schools to maintain certain services to students with special needs in the same manner as public schools. All four amendments failed to pass.
Taylor, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, successfully moved to table each amendment after complaining that the amendments would create entitlements and impose unnecessary regulations on private schools. He seldom strayed from his underlying argument in defense of SB 4, claiming that the bill does not create a voucher program because it calls for private dollars to be paid by private entities in the form of scholarships to private schools (disregarding the fact that the private scholarships would be funded in direct exchange for a state-subsidized tax credit and would result in a loss of funds to public schools).
Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) was absent from today’s proceedings after having been injured in a motorcyle accident yesterday. He underwent surgery today for injuries that are not considered life-threatening, and he is not expected to return to the Senate until next week. It is unclear whether Seliger’s absence made a difference in today’s votes. Seliger has vocally opposed private school vouchers in the past, but he voted for SB 4 when it was approved by the Senate Education Committee earlier this month.
SB 4 remains on the Senate Intent Calendar for a likely third reading vote tomorrow, April 21. ATPE members are urged to keep contacting their senators and sharing with them reasons why they should oppose this harmful bill.
Senate Bill (SB) 4 by Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). The bill is co-authored by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio) and freshman Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston). SB 4 is the major school voucher bill being promoted by the Senate leadership, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). It provides for both tax credits to educational assistance organizations that pay scholarships for students to attend private schools and also education tuition grants to be awarded to parents of eligible children attending private schools. Eligible students include those entering kindergarten or first grade, those in foster or institutional care, and those in families with household income that is equal to or less than 150 percent of the standard for qualifying for free or reduced lunch. As filed, the bill provides that grants paid to parents and scholarships paid by educational assistance organizations could not exceed 75 percent of the state’s average per-pupil spending. The total tax credits awarded by the state would be capped at $50 million per fiscal year. There is also language in the bill restricting state regulation of participating private schools.
SB 276 by Sen. Campbell would create a “taxpayer savings grant program” that is supposed to result in “state savings and government efficiency.” The bill would create a private school voucher in the traditional sense by offering parents reimbursement of tuition paid for their children to attend private schools. The reimbursements would come out of the state coffers and would amount to the lesser of the actual tuition or 60 percent of the state’s average per-pupil expenditure in the public schools.
SB 642 by Sen. Bettencourt calls for “a franchise or insurance premium tax credit for contributions made to certain educational assistance organizations.” Similar to the organizations included in Chairman Taylor’s SB 4, the “assistance organizations” mentioned in this bill are private entities that would receive tax credits from the state in exchange for providing scholarships for students to attend public or private schools. Bettencourt’s bill was originally referred to the Senate Finance Committee and then transferred to the Senate Education Committee.
SB 1178 filed by another freshman, Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas), sets up a voucher program through the use of education savings accounts for students attending private or home schools. Under this bill, the state would give parents access to public funds in a bank account, which could be withdrawn via a debit card and used to pay for private school tuition and fees, private tutoring, or various costs associated with home schooling their children. Participation would be limited with a preference given to educationally disadvantaged students or those with disabilities. Participating students would have to take tests annually and have their results reported to TEA, and the commissioner of education would establish rules to kick students out of the voucher program if they fail to “demonstrate satisfactory academic progress” as determined by the commissioner. The bill imposes some accreditation requirements and restrictions on private school admission policies but largely prohibits the state from attempting to regulate the private schools, tutors, or other providers participating in the voucher program. UPDATE: As of March 25, this bill has been removed from the committee’s agenda for the March 26 hearing.
ATPE will oppose these bills and any efforts to direct taxpayer dollars that are needed for public education to private or home schools. Visit our page called “The Issues” to read more about these and other voucher bills and ATPE’s opposition to privatization in general. To watch live video of the hearing, click here on Thursday or search the same site for archived video shortly after the hearing.
A NONPARTISAN VOTER EDUCATION PROJECT OF THE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS