Tag Archives: education

Learn what’s on the ballot for the Nov. 2019 election 

What’s this constitutional election buzz all about anyway?

You’ve probably been hearing about the importance of voting in the upcoming constitutional amendment election on Nov. 5, 2019. After all, it’s not every day that Texas voters have an opportunity to revise the Texas Constitution. This year, the 86th Texas Legislature passed 10 joint resolutions that propose amendments to the constitution and require voter approval. Every Texan who is registered to vote has the right to decide whether those 10 amendments become part of the state’s constitution. But only those who actually exercise that right to vote will get to determine whether the amendments become the law of the land or simply fade away.

Before you head to the polls with family and friends, do your homework and take a minute to learn about all 10 proposed amendments. We will cover two of the proposed amendments with direct correlation to public education here. Proposition 4 (HJR 38) impacts the potential for future establishment of a state income tax, and Proposition 7 (HJR 151) increases the amount the General Land Office can distribute from the Permanent School Fund to the Available School Fund each year from $300 million to $600 million.

Proposition 4 (HJR 38) as it will appear on the ballot reads as follows: “The constitutional amendment prohibiting the imposition of an individual income tax, including a tax on an individual’s share of partnership and unincorporated association income.”

Here’s what that really means:

Texas Proposition 4 modifies the current constitutional restrictions against legislative imposition of a state income tax. The state of Texas is widely known for not imposing a state income tax. The current state constitution in Article Vlll, sections 1(c) and 24, prohibits legislators from creating an income tax unless there is a statewide vote to approve such a tax. While polling suggests that it is unlikely that Texas voters would agree to an income tax, should that change, the current constitution also mandates how the revenue from any such income tax would have to be spent: two-thirds of the income tax revenue would go toward property tax reduction, while one-third of the income tax revenue would be spent on public education. This year’s Proposition 4 is designed to make it even less likely that Texans would ever pay a state income tax by repealing the current constitutional language referring to the statewide referendum and replacing it with language that simply prohibits the imposition of an “individual income tax” at the state level. The functional effect of this change is not to make it absolutely impossible for there to be an income tax in Texas in the future, but rather to increase the legislative votes necessary to overturn such a prohibition. Two-thirds of the legislature would have to agree to letting voters decide whether or not to add a state income tax in the future if this proposition passes in November.

A vote “for” Proposition 4 would mean that you agree with the proposition to change the current language in the constitution restricting a state income tax. A vote “against” Proposition 4 means that you prefer the current language in the constitution that prohibits a state income tax unless legislators vote to allow statewide voters to reject or approve the proposed tax, which would be used to fund property tax reduction and public education.

Proposition 7 (HJR 151) as it will appear on the ballot states as follows: “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

Here’s what that really means:

Proposition 7 would potentially affect the source, but not necessarily the amount, of state education spending by allowing for larger distributions from the Permanent School Fund (PSF). The PSF is an endowment established under Section 2, Article Vll, of the Texas Constitution for the financial support of public schools in Texas. Management of the fund is divided between the State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees managing the fund’s financial investment portfolio, and the General Land Office, which through the School Land Board manages the fund’s land or real estate investments. Currently a portion of the PSF is transferred to the Available School Fund (ASF) each year to be used to purchase instructional materials for students and provide additional funding for public education. The remainder of the PSF is held for future use. Proposition 7 seeks to increase the amount of state funding for public schools being paid out of the ASF by increasing the permissible amount of the annual distribution from the PSF to the ASF from $300 million to $600 million.

This increase alone would not result in an increase in overall public education funding. Without additional statutory changes, Proposition 7 would simply reduce the amount of funding the legislature would be required to spend from other funding sources to meet the state’s obligation to fund public education. However, as we reported here on Teach the Vote over the summer, it is not clear how significantly Proposition 7, if approved by voters, might reduce the state’s need to tap into general revenue to support public schools in future legislative sessions.

Does ATPE have a position on these two proposed constitutional amendments?

No. As stated in the ATPE Legislative Program approved each year by our House of Delegates, ATPE supports a public education funding system that is equitable and adequate to provide every student an equal opportunity to receive an exemplary public education. ATPE also supports any form of state revenue enhancement and tax restructuring that accomplishes this goal. However, ATPE does not have an official legislative position specifically on banning/supporting an income tax; nor do we have an official legislative position relating to the percentage of public education funding that comes from the PSF or ASF.

What else is on the ballot?

Proposed constitutional amendments for the Nov. 2019 election in Texas

Click here to view the ballot language for all 10 of the proposed constitutional amendments along with analysis from the Texas Legislative Council. Also, our friends at the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Texas (LWVTX) have put together a Constitutional Amendment Election Voters Guide that explains all the amendments and shares pro and con arguments along with a short video for each proposed amendment at the bottom of the page. It’s an easy-to-understand resource that ATPE encourages you to check out before you vote.

Special elections:

If you happen to live in one of three Texas House districts, you’ll also have a chance during the Nov. 2019 election to choose a new state representative. Three state representatives have resigned from their seats, necessitating special elections in those districts. The winner of each special election will serve out the remainder of the current term until Jan. 2021. Barring a special session being called by the governor, it is unlikely that those elected through November’s special election will have a chance to vote on any bills, but the winners of those special elections will be able to claim incumbent status next year, often deemed an advantage for anyone who decides to run for the same office in the regular election cycle that will take place in 2020.

These special elections for legislative seats will be taking place in House districts 28,100, and 148. In what the Texas Tribune has described as “the most closely watched race” this fall, ATPE’s lobby team has profiled the candidates seeking the House seat in district 28, which you can read here.

Other local ballot measures will vary throughout the state depending where you live. Voters can visit Vote411.org to view and print out a sample ballot showing exactly what will you will be voting on in your area.

Early voting runs from Oct. 21 through Nov. 1, and election day is Nov. 5, 2019.

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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


 

Texas election roundup: Big shakeup at SBOE

Last week, outgoing State Board of Education (SBOE) chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) announced her plans to retire from the board. Following her announcement, a number of her Republican colleagues have also indicated plans to retire.

Donna Bahorich and Marty Rowley were photographed at a recent SBOE meeting. Both SBOE members have recently announced plans to retire from the board.

Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) announced his plan to retire at the end of his current term, which expires in Jan. 2021. Rowley’s district is reliably Republican and covers much of West Texas. Past board chair Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) and Member Ken Mercer (R-San Antonio) have also announced plans to retire. Mercer’s district has shifted from a majority Republican district to one that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Democrat Beto O’Rourke carried Mercer’s district in 2018 with more than ten percent of the vote.

Candidates in this fall’s three special elections filed their 30-day-out campaign finance reports this week. As we expected, the House District (HD) 28 special election in Fort Bend County has drawn a significant amount of attention, where seven candidates are vying to fill the unexpired term of former Rep. John Zerwas. The lone Democrat in the race, educator Dr. Eliz Markowitz, reported raising $62,000, spending $16,000, and entering the final stretch with $38,000 cash on hand. Markowitz also received the endorsement of the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC this week. Republican neurosurgeon Dr. Anna Allred reported raising $159,000 during the reporting period, which is more than the other five Republicans in the HD 28 race combined. Allred has also retained Republican consultant Allen Blakemore, whose top client is Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Allred has spent $142,000 and heads into the final stretch with $86,000 on hand.

In addition to the HD 28 special election, the Nov. 5 election will give all Texas voters the chance to vote on 10 proposed constitutional amendments. The Texas League of Women Voters has put out a comprehensive guide to the proposals, which you can view here. You can also find additional election resources at the website for the Texas Educators Vote coalition. We’ll be posting additional resources to help you prepare for the constitutional election here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog next week, so be sure to check it out before you head to the polls. Early voting begins Oct. 21.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 4, 2019

It’s been a busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team. Here’s a look at our lobbyists’ latest reporting for Teach the Vote:


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met in Austin to discuss several items that would implement legislation passed by the 86th legislature earlier this year. These include the repeal of the Master Teacher certificate as required by House Bill 3, regulations pertaining to educator misconduct and reporting requirements, and new rules to allow military spouses licensed in other states to teach in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier submitted written testimony to encourage the board to explore options for Master Teacher certificate holders, so that they can maintain their current teaching assignments once their certificates expire. ATPE also testified in support of expanded criteria for considering “good cause” in determining potential sanctions against educators who abandon their contracts. Additionally, ATPE joined the board in mourning the loss of board member Dr. Rex Peebles, who passed away last week. Watch our blog here on Teach the Vote early next week for a full recap of the meeting.


ELECTION UPDATE: In this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, read the latest announcements on the “who, what, and where” of various contested races on the 2020 ballot, including a retirement announcement from a member of the State Board of Education. Check out the full post here. Also, don’t forget to register by Monday, Oct. 7, if you want to vote in the Nov. 5 election. Voters statewide will be considering proposed constitutional amendments that day, and a few districts have an opportunity to elect new state representatives.

On our Teach the Vote blog this week, we’re also taking a closer look at the special election for House District 28 in the western suburbs of Houston. ATPE’s Wiggins shares information about the education stances of the candidates and why the race is drawing widespread attention. Check it out here.


ATPE continues its Teach the Vote blog series, “New School Year, New Laws,” with a post this week on professional responsibilities. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier highlights bills passed in 2019 that relate to educator misconduct and new records retention requirements that could affect educators who store school-related information on their personal cell phones or other devices. Read the latest post in the series here.


This week’s latest video from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in its “HB 3 in 30” series offers an explanation of the state’s new teacher incentive allotment. The incentive pay plan was one of the most hotly debated aspects of the school finance bill when it moved through the legislative process earlier this year. After ATPE and other stakeholders urged the legislature to reject earlier versions of the bill that relied too heavily on student test score data in setting the criteria for merit pay, legislators struck a deal late in the session that would offer school districts more flexibility.

Parameters of the new incentive program are spelled out in Texas Education Code (TEC), Sec. 48.112, offering school districts additional funding based upon their employment of educators designated as “recognized,” “exemplary,” or “master” teachers. Lawmakers prescribed some requirements for educators to become eligible for those merit designations in TEC Sec. 21.3521. HB 3 calls for school districts that participate in the incentive program to create a “Local Optional Teacher Designation System” containing specific criteria that each district will use to award the merit designations, but the bill also authorizes the commissioner of education to establish performance standards for those local systems.

This week, TEA issued correspondence to school administrators outlining the agency’s plans for implementation of the new teacher incentive program, sharing timelines, and providing additional resources. TEA also sent school districts and open-enrollment charter schools a survey this week, which solicits information on what type of student growth measures and other criteria are being used locally for teacher appraisals. The survey results will help guide the agency’s implementation of the Local Optional Teacher Designation System, including the commissioner’s adoption of those performance standards required by HB 3.

It is important to note that the Local Optional Teacher Designation System associated with the  allotment is only “optional” in the sense that a school district does not have to choose to seek the teacher incentive funds made available under HB 3. However, any district that does pursue funding through the teacher incentive allotment in the spring of 2020 is required to develop a Local Optional Teacher Designation System. The locally-developed designation systems “must include teacher observation and the performance of a teacher’s students,” along with any additional measures that are adopted locally,” such as evidence of teacher leadership or student surveys,” as noted in the TEA correspondence this week. HB 3 specifies that the criteria for awarding a designation must allow for the mathematical possibility that all eligible teachers may earn the designation (in other words, not limiting eligibility to a fixed percentage of the district’s teachers) and that the commissioner may not require districts to use STAAR tests to evaluate their teachers’ performance for purposes of the merit pay program.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) will face a sunset review in the next legislative session. Under state law, the sunset review process gives the legislature an opportunity to routinely examine the work of various state agencies and determine whether they should continue to exist. TRS is a constitutionally-mandated agency, which means it is not subject to potential closure through the sunset review process, but the review allows an opportunity for the legislature to consider recommended changes to various TRS-related laws. Before the legislature weighs in on TRS next session, the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission will gather data, take testimony at public hearings, and compile a detailed written report about TRS including recommendations for possible legislative changes affecting the agency. Between now and Dec. 6, 2019, members of the public may share their feedback about TRS with the Sunset Advisory Commission’s staff as they prepare their report. Read more about the TRS sunset review here.


In case you missed it, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter took to our Teach the Vote blog this week to share highlights from the Texas Tribune Festival. The festival that took place last weekend in Austin featured a number of high-profile speakers and panelists. Read more about some of the sessions relating to public education in this blog post.


 

ATPE attends Texas Tribune Festival

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

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

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

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

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

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 27, 2019

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


ELECTION UPDATE: Continuing his series of posts about news pertaining to Texas elections, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins provided an update this week on campaign announcements that continue to trickle out each week. Read the latest election-related news from ATPE here. We also recognized National Voter Registration Day this past Tuesday by encouraging educators and others to register to vote. The next big election here in Texas occurs on Nov. 5, when voters statewide will be considering a number of proposed constitutional amendments, and those in some parts of the state will be voting in special elections to fill legislative vacancies.  The deadline to register to vote in that election is Oct. 7. Early voting begins Oct. 21.


On Thursday, Sept. 26, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) announced that 362 schools around the country have been recognized as 2019 National Blue Ribbon Schools. The list of 2019 honorees includes 27 schools in Texas. According to an ED press release, the Blue Ribbon schools are recognized for their overall academic performance or for their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. The recipients of the Blue Ribbon designation include public and private elementary, middle, and high schools. The public schools are nominated by each state’s top education official, while private schools are nominated by the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). An awards ceremony for the winners will take place in the nation’s capital in mid-November.


ATPE’s lobbyists have been featuring a series of blog posts here on Teach the Vote about new education laws passed by the Texas Legislature in 2019. For this week’s edition of the blog series, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier highlighted a handful of bills that pertain to mentoring, training, and other professional opportunities for educators. Next week, our focus shifts to new statutory requirements related to educators’ professional responsibilities. Watch for the new post here on Monday, and also check out the ATPE legal department’s publication, “Know the Law: An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.”

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is also continuing its video series to help educators learn more about the landmark school finance and reform bill passed this year, House Bill (HB) 3. Check out the most recent videos from the agency in its HB 3 in 30 series dealing with school board and district goal-setting and the bilingual education allotment.


On Wednesday, the Trump administration released a new school safety district guide to schools develop emergency operations plans (EOPs). According to a press release from the U.S. Department of Education, the guide entitled “The Role of Districts in Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans” follows up on recommendations in the final report of the Federal Commission on School Safety. The district guide recommends responsibilities of school district administrators and their staffs, including coordinating with communicate partners and developing EOPs that address a variety of potential threats. The guide also includes checklists that can be used by school districts to track their progress.

Meanwhile, back here in Texas, Thursday marked the first organizational meeting for the new Senate Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety. The nine senators heard only invited testimony, which included senior leadership from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). Much of the conversation revolved around background checks and “red flag” laws aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of those with mental illness or facing criminal complaints. Republicans on the committee questioned the need for additional legislation, while Democrats argued for strengthening the law and improving enforcement. You can watch a recap of the meeting on KVUE.


On Friday, U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) introduced H.R. 4540, the Public Servants Protection and Fairness Act, in Congress. This bill is aimed at fixing the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for future retirees and providing relief for current retirees. Under the bill, Social Security benefits would be paid in proportion to the share of a worker’s earnings that were covered for Social Security purposes. The bill includes a hold harmless provision to ensure no one loses benefits relative to current law, and would provide $150 per month in relief payments to current WEP retirees.

“Members on both sides of the aisle can get behind this legislation and the solutions it puts forward,” Chairman Neal said in a press release announcing the bill’s filing. “I want to commend Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady for his work to address the WEP issue for many years. He is a tireless advocate for affected workers, and I appreciate his commitment to fixing this problem. I look forward to working with him to move a solution through Congress expediently.”

An overview of the bill can be found here, and the full bill text can be read here. Check back with Teach the Vote next week for a detailed analysis of the bill.


National Voter Registration Day is Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019

This Tuesday, September 24, is National Voter Registration Day (NVRD). Started in 2012, NVRD is a national day of recognition dedicated to ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to vote. NVRD, which takes place every fourth Tuesday of September, is a great opportunity for educators to inform students and their parents about the voter registration process. For tips on how to participate in National Voter Registration Day as an educator, ATPE suggests this blog post from the Texas Educators Vote coalition.

The deadline to register to vote for the Nov. 5 constitutional amendment election (which is also the date for some special elections for vacant legislative seats) is Oct. 7. Early voting begins Oct. 21. To learn more about the proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. As the 2020 elections grow closer, we’ll continue to post news updates here on our Teach the Vote blog, as well as profiles of the candidates running for seats in the Texas Legislature and State Board of Education. But you can’t vote unless you are registered, so check your voter registration status today and remind your friends to do the same! Here are some helpful links:

  1. Check your voter registration status here to make sure it’s up to date and active.
  2. Click here for a Texas voter registration application that you can print out and mail in. Or use this link to request a voter registration application to be mailed to you.
  3. Send your completed voter registration application to the voter registrar in your county. Find a list of county contacts here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 20, 2019

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


Ellis and Bahorich

Dr. Keven Ellis (R) of Lufkin has been appointed as the new chair of the State Board of Education (SBOE). Dr. Ellis assumes the role after the previous chair, Donna Bahorich (R) of Houston, served the maximum of two terms over the last 4 years. Bahorich presided over last week’s SBOE meetings, which we covered here on our Teach the Vote blog, and she will remain a member of the board. Dr. Ellis has been an elected member of the board since 2016, and he recently represented the SBOE as vice chair of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about Monday’s announcement of the SBOE change of leadership here on Teach the Vote.


ELECTION UPDATE: Tuesday, September 24, will mark the eighth annual National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), a non-partisan effort to increase civic participation. For more information on NVRD and other election news, including announcements about a key senator’s retirement and the race to succeed him, check out this week’s election update from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


This week’s edition of our “New School Year, New Laws” blog series on Teach the Vote covers the topic of special education. Following media reports and a federal investigation that found Texas had for years imposed an arbitrary, de facto cap on enrolling students into special education programs, this year’s legislative session was heavily focused on addressing special education, from increasing funding to enacting laws to raise awareness of students’  and parents’ rights. Read the latest blog post in our series by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier for a breakdown of new legislation that affects special education.


The TRS board met in Austin this week discussing topics ranging from healthcare affordability to retirees’ recently issued 13th check and potential office moves for the agency. Read more about the discussions in this new post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended the TRS meetings this week.


A pair of hearings on the subject of school safety and preventing school violence took place this week in Texas and in Washington, DC, with more meetings scheduled in the near future.

First, in the nation’s capital this week, the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor met Wednesday for a markup of H.R. 4301, the “School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act” filed by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D – Hawaii). The measure calls for an annual report by the U.S. Department of Education on school violence data and would define in federal statute the terms “mass shooting” and “school shooting.” After a heated debate, the committee approved the bill by a party-line vote of 27-22, with some Republicans on the committee, including its ranking member, deriding it as a “publicity stunt.” For members of the Texas congressional delegation serving on the committee, Democrat Joaquin Castro voted for the measure, while Republicans Van Taylor and Ron Wright voted against it.

Here in Texas, the new House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its first meeting on Tuesday. During the organizational meeting, committee members heard invited testimony only from state law enforcement officials and mostly focused their conversation around the topic of threat reporting and investigations. A similar select committee established in the Texas Senate will hold its first meeting next week on Sept. 26.


Highlights of the September TRS Board Meeting

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) Board of Trustees convened in Austin this week for their regular quarterly meeting. Among items discussed by the board were space planning for the agency, creating regional TRS-ActiveCare offerings, and delivery of the 13th check to retirees.

TRS has recently been in the news with regard to new lease space in downtown Austin. Approximately 10 years ago, TRS ran out of space to house all of its employees at the 11th and Red River location. As a result, the agency moved its investment staff to leased space a few blocks away. Since that time both the TRS benefits/customer service staff and the investment team have continued to grow. Both the Red River location and the leased space are at maximum capacity now. In order to accommodate the size and needs of the investment staff, TRS has taken three floors in a new building, in which TRS is a part owner, further into downtown Austin. The board must determine whether to substantially renovate or move out of TRS’s Red River office in order to accommodate non-investment staff (primarily those working in customer service). Because all TRS costs, including staffing and space, are paid for out of the pension trust fund, these moves naturally bring up questions about whether the agency’s additional staff and office space requirements will bring in more value for TRS members than it costs to accommodate. There is no definitive way to answer this question, but ATPE and other groups representing active and retired TRS members will continue to monitor and report on the value of TRS spending.

Another program in which TRS is trying to find ways to improve its value proposition is TRS-ActiveCare. The agency staff and board members have begun looking into the development of regional ActiveCare options that school districts could choose to offer their employees. The move was prompted by actions taken by El Paso ISD over several years to try to exit the TRS-ActiveCare program. When the district could not find a way to do so under existing state laws, El Paso found a novel way to migrate most of its staff out of the state’s program and onto a new local plan, which was deemed to be cheaper than the statewide plan due to regional differences in healthcare costs. In response to El Paso’s decision and with the expectation that other districts may pursue a similar course of action, TRS is now looking into the possibility of regional options for school district employees. This project is in its preliminary stages and is something ATPE will follow closely as it evolves.

Finally, the TRS board also received an update this week on the 13th check provided to retirees as a result of Senate Bill 12 that was passed by the legislature earlier this year. The additional payment equates to the lesser of the amount of a retiree’s standard monthly annuity check or $2,000. TRS annuitants who receive their TRS payments through direct deposit received the 13th payment on September 10. The remainder of TRS retirees should have received a check in the mail by September 15. ATPE encourages any retirees who did not receive a check and believe that they should have received one to contact TRS directly.

Click here to watch a video of this week’s TRS meetings or review the board materials.

New School Year, New Laws: Special Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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