Tag Archives: equity

House Public Education Committee hears hours of testimony on school finance plan, HB 3

On Tuesday, March 12, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard over 12 hours of testimony from 116 individuals on the House school finance plan, House Bill (HB) 3. Testifiers ranged from elementary school students to superintendents and teacher associations. There were 187 individuals registered, with 131 for the bill, 46 neutral (including ATPE), and 10 against. Public comment was largely positive, with concerns bubbling to the surface on the teacher merit-based-pay portion of the bill, increased inequity between property wealthy and property poor districts, and the integration of the current gifted and talented allotment into base funding.

Every testimonial began with gratitude for the many aspects of the bill that improve school funding. These include reimbursements for real costs associated with administration of SAT/ACT and certifications for career and technical education (CTE) students, a substantial increase to the basic allotment from $5,140/student to $6,030/student, new dual language and dyslexia weights, the extension of CTE funding to middle school students, increases to early childhood through the early reading allotment, and efforts to target funds to schools serving students in concentrated poverty.

The majority of testimony, including that from parents and children, focused on the bill’s proposal to roll the gifted and talented (G/T) allotment into the basic allotment instead. Currently, G/T students are funded at a 0.12 weight, but district enrollment is capped at 5%. Most, if not all, districts enroll the maximum of 5% of students. Therefore, districts receive the maximum funding for G/T students. By rolling G/T funding into the basic allotment, the base level of funding is raised and all districts still get the money and are still statutorily required to provide the G/T program. Testifiers advocating for G/T expressed concern that districts would no longer implement G/T programs to fidelity without the allotment, even with the ability under HB 3 for G/T funding to be 100% stripped should a district opt not to certify that it is providing a G/T program.

The concern with the merit-based teacher pay portion of the bill was mainly voiced by teacher groups such as ATPE, the Texas- American Federation of Teachers, the Texas State Teachers Association, and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association, along with a number of teachers who took time to come to Austin to personally express similar disapproval of the inclusion of merit pay in the bill. Testifiers stated that the bill gives the Commissioner of Education (who is un-elected) too much power, assumes that data exists to evaluate all teachers in every subject area, allows for very subjective and potentially biased student surveys to be used for evaluating and ranking teachers, and does not include factors for teachers’ years of experience. Several witnesses told the committee that teachers deserve an across-the-board pay raise before legislators discuss a state framework for differentiated pay, which is similar to but far more acceptable than traditional notions of merit pay. Another area of concern in HB 3, which ATPE noted in our testimony yesterday, is that the bill complicates state laws regarding the minimum salary schedule – creating a new, separate salary schedule for most teachers while keeping counselors, nurses, and librarians on the minimum salary schedule currently found in law – and would allow any school district to simply opt out of using the state’s minimum salary schedule.

The concern over linking teacher pay to student performance metrics, which most see as little more than paying for STAAR scores, is especially concerning amidst ongoing reporting that STAAR has been shown to be unreliable. This spurred discussion from Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who repeatedly argued that the bill does not mandate the use of the STAAR test for the teacher designations and merit-pay outlined in the bill. However, a reading of the bill clearly outlines the criteria for the tests that can be used, as well as the requirement for the commissioner to use comparative state data to create forced rankings of teachers.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified neutrally on HB 3, echoing many of the same concerns and was able to tease out many of the push-backs from committee members. Exter expressed that although the bill has some very positive qualities in that it manages to provide at least some level of funding increase for almost all districts while also increasing funding for special populations, a nearly herculean task, aspects of HB 3 that promote merit pay tied to testing are not appropriate for stimulating educational improvement. Exter noted for the committee that ATPE members through the member written and adopted legislative program, “oppose the use of student performance, including test scores as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness, as the determining factor for a teacher’s compensation or as the primary rationale for an adverse employment action.” As with other witnesses testifying on behalf of teachers yesterday, ATPE’s testimony included the fact that we are aware of no other common metric shared by districts across the state that the commissioner could use to rank teachers for purposes of the proposed merit pay program other than STAAR test results.

In the end, Exter implored the committee not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, noting that the few parts of the bill educators oppose, including merit pay, are not integral to the functioning of the larger bill; if those parts of the bill were removed, Exter tstified, Texas educators could very likely enthusiastically support HB 3. Watch Exter’s full exchange with the committee here beginning at the 5 hour and 24 minute mark. Exter’s testimony was preceded by ATPE member and former Texas Secondary Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe. ATPE State Vice president Tonja Gray also testified later in the hearing. View ATPE’s written testimony on HB 3 here.

Other education stakeholders focused their testimony in yesterday’s hearing more on concerns surrounding financial equity. While we won’t get into the weeds about tax effort and the guaranteed yield of different tax rates (and thus, golden and copper pennies), the general sentiment expressed was that HB 3 would increase inequity between property wealthy and property poor districts over time. For much more detailed information on this issue, please see testimony provided by the Equity Center and the Center for Public Policy Priorities on HB 3.

In addition to the tax inequity aspect, small and midsize districts and their representatives argued against moving the small and midsize adjustment, which adjusts the basic allotment to a higher amount to account for diseconomies of scale, to an allotment under HB 3. In current law, the adjustment is applied to the basic allotment before additional  funding weights (compensatory education, bilingual education, special education) are applied for various types of students, adding more money. Under HB 3, the adjustment would be applied to the basic allotment just like any other student weight, which advocates argue would reduce overall funding for specific student populations.

Yesterday’s hearing was likely to be the only opportunity for public comment on this version of HB 3 in the House. Once HB 3 is brought up in the House Public Education Committee again, which we expect to happen next week, it will likely be in the form of a committee substitute (a changed version) and the committee is not required to take additional testimony before voting on the bill. Follow ATPE Lobbyists on Twitter @ATPE_AndreaC, @ATPE_MontyE, @ATPE_JenniferM, and @MarkWigginsTX to get up-to-date news on HB 3 as it moves through the legislative process.

SBOE long-range planning process to include regional meetings

SBOE logoThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) released the following statement this week about upcoming regional meetings to gather input for the purpose of updating the SBOE’s Long-Range Plan for Education:

Oct. 31, 2017

Regional meetings to gather input for Long-Range Plan 

AUSTIN – Regional meetings begin this week to gather input for the new Long-Range Plan for Public Education now being developed by the State Board of Education.

The first of at least eight community meetings will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, at the El Paso Community College in El Paso. The meeting will occur in the Administration Building auditorium located at 9050 Viscount Blvd.

Register to attend this free event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/community-conversation-el-paso-november-2nd-tickets-38839842013 .

Community meetings are also scheduled for 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Nov. 14 – Region 7 Education Service Center, 1909 North Longview St., Kilgore
  • Dec. 5 – Region 11 Education Service Center, 1451 S. Cherry Lane, White Settlement
  • Dec. 6 – Dallas County Community College, El Centro West – Multi Purpose Room 3330 N. Hampton Rd., Dallas
  • Feb. 8 – Region 4 Education Service Center, 7145 West Tidwell, Houston

Additional community meetings will be scheduled in 2018.

“State Board of Education members are meeting with Texans around the state because we want to hear firsthand what their concerns and hopes for the Texas public schools are going forward. Our goal is to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Information gained through these community meetings, a statewide online survey, and the work of the Long-Range Plan for Public Schools Steering Committee will be used to craft a strategic plan for schools through the year 2030, corresponding with the Texas Higher Education 60×30 Strategic Plan,” said SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich.

The 18-member steering committee, made up of educators, parents, state and local board members, business officials, college professors, state agency representatives and a student, will meet at 9 a.m. Nov. 6 to discuss two topics: family empowerment and engagement and equity and access to both funding and advanced courses.

The public meeting will occur at 4700 Mueller Blvd. in Austin at the headquarters of the Texas Comprehensive Center at the American Institutes of Research, which is assisting the board with the development of the long-range plan.

Debbie Ratcliffe, Interim Director
SBOE Support Division, Texas Education Agency
debbie.ratcliffe@tea.texas.gov

TEA launches Equity Toolkit for school districts

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced a new set of online resources this week aimed to assist districts in submitting Equity Plans as required by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The federal law passed in 2015 requires schools receiving Title I funding to determine whether low-income students and students of color are served at disproportionate rates by “ineffective, inexperienced, or out-of-field teachers,” and to address any inequities.

The agency is accepting submissions for Texas Equity Plans from September 1 through November 1. The deadline is designed to encourage districts to develop their plans as part of their annual improvement planning process. To make things easier, TEA has launched the Texas Equity Toolkit. The website provides templates for reporting and project management planning, as well as equity plan submission guidelines.

According to TEA, the process “is about improving student learning for every single student throughout the state.  Are all students within an LEA learning at commensurate and appropriate rates?  If not, what factors contribute to that, and what strategies can LEAs pursue or continue to pursue to help close those gaps?”

The process begins with engaging stakeholders, then reviewing and analyzing data on equity gaps. Next, districts will conduct a root cause analysis, select strategies to improve equitable access, and craft a plan for implementation. The Texas Equity Toolkit provides details and resources for each of these steps, as well as training materials.

It’s important to note that Districts of Innovation (DOI) are not exempt from the federal requirement. The agency also advises that all regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) have staff available to assist districts with their plans. A list of “Equity Leads” can be found here.

Both chambers release versions of proposed Texas budget

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick confirmed yesterday that Senator Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound) will continue to serve as the chair of the Senate Finance Committee for the 85th legislative session. Upon her reappointment, Sen. Nelson filed the Senate’s budget bill, Senate Bill 1.  SB 1 spends $103.6 billion in state revenue over the next two years, which is $1.3 billion less than the Comptroller’s 2018 and 2019 revenue projection.

The Senate issued a press release highlighting the fact that the budget includes “$2.65 billion to cover enrollment growth in public schools and $32 million more for high-quality pre-k programs.” This is $86 million less than the additional $118 million that would be needed to extend current pre-k funding to cover both years of the upcoming biennium.

Girl showing bank notesAs filed, SB 1 represents a continuation of current school funding formulas. However, according to the Senate press release, Nelson calls  “making sure the school finance system better meets the needs of students” a critical decision to be made by lawmakers this session.

Other specific items outlined in the budget per the SB 1 press release include:

  • $1 billion to address state hospital and mental health facility needs;
  • $63 million to clear the waitlist for community mental health services;
  • $20 million for a program to help veterans dealing with PTSD or other mental health issues;
  • $260 million to improve Child Protective Services;
  • $25 million for high caliber bulletproof vests for Texas law enforcement officers;
  • $800 million for border security measures approved last session; and
  • A 1.5 percent across-the-board spending reduction for all expenditures not related to public education.

The Senate press release on SB 1 can be found here.

On the House side, Speaker Joe Straus has not yet named which representative will replace former Rep. John Otto (R – Dayton) as the new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Otto did not seek re-election in 2016. Still, the House did release its version of a plan for the base budget yesterday, too. The Speaker’s press release touts the House budget plan as one that “puts additional resources into public education, child protection and mental health while increasing state spending by less than 1 percent.”

The House budget proposal:

  • Funds enrollment growth of about 165,000 students over the next two years;
  • Includes an additional $1.5 billion for public education that is contingent upon the passage of legislation that reduces recapture and improves equity in the school finance system; and
  • Includes $108.9 billion in general revenue.

The Speaker’s press release can be found here.

Court date set for school finance appeal

The Texas Supreme Court announced today that it intends to hear oral arguments in the appeal of a major school finance lawsuit starting Sept. 1. Lawyers representing numerous school districts across Texas have sued state officials claiming that the funding of our schools is inadequate and inequitable and amounts to an illegal statewide property tax. Since the bulk of funding for public schools comes from locally assessed property taxes, differences in property values and tax rates have caused vast disparities in how much revenue each school district is able to collect. The legislature also devised a complicated “recapture” system to try to redistribute funds more equitably throughout the state – a mechanism that many refer to as a “Robin Hood” plan – and minor tweaks to the funding laws in recent years have only exacerbated long-term problems with the system. The bottom line is that most schools have struggled to generate enough funding to meet rising standards and deal with population increases.

Retired District Judge John Dietz

Retired District Judge John Dietz

Former Travis County District Court Judge John Dietz ruled the state’s system of funding public schools unconstitutional in 2014 in response to multifaceted claims brought by several plaintiffs in a massive lawsuit over which the judge had presided since Oct. 2012. The state, represented by the Texas Attorney General, is appealing that ruling to the state’s highest court. The current lawsuit is only the latest in a string of challenges to the state’s convoluted system of funding schools across our large and diverse state.

During ATPE’s Political Involvement Training and Lobby Day event in February, Dietz spoke about the lawsuit in his first major public appearance since retiring from the court at the beginning of this year. He told a crowded ballroom of ATPE members and reporters, “We are dooming a generation of these children by providing an insufficient education.” Dietz urged the 84th Texas Legislature to take action right away to find a solution to the broken school finance system.

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) flanked by fellow legislators discussing school finance during the 84th legislative session

Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) with fellow legislators discussing school finance earlier this year

Unfortunately, the pending appeal of the lawsuit was one reason cited by legislators who declined to pass a school finance reform bill during the 84th legislative session. As we reported previously on Teach the Vote, Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to bring about at least modest increases in per pupil funding and equity. After being approved by the House Public Education Committee, the bill died on the House floor when Aycock opted to pull it off the crowded calendar on the last day for consideration. Depending on how and when the Supreme Court ultimately rules, it might become necessary for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to call legislators back to Austin for a special session to address school finance. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote this fall for updates as the appeal proceeds.

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.

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.