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In late night hearing, House Public Education Committee talks about bullying, leftover food, and more

On Wednesday, April 17, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard bills on a variety of topics including the donation of excess food at school, virtual schools, workplace bullying of teachers, and even the Ten Commandments.

ATPE supported several bills by registering in favor of the following:

  • House Bill (HB) 414 (Flynn, R-Van) would create the Teacher’s Protection Act, which includes a defense against prosecutions for actions taken in an educator’s self-defense.
  • HB 1394 (Bohac, R-Houston) aims to protect teachers from being sanctioned by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) for their reasonable use of force against a student.
  • HB 3220 (Allison, R-San Antonio) would add licensed specialists in school psychology (LSSPs) to the definition of mental health professional and allow them to be eligible for loan repayment assistance in certain circumstances.
  • HB 3403 (Cortez, D-San Antonio) would require school district employment policies to include anti-bullying measures for educators, including provisions to address parents who bully teachers.
  • HB 3638 (Patterson, R-Frisco) would lift certain mandates on schools as identified by the Lieutenant Governor’s mandate relief working group in which ATPE participated last year.
  • HB 3696 (Bell, K., R-Forney) would add the number (rather than percentage) of students who complete a practicum or internship approved by the State Board of Education (SBOE) and students who complete a coherent sequence of career and technical education (CTE) courses as measures within the student achievement domain of the state’s accountability system.
  • HB 3882 (Wilson, R-Marble Falls) would transfer rulemaking authority from the Commissioner of Education to the University Interscholastic League (UIL) for extracurricular activity safety training programs. This is also one portion of the main mandate relief bill referenced above.
  • HB 3906 (Huberty, R-Kingwood) would change references to “reading” to say “language arts” in multiple sections of the law and eliminate the grade 4 and 7 writing test, but add writing to the annual language arts tests. This bill also includes provisions of Rep. Gary VanDeaver’s (R-New Boston) writing portfolio assessment pilot legislation and allows assessments to be administered in multiple parts over more than one day.
  • HB 3963 (Allen, D-Houston) would allow schools to elect to donate extra food to a nonprofit and includes related food safety precautions.
  • HB 4095 (Beckley, D-Carrollton) would require school boards to adopt a policy on custodian workloads.
  • HB 4096 (Beckley, D-Carrollton) would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to study recommended standards for school district facility maintenance and custodial services.
  • House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 134 (Dutton, D-Houston) would designate the second Tuesday in October as Legislators in Schools Day, an opportunity for lawmakers to visit  a classroom in their districts.

ATPE submitted written testimony against HB 1921 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco). This bill would remove the cap on funding for full-time virtual schools by eliminating a provision that states funding is limited to programs that were operating on January 1, 2013. This provision was a key addition to the virtual school program law because it ensured that full-time virtual school programs, would neither be completely shut down nor be allowed to replicate until more data was collected on their efficacy. Since that legislation was passed, a growing body of evidence has shown that virtual schools are a poor substitute for traditional, brick-and-mortar classrooms. Therefore, ATPE opposes further expansion of virtual schools as contemplated by this bill. Read our written testimony against HB 1921 here.

The following bills were also heard by the committee on Wednesday:

  • HB 307 (Flynn, R-Van): States that school boards cannot prohibit the posting of the Ten Commandments in classrooms.
  • HB 875 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require that superintendents annually report on student restraints, complaints filed against students, citations issued to students, and student arrests. The data would be made available to the public by TEA.
  • HB 1017 (Martinez, D-Weslaco): Would require schools with 50% or more of students eligible for free or reduced price lunch to donate food to a nonprofit to be distributed to students at the campus.
  • HB 1416 (Lucio III, D-Brownsville): Would require TEA to adopt uniform general conditions for school building construction contracts.
  • HB 2002 (Leach, R-Plano): Would require that districts report their total expenses related to administering required assessments.
  • HB 2183 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require schools to report to TEA and in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) on students who are released to their parents before the end of the instructional day. Parents would have access to the report.
  • HB 2609 (King, K., R-Canadian): Would allow school districts to assign ESL teachers to bilingual education programs if they have a shortage of bilingual education teachers. The committee substitute for the bill allows the bilingual education allotment to be used for teacher salaries and for certifying bilingual teachers in the district.
  • HB 2691 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would require providers of online services used for a school purpose to use unique identifiers that masks student information.
  • HB 2797 (Hinojosa, D-Austin): Enables specialized support campuses or those that only serve students in special education to be considered separately for accountability purposes.
  • HB 3000 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require schools to notify TEA and give written notice to parents if there is a data breach in the district involving students’ information. TEA would maintain a public database of such breaches.
  • HB 3132 (Allen, D-Houston): Would require that staff development for teachers who provide reading instruction in grades K-3 include training in effective instructional practices and the use of validated instructional methods.
  • HB 3146 (Meza, D-Irving): Would require schools to offer students a vegan breakfast and lunch option.
  • HB 3204 (Sanford, R-McKinney): Would prohibit the governing board or commissioners court from including more than one project in any proposition submitted to authorize the issuance of bonds.
  • HB 3467 (King, K., R-Canadian): Would change how School Land Board (SLB) cash is handled to try to increase the ability of the SLB and SBOE to make returns to public education. There have been recent concerns with money that the SLB and SBOE manage and invest, which ultimately makes its way into public schools.
  • HB 3630 (Meyer, R-Dallas): Would prohibit school district employees from engaging in  dangerous techniques for student discipline, which disproportionately impact students with disabilities.
  • HB 3820 (Sherman, D-DeSoto): Would require (at state cost) school districts to administer one of the ACT or SAT to certain students who have taken the Algebra I or English I or II end-of-course exam (EOC).
  • HB 3846 (Capriglione, R-Southlake): Would require the SBOE to develop “mini-courses” on topics such as personal financial literacy, computer coding, and cybersecurity, which districts could use after assessments are administered.
  • HB 3884 (Wilson, R-Marble Falls): Transfers duties for providing bacterial meningitis information from TEA to the Department of State Health Services.
  • HB 3141 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would prohibit a school district from having certain business interests in real estate; arts, entertainment, and recreation; or accommodation and food services.
  • HB 4454 (Rodriguez, D-Austin): Would require the SBOE to adopt developmentally appropriate standards for social and emotional learning and require school districts to use the standards in  appropriate educational programs.
  • HB 4626 (Swanson, R-Spring): Would make the Harris County Department of Education subject to sunset review.

The House Public Education Committee will meet next Tuesday, April 23, at 8 am. See the agenda here, which includes a bill to make children of educators eligible for prekindergarten and a bill to ensure that public school counselors’ time is spent on core counseling duties. The committee is also expected to meet briefly on Thursday, April 18, merely for voting on pending bills.

Commissioner: School fund management needs structural change

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday morning to begin the second day of its November meeting.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

Commissioner Morath began by congratulating Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) for his work as the board’s sole representative on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and called the recommendations put forward thus far by commission working groups “powerful.”

The commissioner praised the board for its handling of a funding dispute with the General Land Office (GLO) over the Permanent School Fund (PSF), formal oversight of which is split between the SBOE and the GLO’s School Land Board (SLB). Morath suggested legislators should address oversight of the PSF in its entirety. The commissioner pointed out that the PSF portion under the SLB’s stewardship has accumulated a $4 billion cash balance, which is creating a “significant drag” in terms of fund performance. Morath suggested legislators should consider structural changes, which could be worth an additional $150 million per year.

Commissioner Morath recapped the agency’s budget and priority initiatives, and disputed reports that the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR) calls for a reduction in state aid. The LAR is a formal budget request each agency prepares for legislators before each legislative session, and TEA’s LAR for the upcoming session seeks less state aid from general revenue (GR). The commissioner explained that this is required by the funding formulas, which have led to the burden shifting from state GR to local property tax revenues.

Member Ruben Cortez (R-San Antonio) pressed the commissioner as to whether that trend will continue. The commissioner repeated that the agency is complying with statute, and suggested this is the central question being addressed by the school finance commission.

Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) asked the commissioner to provide agency guidance for districts participating in or considering merging with charters under Senate Bill (SB) 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. Perez-Diaz noted that there are questions regarding who is formally in charge of schools at the local level after a contract with a charter is executed, and pointed out it seems districts are “building the plane while it’s in the air.” The commissioner said SB 1882 contracts now include 13 districts and 609 campuses.

In response to a question by Member Ellis regarding a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a $33 million penalty for failing to properly fund special education, Commissioner Morath indicated that the agency is actively trying to figure out its response moving forward.

The commissioner also fielded a question from Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) regarding the instructional materials portal, which legislators in 2017 ordered the commissioner to create as an online resource for educators. Perez noted there is concern how the portal will interact with the SBOE’s statutory authority to review instructional materials and the potential for creating duplicative processes. Commissioner Morath suggested the portal will evaluate a different set of factors than the SBOE.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-Conroe) also raised concern about transparency with regard to how portal material is evaluated, and clarifying that the board’s process will continue forward unchanged. The commissioner replied the agency is engaged in stakeholder outreach. Member Cargill suggested creating a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 14, 2018

It’s been a busy week in Austin. Here are highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


SBOE meeting Sept. 14, 2018.

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.


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyThis 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.

 

SBOE wraps meeting with strong statement on school funding

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) concluded its September meeting Friday with final votes on a number of subjects.

SBOE meeting September 14, 2018.

One of the first orders of business was to approve a draft of the Long-Range Plan for Public Education (LRP). The board will delay final approval until the November meeting in order to give stakeholders longer to review the plan and changes suggested by the board Tuesday night. Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) voiced concern that the board was under pressure from the office of Gov. Greg Abbott to remove the recommendation in favor of “formula funded full-day pre-K.”

The board also approved Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for Ethnic Studies: Mexican American Studies, as well as streamlining changes to the social studies TEKSMembers also voted on a number of items from each committee, including finalizing a rejection of problematic rules proposed by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) that would have negatively affected teacher quality. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) concluded discussion by pointing out that if certain areas are having trouble hiring teachers, the remedy should be more pay — not weakening standards. The SBEC will have a chance to fix the rule and submit changes to the SBOE in November.

Members also finalized a letter to the General Land Office (GLO) regarding a dispute over funding that could short schools roughly $450 million over the next biennium. The board voted unanimously to request the GLO reconsider its actions and provide an additional $500 million in funding for schools.

The board concluded with its annual ethics training. The next meeting is scheduled for November.