It’s just that simple.
November 6 is less than a month away, and a crucial deadline is upon us. Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the last day for those who have not yet registered to vote to do so in order to cast your ballot.
This is also an important date for those who are registered to vote, but may have recently relocated. For example, you may have registered to vote in Harris County, but recently moved to Travis County. In that case, you have until tomorrow to register in Travis County; otherwise, you’d have to drive back to Harris County to cast your ballot Nov. 6.
So how do I register?
The Texas Secretary of State’s VoteTexas.org website tells you just about everything you need to know. First off, it allows you check if you’re already registered. If you’re not, there are two basic ways you can register.
The first method is to simply find your county’s voter registrar and fill out an application in person. The voter registrar is usually tax assessor-collector or county clerk, and their office is easy to find by doing a web search. The application is generally a single page and should take you less than five minutes. Your other option is to fill out the state’s online application and mail it to your county’s voter registrar by tomorrow. You can read more information about how to find an application by clicking here.
How do I know if I’m eligible to register to vote?
You are eligible to register to vote if:
- You are a United States citizen;
- You are a resident of the county where you submit the application;
- You are at least 17 years and 10 months old, and you are 18 years of age on Election Day.
- You are not a convicted felon (you may be eligible to vote if you have completed your sentence, probation, and parole); and
- You have not been declared by a court exercising probate jurisdiction to be either totally mentally incapacitated or partially mentally incapacitated without the right to vote.
The Texas Tribune also put together some voter registration resources here. Once you’ve registered to vote, make sure and go to TeachTheVote.org and click on the CANDIDATES tab to see who’s running in your area. You can view each’s candidate’s answers to our public education policy survey, as well as how incumbent legislators voted on important education issues last session.
If we’ve said it once, we’ve said it a hundred times: Legislative battles are won in November. If we fail to elect strong pro-public education candidates, we can’t expect to prevail when important education questions are debated in the Texas Legislature. This election is CRITICAL to making sure we move the ball forward, not backward.
Even if you’re already registered, you can do your part by informing friends and family that Tuesday is the last chance to register if they haven’t already – and make sure they follow through! Early voting begins Oct. 22 and runs through Nov. 2, and Election Day is Nov. 6.
Here are highlights of this week’s education news, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The board’s agenda includes revisiting a new certification rule that was recently vetoed by the State Board of Education and beginning a periodic review of the requirements for certification as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is at the meeting and has provided this report on today’s discussions.
Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election. With statistics showing that Texas ranks dead last in the country for voter turnout, and with educators in other states making headlines by running for office and voting to oust elected officials who don’t support public schools, now is the time for Texas educators to make a big showing at the polls. The November general election will determine who holds such critical offices as Texas governor, lieutenant governor, and numerous seats in the state legislature and SBOE. Races for the Texas House will help determine who becomes our next House Speaker, and the people elected will be empowered to make crucial decisions that affect your paycheck, your working conditions, and most importantly, your students.
If you aren’t yet registered to vote, simply fill out an application and drop it in the mail no later than Tuesday. Not sure if you’re registered? Find out here. If you’re already registered, do you part to help others know about Tuesday’s deadline. Make sure your friends, family members, and even eligible students are registered to vote by Tuesday.
Once your registration is secure, the next step is to learn about the candidates who’ll be on your ballot. Our candidate profiles right here on Teach the Vote allow you to research all legislators’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to our survey on education issues, and more to help you make informed choices at the polls. If the candidates in your area haven’t answered our ATPE Candidate Survey, please encourage them to contact us. It’s a great tool for sharing their education views with voters.
Oklahoma educators are among those making news for their political involvement during this election season. As I reported in the Fall 2018 issue of ATPE News, more than 100 Oklahoma educators ran for local, state, and federal office this election cycle, and 71 advanced beyond the primary night election. Many ran against incumbent legislators who voted against or weren’t supportive of bills to fund public education and teacher pay raises.
Their momentum has not waned. In the recent primary run-off election (held after my ATPE News article went to print), Oklahoma educators joined their local community members to deliver more blows to the legislators who voted against their priorities earlier this year – ousting six more incumbents. In all, there were 19 Republican legislators who voted against the Oklahoma pay raise for teachers, and only four will remain on the general election ballot in November 2018.
Oklahoma educators who voted sent home a lawmaker who called their fights for pay raises and increased school funding “akin to extortion.” They rejected a long-time incumbent legislator in exchange for a former classroom teacher and current administrator. They voted in a political newcomer who was inspired to run by educators in lieu of another long-serving lawmaker who opposed their efforts.
As I wrote in my ATPE News article: “Educators nationwide are going into the November general election with momentum, and Texas educators are more than equipped to join the unrest… Active and retired educators combined make up huge numbers in Texas, numbers that have the power to swing elections. It just takes activism during election season.”
So get inspired and get involved! Your vote is needed and you have the power to effect real change in Texas. Vote for the legislators that you want making decisions about your schools, students, classrooms, and careers!
Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
- TRS aims to maintain current healthcare premiums
- SD 19 special election shakes up the Texas Senate
- Already registered to vote? Take the next step
The Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) met this week to discuss such topics as premiums for the state’s healthcare plan for retired educators. After receiving a more favorable update on the estimated shortfall for TRS-Care and hearing lawmakers indicate that the legislature will provide needed funding, the board intends to try to keep premiums and benefits stable. Read more about the board’s discussions this week in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.
Voters in Senate District 19 turned out for a special election runoff on Tuesday to decide who will represent them in the Texas Senate until the 2020 elections. Gathering 53% of the vote, Republican Pete Flores was the race’s clear winner and will be filling the seat left vacant by former Sen. Carlos Uresti who resigned this year.
Flores’s win flips the seat long held by Democrats into the Republican column heading into the 2019 legislative session. The change makes it that much easier for the upper chamber’s Republican super-majority to pass Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s agenda, especially with another Democratic vacancy generated by the anticipated race to replace Senate District 6’s Sen. Sylvia Garcia, who is running for Congress. Garcia’s seat would not be filled until a special election occurs well after next year’s legislative session begins.
ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down how this impacts the upcoming legislative session and what it means for contests in the November election in this blog post.
Tuesday, September 25 is National Voter Registration Day, and thousands of volunteers across the U.S. will be mobilized to help others register to vote and get informed about elections. Perhaps if you’re already to vote you can go the extra mile by asking friends and family if they’ve registered and reminding them of these important dates:
- The deadline to register to vote in November is Oct. 9, 2018.
- Early voting runs Oct. 22-Nov. 2, 2018.
- Election Day is Nov. 6, 2018.
You can also encourage your friends and family to check out the Candidates section of TeachtheVote.org for more information on the candidates vying for seats in the Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor.
The first Friday of early voting, Oct. 26, is Student Voting Day in Texas. Encourage the students you know to get registered and participate in the upcoming election. Voting is more than just a civic duty; it’s how we work together to create positive change in our communities and its important that we get everyone involved.
It’s been a busy week in Austin. Here are highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:
- Full week at SBOE wraps up today
- A fresh look at Texas’s youth suicide prevention efforts
- Election Update: Voting is all about the numbers
- Previews of upcoming school finance and education budget debates
Today culminates the end of a jam-packed week for the State Board of Education (SBOE), and ATPE’s lobby team was there throughout the week to testify and provide updates on the board’s activities for our Teach the Vote blog. Here are some highlights:
First, on Tuesday the body began its week by convening to discuss controversial social studies TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that have been the subject of much political debate and social media attention. The board also took time on Tuesday to discuss its Long Range Plan for Public Education (LRP), which sets objectives for education through the year 2030. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was on hand to commend the group on its thoughtful process, but also to suggest that the board take steps to increase the rigor of Educator Preparation Programs (EPPs) and insist that teacher pay not be too closely linked to evaluations and test scores. Perfecting amendments to the plan, most of which were in line with ATPE’s desired outcomes, were offered by SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich.
The board kept its momentum going into Wednesday when it discussed special education and school funding. With an update from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath, the board learned that quite a bit of progress had been made on the state’s corrective action plan for special education with 70% of vacant positions filled. Morath also announced that TEA would be reviewing its contracting process, which comes after the Texas State Auditor’s office lobbed criticism at the agency for questionable contracting practices. Morath briefed the board on the A-F ratings that were given to school districts earlier this year. He also noted the decline in “IR” or “Improvement Required” districts across the state. Lastly, Morath informed the board of TEA’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR), which included two exceptional requests for funding for compensatory services for districts (in order to help them comply with the SpEd corrective action plan) and $50 million in funding for health and safety, $20 million of which is to be earmarked to comply with the governor’s school safety plan.
Later Wednesday afternoon, the SBOE also approved the funding distribution from the Permanent School Fund (PSF) for the 2020-21 biennium. Funds will be distributed at a rate of 2.75%. SBOE members expressed concerns regarding the deposit of funds into the Available School Fund (ASF) by the General Land Office (GLO), a move that will result in districts receiving $225 million less per year than normal. Several members of the board suggested actions in response to this action, including asking the GLO to reverse its actions and requesting that the GLO provide extra funding to cover the interest of the distribution.
On Thursday, the SBOE Committee on School Initiatives met to consider a rule proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would offer accelerated paths to certification for certain skill sets. The elected SBOE has statutory authority to review all rule actions taken by SBEC, a board whose members are appointed by the governor. SBOE members may veto SBEC rules but cannot make changes to them; SBEC rules for which the SBOE takes no action automatically become effective. For this week’s meeting, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins testified against the SBEC rule change regarding certain teaching certificates on the grounds that it exceeded the scope of the 2017 legislation upon which it was based, House Bill (HB) 3349. The rule change, as approved by SBEC earlier this summer, would have allowed certain educators to circumvent 300 hours of training in areas like pedagogy that are essential to normal pathways to certification. Members of the SBOE committee unanimously recommended rejecting the SBEC rule, and the certification rule change was ultimately rejected by a unanimous vote from the full SBOE board today, which will force SBEC to reconsider its action on implementing HB 3349.
Lastly, the full board met today to approve the first draft of language for the LRP, deciding to wait until November for final approval. SBOE members also finalized a formal letter to the GLO requesting that it cover the funding shortfall caused by its actions. Read more about the board’s actions in today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
As we have reported previously on Teach the Vote, ATPE has been an advocate for programs and resources to help prevent youth suicide. In 2015, we successfully advocated for the passage of an educator training bill aimed at preventing student suicides. Still, suicide, especially among Texans age 15-34, persists as a public health problem despite laws passed to prevent it. In this news feature by CBS Austin’s Melanie Torre this week featuring ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, Torre examines why the risk of teen suicide is still on the rise in Texas.
With the 2018 general election inching closer, and a major special election already underway his week in one San Antonio-area legislative district, ATPE wants to remind educators about the importance of voter turnout. Earlier this week, Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos released a statement urging voters to make sure they are registered to vote before the October 9th deadline. Pablos encourages Texans to plan their trips to the ballot box and to make sure they know what’s on their ballots.
“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself” – Rolando Pablos, Texas Secretary of State.
There’s a lot at stake this fall. We urge educators to view and share ATPE’s nonpartisan election resources here on Teach the Vote, including searchable profiles of every candidate vying for the Texas Legislature, State Board of Education, Governor, or Lieutenant Governor in 2018.
Meanwhile, early voting has already begun and continues through this evening in the special election runoff to fill the vacant seat in Texas Senate District 19. Those SD 19 residents who miss early voting should play to get out and vote during their last change on Tuesday, Sept. 18th. The candidates in the runoff happening now are Democrat Pete Gallego and Republican Pete Flores. Find polling locations and additional information, courtesy of the Bexar County Elections Department, here.
Tuesday’s special election results and the outcomes of several high-profile races on the ballot in November could dramatically change the outlook for education bills moving through the Texas Legislature, and particularly, the Texas State Senate. In recent sessions, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has used the combination of a Republican super-majority in the Senate and his heavy-handed brand of managing the upper chamber to usher though a bevy of anti-public education bills, such as private school voucher proposals and legislation to take away educators’ rights to use payroll deduction for their voluntary association dues. How those same types of bills fare in 2019 will depend on the outcome of this fall’s elections. In this new post, ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the calculus of voting this fall.
This week also proved to be insightful in terms of previewing discussions we’ll hear during the 2019 legislative session about both the state’s education budget and efforts to reform our school finance system.
Both the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) laid out their Legislative Appropriations Requests (LARs) to the Legislative Budget Board this week. Details and links to video footage of TEA Commissioner Mike Morath and TRS Executive Director Brian Guthrie explaining their respective requests can be found here. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided additional analysis in this blog post.
Also this week, the Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance convened to vote on their recommendations for the full commission. A breakdown of the committee’s goals, which include putting more funding into the basic allotment and shifting funds away from programs not directly tied to educational programming, can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.
The following is a press release issued on Sept. 7, 2018, by the Texas Secretary of State’s office, reminding Texans about the Oct. 9 deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election.
Secretary Pablos Reminds Texans To Register To Vote By October 9th, Plan Their Trip To The Polls
“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself”
AUSTIN – Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos today reminded all eligible Texans to register to vote by October 9th and to make all necessary preparations to be able to cast a ballot in the upcoming November 6 General Election.
Secretary Pablos encouraged all eligible Texas voters to ensure that they:
(1) are registered to vote in their county of residence
(2) are aware of what they need to bring to the polls in order to cast a ballot.
Additionally, Secretary Pablos urged voters to contact their respective county elections offices to become familiar with their ballot, locate their appropriate polling location, and plan their trip to the polls.
With the October 9th voter registration deadline just over a month away, Secretary Pablos issued one last call-to-action by urging Texans to register and take the necessary steps to be prepared to vote.
“Don’t wait until the last minute, make sure you are registered well in advance of the October 9th voter registration deadline so that you cast a ballot in the November General Election,” Secretary Pablos said. “The Texas Secretary of State’s office wants to ensure that all eligible Texans can cast their ballots with confidence this November, and the first step in doing so is to make sure you are registered and ready to make your trip to the polls.”
Eligible Texans who are not already registered to vote may complete and print a voter registration application here, or request an application from their county elections administrator. Once completed, eligible Texas voters may submit the application to the county voter registrar in their county of residence. Completed voter registration applications must be postmarked by October 9th, 2018 in order to be accepted. Texans may check to see if they are already registered to vote through the Texas Secretary of State’s web site or by visiting www.votetexas.gov.
“Prepare yourself, inform yourself, and empower yourself,” Secretary Pablos said. “As a Texas voter, you can set an example for your fellow Texans by showing your commitment to civic engagement. We will continue working with election officials across the Lone Star State to make sure all eligible Texans have the information and resources they need to register to vote and make their voices heard.”
To avoid longer waiting times on Election Day, the Texas Secretary of State encourages eligible registered voters to vote during the early voting period from Monday, October 22nd to Friday, November 2nd, 2018. During the early voting period, Texas voters can cast a ballot at any location in their county of registration.
Additionally, Secretary Pablos has proclaimed the first Friday of the early voting period (October 26th) to be Student Voting Day in the State of Texas, when all eligible Texas students are encouraged to cast their ballot in their county’s nearest polling location during times that do not conflict with their scholastic obligations.
Secretary Pablos also reminds Texas voters who possess one of the seven approved forms of photo ID that they must present that ID at the polls. Voters who do not possess and cannot reasonably obtain one of the seven forms of approved photo ID may execute a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form (PDF), available to them at each polling location, and provide a supporting form of identification. Additionally, certain voters may qualify for certain exemptions to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration (PDF)procedure.
The seven forms of approved photo ID are:
- Texas Driver License issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS);
- Texas Election Identification Certificate issued by DPS;
- Texas Personal Identification Card issued by DPS;
- Texas Handgun License issued by DPS;
- United States Military Identification Card containing the person’s photograph;
- United States Citizenship Certificate containing the person’s photograph; and
- United States Passport (book or card)
With the exception of the U.S. Citizenship Certificate, which does not expire, the acceptable photo ID must be current or, for voters aged 18-69, have expired no more than four years before being presented for voter qualification at the polling place. A voter 70 years of age or older may use a form of acceptable photo ID listed above that has expired for any length of time if the identification is otherwise valid.
If a voter does not possess one of the forms of acceptable photo identification listed above, and the voter cannot reasonably obtain such identification, the voter may fill out a Reasonable Impediment Declaration form (PDF), which will be available at each polling location, and present a copy or original of one of the following supporting forms of identification:
- a government document that shows the voter’s name and an address, including the voter’s voter registration certificate;
- a current utility bill;
- a bank statement;
- a government check;
- a paycheck;
- a certified domestic (from a U.S. state or territory) birth certificate; or
- a document confirming birth admissible in a court of law which establishes the voter’s identity (which may include a foreign birth document)
The address on an acceptable form of photo identification or a supporting form of identification, if applicable, does not have to match the voter’s address on the list of registered voters.
If a voter meets these requirements and is otherwise eligible to vote, the voter will be able to cast a regular ballot in the election.
Voters with a disability may apply with the county voter registrar for a permanent exemption to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls. Voters with a religious objection to being photographed or voters who do not present an acceptable form of photo identification or follow the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure at the polls because of certain natural disasters may apply for a temporary exemption to presenting an acceptable form of photo identification or following the Reasonable Impediment Declaration procedure. For more details, voters may contact their county voter registrar.
Voters with questions about how to cast a ballot in upcoming elections can call 1-800-252-VOTE
For Texas voters affected by Hurricane Harvey, click here for additional information and resources.
For more information on voting in Texas, visit www.votetexas.gov
Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:
- ATPE testifies to House budget panel on TRS shortfall
- Early voting for Texas Senate seat takes place next week
- ATPE responds to TEA’s funding request
- House committee issues interim school safety recommendations
- Long-range plan on SBOE agenda next week
Testifying at the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter advocated for an expansion of the list of free and near-free drugs covered by TRS-Care. The subcommittee, which met Wednesday, oversees the state’s education budget, including the Teacher Retirement System’s pension fund and health insurance. A persistent lack of funding over the years has lead to an increased burden on both active and retired educators who have seen healthcare premiums rise with no increase in the percentage contributed to their pensions. The urgent need for more funding and resources for the TRS system will be a hot button issue during next year’s 86th Legislative Session, one that ATPE lobbyists will be tackling head on. Find out more about Wednesday’s subcommittee hearing in this article by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The 2018 general election is right around the corner, but even closer than that is a special election runoff in Texas Senate District 19 (SD 19). The special election was called when former Sen. Carlos Uresti stepped down following his felony conviction. While all Texans are not be able to participate in this one special election, all Texans will feel the effects of its outcome as San Antonio residents decide who will take one of the Texas Senate’s 31 seats.
Next Monday through Friday, Sept. 10-14, voters in the district that runs from the greater San Antonio metroplex to the tiny town of Orla, Texas, will have a say in whether Democrat Pete Gallego or Republican Pete Flores represents them in the state’s upper chamber when the legislature convenes in January. For those who miss early voting, the special election runoff for SD 19 will take place Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2018.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted its Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) this week ahead of formally presenting it to the Legislative Budget Board next Wednesday. LARs lay out all of an agency’s intended expenditures for the upcoming biennium and are, as a group, the basis for what will eventually become the state budget. TEA’s LAR includes not only agency-level spending but also all of the funding that flows through the Foundation School Program and out to school districts. As has been the case in the past, the TEA document includes a statement about reductions in the anticipated level of state spending based on the reliance on an assumed increase in local property tax collections. For the upcoming biennium, the agency is assuming the state will supplant $1.5 billion in state revenue by relying on these local dollars. ATPE released the following press statement in response.
The House Public Education Committee released its preliminary report on school safety this week. The report follows the release of similar interim documents by a Senate committee and Gov. Greg Abbott, but the House report is unique in its focus on directing state funding to accomplish a number of goals aimed at preventing future tragedies like the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.
The report is the result of several interim hearings held over the summer at the direction of Texas House Speaker Joe Straus and committee chairman Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). Read a summary of the report’s findings and take a look at the full report itself in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is scheduled to meet Tuesday through Friday of next week, and the agenda includes a formal look at its Long-Range Plan for Public Education.
The plan is the result of more than a year of meetings and stakeholder input, which includes in-person conferences and an online survey seeking guidance from educators and community members all over the state. The final product includes recommendations related to attracting and retaining educators and lifting up the education profession. Follow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins on Twitter (@MarkWigginsTX) for updates on the plan, which will be discussed on Tuesday.
Election season is truly magical.
There’s just something about the seething mercury, the colorful proliferation of yard signs, and the specter of an existential showdown that awakens a – dare we call it – miraculous clarity in political combatants seeking votes.
When else can one witness folks who’ve spent the past 20 months fighting in bitter opposition to a particular set of constituents suddenly discover a deep love for the values they hold? The Lord works in mysterious ways.
It’s no surprise that we’re now hearing support for improving the school finance system from unexpected corners. To a certain degree, it’s positive evidence that educators are being heard, and that the powers-that-be realize that there is more to gain by working with the education community than working to dismantle it.
That doesn’t mean that efforts to dismantle it behind the scenes will stop. In politics as in statistics, things tend to revert toward the mean. The governing happens long after the polls close. Nonetheless, election season opens a brief window of opportunity to use our seat at the table to advance the conversation.
Let’s apply this lens to the latest Dallas Morning News opinion column by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), with the promising headline, “Texas must boost school funding.” The key passage summarizing Gov. Abbott’s message is as follows:
“We need to pay our best teachers more, reward teachers and districts for student growth, prioritize spending in the classroom and reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes. I’ll add up front that I believe the state will have to provide more funding.”
That last line seems to offer an acknowledgment of what we in the education committee have known for some time, but which many in the Capitol have resisted mightily.
The problem, of course, is that many of the people who have opposed investing more state dollars in public education have falsely argued that the state is already increasing education spending year over year. They point to raw dollars going back to a low-water point in 2006 in order to obscure the reality of the deliberate and steady erosion of state support for local schools. Troublingly, Gov. Abbott takes this very tack in writing that “overall education spending in Texas has increased by more than 50 percent since 2006, and the state is contributing 29 percent more education funding per student in that time period.”
Let’s look at that claim.
The numbers in the latter half of that statement come from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) presentation before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The headline of the slide below seems to confirm the governor’s assertion, but look at the orange line indicating funding adjusted for inflation. It clearly shows that in terms of purchasing power, total per-student funding has risen only slightly since 2006, and is roughly equal to per-student funding in 2008. (Click the image to view a larger version.)
What’s perhaps more telling is the blue bar indicating how much funding the state has contributed. I’ve added the red brackets and red horizontal line to make the minute changes easier to see. You can tell that the raw dollar amount the state has contributed has actually decreased slightly since 2008 – and that’s not even adjusted for inflation.
To get to the inflation-adjusted number, we look at the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-up for the 2016-2017 biennium. In the chart below, we can see how spending from local property tax revenue (circled in green) has increased, while state aid (circled in blue) has changed little from 2008 levels. In total constant dollars adjusted for inflation (near the red arrow), we see that total funding has in fact decreased.
The governor also wrongly suggests that funding is not making it into classrooms. According to the TEA’s 2016-17 Pocket Edition statistics, districts only spend an average of 3.1 percent on administrative costs.
To his credit, the governor advocates that increases in funding should go to teachers. No disagreement there. His idea is to implement a system in which top-performing teachers can earn significantly higher pay by teaching in areas facing the most need – similar to the “ACE” system tested in Dallas ISD. It’s a conversation that’s worth having, provided that educators are involved in the process and that the system doesn’t rely primarily on student test results to identify those “top-performing” teachers.
Governor Abbott also suggests moving away from a per-pupil funding model and, implicitly, toward a more outcomes-based approach. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is identifying which metrics with which to measure student performance and the threat of schools faced with the most significant socioeconomic challenges receiving even less support.
Finally, the governor writes that school finance reform must be accompanied by reforms in property taxes. It’s true the two are inextricably intertwined.
Increasing the state’s share of public education funding is the surest way to provide relief in property taxes. The governor proposes forcing taxing entities to lower their rates as appraisals go up, with the state presumably stepping in to make school districts whole. That’s a lot to presume, especially to do so in perpetuity.
Districts could hardly be blamed for wanting to see the legislature commit money up front before committing to voluntarily lower their tax rates – and it will take a sizable appropriation to shift the burden back toward the state in a way that will be meaningful to local property owners. School board members are politicians too, and they don’t want to be blamed for high taxes any more than their counterparts in Austin.
So what does it all mean? Does the governor’s column signify a dramatic reversal of his stance on public education, and school finance in particular? Does it mean he’s ready to stop attacking educators through anti-teacher payroll deduction bills and focus on improving teacher pay instead?
At a minimum, the governor is now talking about public education as an important priority, and that’s a good thing. The onus is on us to engage respectfully yet forcefully, and to shape the conversation, to the extent we can, by correcting inaccuracies and providing meaningful input. At best, we hope the governor will listen to educators and incorporate our feedback, even after the elections are over.
Of course, just as election season begins in the frantic furnace of summer, it ends in darkness on a winter night. When the legislature returns in January, we’ll all be faced with cold reality.
Dear TeachTheVote: Where does my party stand on public education?
It’s a great question to ask as we turn our focus to the November elections, and the answer can be found in each party’s political platform.
At the most basic level, party platforms are just a long list of beliefs and policy positions that delegates put together at each party’s state convention. This summer, Democrats met in Fort Worth and Republicans met in San Antonio to decide which issues to focus on. In each case, a handful of delegates cobbled together the platform, which was then submitted to the full convention for amendments and a formal vote for adoption.
Now before we get into the details of this year’s party platforms, there are a few important caveats. First of all, the platform committee responsible for writing the first draft is often composed of that particular party’s most ideological partisans. Sometimes the full delegation decides to water down the language and trim some of the fringe positions before voting to approve the platform, but that’s not always the case. Because of this, the end result can sometimes be a set of values that are not fully aligned to those of the party’s central majority and may be skewed toward the extreme edges of the ideological spectrum.
This ties into the next important point: Platforms have traditionally served as guideposts that indicate the party’s default position on a given issue, not marching orders for the legislative session. Each elected official is first responsible to their local district and the constituents who elected them, which is why platforms aren’t meant to be enforceable documents.
That being said, aggressively enforcing the party platform was the key theme for delegates voting on a party chairman at the 2018 Texas Republican Convention. This means that when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes, many legislators will be under great pressure from their party leaders to obey the platform committee’s positions over those of the voters they serve. That’s why it’s always important for educators to communicate directly with our elected representatives when it comes to public education issues.
Now that we’ve gotten all of that out of the way, let’s take a look at what this election season’s platforms have to say about education issues. For reference, you can find the full 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform here and the 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform here.
The 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform calls for ending “Robin Hood,” limiting increases in public education funding, and replacing school district property taxes with a consumption tax.
Each plank in the Republican platform is numbered. Plank 164 calls for “a simple, fair, and efficient method for financing our public school system” and opposes the Robin Hood system of recapture in which some money from property wealthy districts flows to property poor districts. The Republican platform explicitly opposes the Edgewood I and Edgewood II court opinions, in which the Texas Supreme Court ruled that the school finance system at the time was unconstitutional because it relied too heavily on local property taxes without any adjustment for rich and poor areas, which resulted in vastly unequal funding for children living in different communities.
When it comes to additional funding, the platform states, “Before receiving additional dollars through the school finance formulas, school districts must spend at least 65 percent of their current funding in the classroom.” According to the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) 2016-2017 Pocket Edition statistics, districts spent an average of 56.7 percent of all funds directly on instruction and another 15.6 percent on support. Administration accounted for 3.1 percent of district spending.
Plank 166 states, “We call upon the Texas Legislature to use surplus revenue to buy down the school maintenance and operation property tax rate as a prelude to replacing it with a broader based consumption tax.” The most common consumption tax is the sales tax.
The 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform calls for reducing the reliance on Robin Hood, funding schools in a way that reflects differences in costs between students and districts, and restoring funding that was cut in 2011 and 2017.
Individual planks are not numbered in the Democratic platform, but follow a narrative structure utilizing bullet points. The Democratic platform lays current funding deficiencies at the feet of Republican leadership, and declares restoring the $5.4 billion cut from public education funding in 2011 and $1.7 billion cut in 2017 “a legislative budget priority.” With regard to design, the platform advocates for “a 100% equitable school finance system with sufficient state revenue to provide every child the opportunity to learn in an exemplary program” and that “state funding formulas should fully reflect all student and district cost differences and the impact of inflation and state mandates.”
Private School Subsidies
The Republican platform states, “Texas families should be empowered to choose from public, private, charter, or homeschool options for their children’s education, using tax credits or exemptions without government restraints or intrusion.”
The Democratic platform states Democrats “oppose the misnamed ‘school choice’ schemes of using public tax money for the support of private and sectarian schools; believe ‘school choice’ is a deceptive marketing frame that purports to advocate something that already exists – school choice – but whose true purpose is to divert public school funds to vouchers or tax credit systems supporting private and sectarian schools; [and believe] that adoption of any vouchers or tax credit schemes would unavoidably financially and academically damage public schools.”
The Republican platform calls for an end to payroll deduction and converting certain government pensions from defined benefit to defined contribution plans.
Plank 49 states, “Texas should prohibit governmental entities from collecting dues for labor unions through deductions from public employee paychecks.” Although the language mischaracterizes how payroll deduction works and refers specifically to unions, the 2017 legislative session showed that this plank is in fact aimed at non-union educators, including ATPE members, in an attempt to weaken teachers’ voices at the Capitol.
Plank 151 states, “The Texas Legislature shall enact new rules to begin to transition government pensions for ERS and TDCRS members from a defined benefit pension to a defined contribution retirement plan similar to a 403(b).” While the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas is not mentioned here, the language echoes similar attempts during the 2017 legislative session to deny educators a lifetime retirement benefit by converting TRS pensions to 401(k)-style defined contribution plans.
The Democratic platform opposes prohibitions on payroll deduction and supports “protecting the TRS defined benefit pension system against attempts to turn it into a risky 401-k plan that could put most retirees’ pensions at risk; providing a regular COLA for every retired teacher; repealing the federal government pension offset and windfall elimination provisions that unfairly reduce Social Security benefits for Texas educational employees; and improving the TRS-Care health insurance program for retired educators.”
The Democratic platform includes a plank specifically aimed at teacher recruitment and retention. It advocates that Texas bring teacher pay in line with the rest of the nation, increase the state contribution for teacher health care, restore financial incentives for those interested in pursuing the teaching profession, oppose test-based performance, and guarantee mentors and properly certified teachers in each classroom.
The Republican platform calls for the right to prayer in schools, local control of public education, objective teaching of scientific theories, opposing national core curriculum, teaching American identity, transitioning non-English speaking students to English, and adopting an official position against transgenderism.
Plank 123 addresses prayer in schools, and further states, “We urge the Legislature to end censorship of discussion of religion in our founding documents and encourage discussing those documents, including the Bible as their basis. Students and district personnel have the right to display religious items on school property.”
Regarding local control, Plank 131 states, “We believe that all children should have access to quality education. Under the US Constitution, the power to regulate education is reserved exclusively to the States and to the people. Parents have the primary right and responsibility to educate their children. The classroom should be a place where all viewpoints are welcomed, free speech is celebrated, and ‘person before politics’ beliefs are preached. We support the right of parents to freely choose public, charter, private, parochial, or homeschooling for their children. We support the right of parents to choose the specific public school that their children attend. No child should be forced to attend a failing school. We reject the imposition of federal education standards and the tying of any government funding to the adoption of federal education standards. We reject the intrusion of government in private, parochial, or homeschools. We affirm that the policies, procedures, activities, and finances of public education in Texas at all levels should be fully transparent. To ensure transparency, the check register of all traditional school districts and charter schools should be posted online with the link on the home page. We respect parental authority regarding sex education. We believe that abortion providers and affiliates should be prohibited from providing any curriculum or instruction in schools.”
Plank 135 lists basic standards such as reading and writing, and Plank 136 addresses scientific theories, “such as life origins and environmental change. These should be taught as challengeable scientific theories subject to change as new data is produced. Teachers and students should be able to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of these theories openly and without fear of retribution or discrimination of any kind.”
Plank 137 opposes national core curriculum such as Common Core and C-SCOPE, Plank 139 addresses American identity and assimilation, Plank 140 encourages non-English speaking students to transition to English within one year, and Plank 141 states, “The official position of the Texas schools with respect to transgenderism is that there are only two genders: male and female.”
The Democratic platform supports enforcing class size limits, replacing high-stakes tests with more appropriate diagnostic measurements, rejecting efforts to tie teacher performance to test scores, opposing “A through F” school ratings, promoting multi-language instruction, supporting Title IX protections for gender equity, supporting school meal programs, supporting school-community collaboration, and placing the most highly qualified teachers in areas facing the greatest challenges.
The Democratic platform includes a plank addressing early childhood education, which advocates for universal access to full-day pre-K and kindergarten, as well as classroom resources and quality measures to ensure children are performing at grade level by the third grade.
Democrats include a plank regarding the school-to-prison pipeline in their platform. This includes increasing the budget for school counseling, adding training for staff and law enforcement, and “repealing traditional, exclusionary approaches to discipline, such as expulsion and suspension, which disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority students, as well as special education students.”
The Republican platform calls for arming teachers and mandating school security plans.
Plank 72 opposes the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, and Plank 143 urges the legislature to “pass a statute that allows Texas school teachers, or other school employees, who are certified and insured to be authorized to carry a concealed gun on the premises of their assigned school for security and protection purposes.”
Regarding school security plans, Plank 144 states, “The Legislature is urged to adopt as a legislative priority to mandate by state law that all publicly funded school districts be required to submit a viable school security plan as part of an accountability program. The school security plan must explicitly provide for the personal security of students and staff by responding with an equal and opposite force to an aggressor that uses deadly weapons or devices. In an effort to customize plans for each district, a parent oversight commission will be consulted and advised as to the threat assessment status of schools at all times and must be allowed to partake in strategy sessions for the creation of the school security plan.”
The Democratic platform calls for “weapon-free and drug-free” campuses, the right of teachers to remove disruptive students, and efforts to prevent bullying and acts of violence.
Specifically, the Democratic school security plank states, “Implementation of systematic programs should be utilized to identify instances of bullying and implement school-wide positive behavior interventions and supports, to prevent violence, disruption, bullying, and harassment: Eliminate disparities in discipline based on race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression or any other improper grounds.”
Furthermore, the Democratic platform calls for an end to “indiscriminate use of misdemeanor ticketing for minor infractions on campus and indiscriminate expulsion or placement of students in disciplinary alternative education programs for trivial misconduct,” and urges continued strong academic instruction for students placed in disciplinary alternative education programs.
The list of issues related to public education is lengthy and both platforms address many more such topics, including sex education and the role of the State Board of Education (SBOE). You can read more about the 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform here and the 2018 Texas Democratic Party Platform here.