Tag Archives: enrollment growth

With House passage of a state budget, attention turns to the Senate

The legislature and the business of our great state can (or could possibly) be very simple. All that legislators are required to do every two years when they meet is to pass a state budget. That is all. No bickering over education reform, guns on college campuses, whether educators should be required to have college diplomas to teach, or what the official state food should be. All of those debates, along with special and partisan interests, exist and often dominate the business of the legislature, as well as the news, merely because politicians allow it – or better yet, the electorate allows it. There is an old saying that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it. After observing the legislature for roughly the last fifteen years, I can say that this advice should be heeded often.

With that off my chest, I am happy to report that the one piece of required business for the 84th legislature is making progress. At least in the amount of time devoted to it, if not also the passion and direction of the House leadership, the state’s two-year budget has garnered the respect it deserves. Shortly before 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 1, after nearly 18 hours of debate, the House of Representatives passed its version of the state budget. The House budget (contained in House Bill 1) contains nearly $210 billion to cover all state operations for the next two years, including public safety, highways, water infrastructure, prisons, healthcare, and even the state’s portion of public education.

This proposed budget is a mere 3.8 percent increase over the current 2014-15 budget, throwing a rather large bucket of icy cold water on those scoffers who’ve been complaining that the conservative House leadership is spending too much this session. Anyone operating a local budget, from school boards to city councils, knows that funding support from the state has not kept up with actual needs for at least the past decade. Texas ranks near the very bottom compared to other states in state tax revenue generated and expenditures per person. We have a lean budget, and anyone suggesting otherwise simply has not gone through the process of developing it; there is little fat in this budget sausage.

The upside is that there is new money for public education. The House chose to fund enrollment growth (based on approximately 85,000 new students per year) and include an additional $3 billion to address both the legislative and judicial concerns regarding equity and adequacy of our state’s school finance system. While these new funds are much appreciated, it’s worth noting that only $800 million of this extra $3 billion comes from the state, while the remaining $2.2 billion comes from anticipated property tax growth that the state will allow to remain in the education funding formulas. Further, even with this new funding we are still behind the curve when it comes to inflation-adjusted spending per student, having not caught up to our 2006 per student spending levels.

Now that the House can move on to other business, we look to the Senate to see what newly elected Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick can muster. The Senate budget lags that of the House in both overall appropriations and education funding. There are serious differences in opinion between the House and Senate on proposed tax cut legislation (which requires an appropriation expenditure), as well both public education and school retiree health insurance funding. ATPE has and continues to advocate for the Senate to match the House commitment, at a minimum, to fully fund retiree healthcare for the next two years. The Senate is expected to debate its version of the budget soon, potentially as early as next week.

There is no more serious business than that of our state priorities and how we invest in them. It is our message to tomorrow, both because it literally is a budget for the next two years, and because it is what we want to offer our children in the form of opportunity. There is nothing inherently wrong with a well-thought-out, lean budget; however, the bill for necessities will eventually come due, and someone – whether it’s the local taxpayer in the form of property taxes, or the state – will have to pick up that tab. Ignoring this reality only exacerbates the problems and challenges we already face.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information as the budget develops.

Legislative Update: Washington looks at ESEA and teacher evaluation, Texas Senate aims at tax relief

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) conducted another hearing this morning on issues surrounding reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The hearing was entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders,” and today’s witness list included one Texas educator —Saul Hinojosa, the superintendent of Somerset ISD.

Much of the testimony today focused on teacher evaluation. Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee) expressed his desire to let states and districts decide how to use available federal dollars to improve teacher evaluation locally rather than putting in place more federal mandates. “It’s tempting to try to improve teachers from Washington,” said Alexander, but he noted that many of the federal attempts to encourage and reward effective teaching have been overly bureaucratic and impractical and have “made harder something that was already hard to do.”

Alexander noted in his opening remarks that several states had missed out on ESEA waivers due to their inability or unwillingness to accept federal mandates regarding teacher evaluation. Alexander made no specific mention of Texas, which as we reported last week, has recently been warned by the U.S. Department of Education that its proposal to overhaul teacher evaluations would not meet federal expectations. Local control over evaluations and personnel decisions is now at the heart of the disconnect between the Texas Education Agency’s proposed evaluation changes and the evaluation reform principles that the Obama administration attached as a condition to ESEA waivers. As stated by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter in an interview yesterday for the publication Quorum Report about the ongoing waiver talks, “Any successful improvement of the public school system has always come from the bottom up. Local control is absolutely necessary in order to have a successful system.”

While it is clear that many Republicans in Congress share Alexander’s professed support for local control and interest in moving away from top-down mandates for teacher evaluation, the role of testing continues to be a sticking point in negotiations and conversations about fixing ESEA/NCLB. The first witness at today’s hearing, Dr. Dan Goldhaber of the National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research at the American Institutes for Research, opened his remarks by telling the committee, “One thing about NCLB I hope does not change is the annual testing requirement.” He talked about the importance of having a “common yardstick to make judgments about teachers.”

At today’s hearing, Somerset’s Hinojosa talked about his district’s use of a Teacher Incentive Fund grant to pilot the TAP teacher evaluation model. Another witness, Seattle teacher Rachelle Moore, spoke about the challenges of recruiting, supporting, and retaining teachers in high-poverty schools. She and other witnesses highlighted the value of induction and mentoring programs for teachers, including those modeled after medical residencies, and they discussed the importance of giving schools adequate resources to address the needs of the whole child, such as basic nutrition and health care to ensure that students are ready to learn.

The committee’s next hearing related to ESEA reauthorization will be a roundtable discussion about “Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” It is scheduled for 10 a.m. EST on Tuesday, Feb. 3. Visit the committee’s website to watch live or archived video of any of these hearings and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Back here at home, the Texas Senate is moving forward after last week’s announcement of new committee assignments and a vote to change its rules for debate. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has tapped Sen. Larry Taylor (R–Friendswood) to chair the Senate Education committee, retaining Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D–Brownsville) as its vice-chairman. Under the chairmanship of Patrick in 2013, Taylor was a member of the Senate Education committee last session — his first after being elected to the Senate. Taylor previously served in the Texas House for a decade. His background is in the insurance industry.

The other members of the Senate Education committee are Senators Donna Campbell (R-San Antonio), Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston), José Rodriguez (D-El Paso), Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), and Royce West (D-Dallas), joined by freshman Senators Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), Don Huffines (R-Dallas), Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham), and Van Taylor (R-Plano).

Among the Senate’s first orders of business is proposing billions in tax cuts. In a base budget proposal released today, the Senate has called for $3 billion in property tax relief. Property taxes are the primary revenue source for public education in Texas. The Senate’s budget proposal, which is higher than the House’s budget starting point, includes funding for enrollment growth and new money for career counseling at the middle school level and for training teachers of students in kindergarten through third grades in math and reading.

Patrick also announced his appointment of new advisory boards to guide the Senate on reforms ranging from education to taxes to securing the border. The boards include business and industry leaders and several directors of Tea Party groups in Texas.

Vote for candidates who will prioritize education funding

This post is the first in a new Teach the Vote series: A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession. From now through the March 4 primary election, we’ll explore a top education issue each day– one that is likely to be discussed in the policymaking arena over the next two years. We hope to show you exactly what’s at stake and why it’s so important to elect candidates who will support public education.

At issue: The State of Texas is once again defending itself in a massive school finance lawsuit. Although the case is still pending, a district judge has already said that the state’s system of funding public education is unconstitutional, which means it fails to fund our schools adequately or equitably. Most educators would agree with that, considering these facts:

  • Texas is among the 10 lowest states in the nation in terms of per-pupil expenditures.
  • After adjusting for inflation, state spending on public education rests at about the same level it did in 2003.
  • Our outdated system for equalizing school district funding doesn’t work: Current annual funding ranges from $5,000 to $12,000 per student depending on where the student lives.
  • Even though our student population grows by nearly 80,000 children each year, the teacher population is shrinking because districts can’t afford to hire more personnel.

Legislators have the power to fix our broken school finance system: While schools struggle to do their best with insufficient funds and recover from the devastating 2011 budget cuts (which were only partially restored last session), the Texas economy is flourishing. Revenue estimates from taxes and other sources are on the rise, and by the end of 2015, it’s estimated that Texas will have a budget surplus of $2.5 billion, as well as $8 billion in the Rainy Day Fund (according to Moak, Casey and Associates, Inc.). Shouldn’t we elect legislators who support increasing state funding for public education so that we reach an adequate level of funding and make sure all students can benefit, regardless of where they live?

Your vote in the March primary is the best way to fund education now: If you have a contested Republican or Democratic primary in your district, your vote now will either shape or decide the outcome of the November general election and what it means for public education. Early voting continues through Friday, Feb. 28, and Tuesday, March 4, is election day, so get out and vote.

Find out how your lawmakers voted and see firsthand if history repeats itself: Visit our 2014 Races page to view profiles of the legislative candidates in your districts. Open the Voting Record section to find out whether your incumbent voted to increase public education funding in the budget last year. Pay attention to the candidates’ answers to our first three survey questions, which relate to education funding. Pro-public education candidates will make school finance a top priority, and they need your vote in the upcoming primary.