Tag Archives: Gov. Greg Abbott

BREAKING: Abbott says schools to remain closed, offers early plan to open other Texas businesses

Today, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in which he outlined early plans for reopening the state to commerce. While additional businesses and services will be authorized beginning next week, Texas schools will remain physically closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to safety concerns. In his press conference today, Abbott added that the commissioners of education and higher education each will provide guidance to schools on how they may conduct graduations this spring. Distance learning will continue, and educators will be allowed access to school buildings in order to facilitate this.

Gov. Abbott’s April 17 announcement and issuance of new executive order come on the heels of a consequential press briefing by President Donald Trump yesterday. Trump detailed a phased re-opening of the country and shared new federal guidelines that include three phases of progressive opening. In phase one, schools that are already closed should remain closed. In order to move from one phase to the next, states must pass “gating” criteria to prove that there has not been any rebound in viral outbreak. For instance, with adequate testing in place, states must show that confirmed cases and cases with flu-like and COVID-like symptoms have declined over a 14-day period.

Similarly, the governor announced plans today for a phased re-opening of the state, starting today. Businesses that present little to no impact on the spread of the virus are being allowed to open first, with appropriate safety measures as prescribed by the state in place, followed by a second phase on April 27 for additional businesses to open, and a third phase in May. Under the state’s plan, existing restrictions on surgeries and other medical protocols are being eased next week and additional retail businesses will be allowed to re-open next Friday as long as they operate using a “to go” or delivery-based model only, as many restaurants are already doing. Abbott announced that state parks will re-open on Monday, April 20, but six-foot distancing, limits on the size of groups, and facial covering requirements will remain in effect. During today’s press conference, the governor also named a long list of business leaders and current and former elected officials who will serve on a “strike force” to oversee the re-opening process.

Gov. Abbott said that revised guidelines for the state will be shared on April 27, 2020, including an update on the statewide stay-at-home order that is set to expire April 30. ATPE’s lobby team will provide additional updates on the new executive orders this afternoon in our Week in Review blog post here on Teach the Vote.

U.S. Dept. of Education releases first K-12 coronavirus dollars

Ever since the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act became law on on March 27, 2020, education stakeholders have anxiously awaited the release of billions of federal dollars for education in the states. Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that governors can apply for the $3 billion in relief allocated by the CARES Act as the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund.

The funds can be used for both K-12 and higher education and are designed to be “highly flexible,” according to DeVos. Additionally, the very short, 15-page application for the funds is incredibly streamlined. It is essentially an agree-to-the-terms, sign, and submit format with a short questionnaire on how the state intends to use the funds for remote learning and technology.

Second only to California, Texas is set to receive one of the largest sums of money from this specific allocation – over $307 million. Sixty percent of that amount is based on our state’s population of individuals aged 5 through 24, and 40% of the funding is based on Texas students counted under the Title I, Part A formula. Gov. Greg Abbott can use the funds to provide emergency grants to school districts, institutions of higher education, or any other educational entities deemed essential for carrying out services to students to support continued instruction and operation. There are other provisions in the CARES Act, including $13.5 billion solely dedicated to K-12 education, that states are still waiting for more information on from the U.S. Department of Education.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates. Also, educators can find up-to-date resources and information on the novel coronavirus, including more about the CARES Act, on the ATPE Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 10, 2020

For many Texas educators, this week marked the beginning of an uncharted journey into distance learning. Our ATPE Governmental Relations team applauds all the educators who are rising to the unprecedented challenge. As always, we are here to provide the latest in education news. The ATPE state office is closed today, April 10, but our staff will be back in action next week and ready to help you find your way through these uncertain times. We hope you get to enjoy the weekend and this edition of Teach the Vote’s Week in Review.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The worlds of the novel coronavirus and education were a bit quieter this week, but many questions remain on the long-term impact of the pandemic. Texas educators are facilitating distance learning and conducting other essential work even though Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the closure of Texas school buildings until at least May 4th, and some localities and districts have extended their closures beyond that date or even for the rest of the school year. Abbott held two press conferences this week, but neither provided further updates regarding education.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has been issuing and updating its guidance for public schools on a daily basis, but numerous questions remain, especially for educators and those working to become educators who are concerned about job security. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier summarized what we know so far about changes to educator preparation and certification procedures in this blog post for Teach the Vote. We also await a response to ATPE’s call for accommodations regarding educator evaluations, on which so many compensation and job-related decisions are based. As we reported last week, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to request statewide action regarding educator appraisals, which are unlikely to yield fair and valid results under current conditions. Read more in this ATPE press release.

For a quick recap of where we stand, here are other notable state-level developments pertaining to the pandemic:

  • After Gov. Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR tests, Texas sought and was approved by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to waive statewide testing and accountability. All districts will be “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” for 2019-20.
  • If you’ve seen a graphic circulating on social media with what looks like “Woody” from Toy Story, it is probably TEA’s “Stay Well, Texas” public health campaign, which school districts are helping to roll-out.
  • Parents can use TEA’s “meal finder” tool and pick up meals without their children being present, thanks to an waiver granted to Texas by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
  • The TEA coronavirus resource page is chock-full of resources (mainly geared towards district leaders) relating to instructional continuity, special education, testing, graduation, and more. New guidance added to the TEA site this week includes FAQs on FERPA, the SAT, ACT, TSIA, and AP/IB tests, FEMA assistance, and Information Technology, plus child care support sample documents, a list of available waivers, and TELPAS and LPAC Guidance.
  • TEA has launched a partially-complete website that includes home learning resources for families, districts, and teachers.

At the federal level, Congress has approved substantial federal aid packages, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act, which provide billions in funding for individuals and businesses, along with waivers from various federal laws to facilitate relief. Attempts to advance another piece of coronavirus relief legislation stalled this week in Congress after partisan disagreements. Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced this week new spending flexibility waivers under the CARES Act that would purportedly allow school officials to dedicate funds to distance learning and virtual classrooms. As we reported last week, DeVos has also floated the idea of “microgrants” for students and teachers, which are essentially vouchers and have not yet been approved by Congress.

  • ATPE has helpful information about the CARES Act here, including more on the direct cash payments to individuals that are expected to be distributed soon by the U.S. Treasurer.
  • Read ATPE’s information about the FFCRA’s expanded paid leave benefits here.

For guidance on dealing with COVID-19, we encourage educators to visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.  Also, follow the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter for related legislative and regulatory news.


ELECTION UPDATE: The Texas Democratic Party filed a second lawsuit against the state this week over mail-in ballots, this time in federal court. According to a report in the Texas Tribune, Texas Democrats were concerned by Monday’s party-line decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that resulted in Wisconsin voters being forced to vote in person this week in contradiction to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for preventing the spread of COVID-19. Texas Democrats are asking the state to expand eligibility for mail-in ballots so that voters are not forced to expose themselves to COVID-19 in order to cast a ballot. Current Republican Party of Texas Chairman James Dickey has voiced opposition to expanding mail-in ballots, suggesting that mail handlers could also risk COVID-19 infection. Gov. Greg Abbott stated in March that “everything’s on the table,” but has been relatively quiet on the subject since then.


We reported last week that the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission has released its sunset staff recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS). While TRS can’t be abolished through the sunset review process unlike other agencies, the commission staff have identified several issues that the legislature will likely address during the next legislative session in 2021. Check out this new blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, which takes a deeper look at one of the major issues raised by the sunset report: a recommendation that TRS should “repair its relationship with its members by focusing on their needs.”


ATPE joined 17 other organizations calling on Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath to place a moratorium on charter expansion during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Because charters cannot levy taxes, the state picks up the tab in order to fully fund every charter school student. ATPE believes the expansion of charter enrollment during a pandemic with extremely uncertain financial outcomes would be fiscally irresponsible. In fact, the 94 charter expansion amendments currently on file with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) could cost the state an additional $90 million per year if approved, money that may be sorely needed to shore up budgets of existing public schools across the state. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins


This week, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar sat down for a virtual conversation with the Texas Tribune to discuss what the novel coronavirus means for our state’s economy. Hegar said that Texas is in a recession but will be able to meet current budget obligations through August 31, 2021. In the summer, Hegar will release an updated revenue estimate that will likely be several billion dollars less. Since the state pumped billions into education during the last legislative session, educators worry that continued funding commitment might be hard to maintain. Read a full rundown in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Census 2020 self-response rates as of March 8, 2020. (Source)

The 2020 U.S. Census is still underway, and everyone’s response is critical for many important streams of funding, including for public education. Texas’ response rate has increased from 36% last week to over 41% this week, but we are still behind the current national rate of 46%. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, some census work has been delayed, making it more important to push online/phone/mail census completion options that can reduce the need for interpersonal interaction. Learn more about the 2020 Census in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and find census FAQs here.


ATPE member Michelle Bish of Pasadena was featured this week in a news story by KHOU 11 news in Houston. While taking care of her own three children, Bish is also implementing distance learning for her third graders and staying in contact with her students’ parents. Bish says it is overwhelming but that we will all get through this together. In the article, she says:

“I cannot wait for this to be over,” she said. “This is not why I signed up to be a teacher. I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to be present. Like, physically be in the presence of my students. You know, at school and being a part of them and teaching.”

We can’t wait for this to end either! In the meantime, we can help each other stay positive. ATPE wants to hear how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your stories, best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis.


Texas educator preparation and testing in viral limbo

Uncertainty around educator preparation and testing in Texas during the novel coronavirus pandemic has left some aspiring and current educators wondering, “What’s next?” In this Teach the Vote blog post, we will cover what we know so far about educator preparation and what questions we still need answered.

Certification Testing Changes

Last month, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted a notice of the cancellation of educator certification examinations slated for March 17 through April 16, 2020. Pearson’s Texas educator certification website provides further information for educators whose tests were cancelled, including a listing of closed testing centers. TEA similarly announced that Performance Assessment for School Leaders (PASL) submission deadlines were being extended, with additional information available on the ETS performance assessment website here.

Pearson VUE, which administers the computer-based certification tests, also has a coronavirus-dedicated webpage with specific FAQs and information about rescheduling of the tests. In particular, the site explains that educator certification candidates can reschedule tests for dates starting May 1, 2020, and beyond, but this is subject to further orders or virus-related restrictions that may be issued by state and federal leaders. When rescheduling an exam, candidates will only be able to select from available dates at testing centers that are open, and all candidates are advised to contact testing centers before their test to ensure availability.

Other Certification Requirements

On TEA’s coronavirus Texas educator support webpage, educators can find other information about changes due to the virus, including an educator preparation FAQ and presentation. Importantly, Gov. Greg Abbott has waived impractical requirements for candidates who were completing clinical teaching, an internship, or a practicum this spring. These include face-to-face observations for those in a practicum, clinical teaching requirements based in school settings, and field supervision for interns. Additionally, the governor waived the requirement that 15 clock-hours of a field-based experience be conducted on a school campus for those completing their field-based experience this spring or summer. Find more information about eligibility for the waivers in the FAQ and Guidance section posted here.

Gov. Abbott has also waived the requirement that first-year teachers complete surveys related to their educator preparation programs, as well as the corresponding surveys that principals fill out about first-year teachers’ preparedness. This will certainly impact the state’s Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), as will interruptions to testing and candidate preparation. It is likely that the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) will be revisiting its rules to make potential changes regarding educator preparation.

Many questions remain regarding the impact to educator preparation and testing, especially as current educators are renewing their contracts and aspiring educators are hoping to find jobs. TEA staff have indicated they are working on a new FAQ document, but its release date is unclear. As the situation develops, stay tuned to the Teach the Vote blog and follow the ATPE Governmental Relations team on Twitter. Be sure also to visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for frequently updated information designed to help educators during the pandemic.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 3, 2020

Educators across the nation have stepped up and are working at light speed on solutions for distance learning, showcasing their creativity, ingenuity, and care for students. As we approach the days we used to call “the weekend,” check out the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes sent a letter to Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath this week requesting statewide action regarding educator appraisals. Dr. Holmes stressed that it is important to protect and preserve the validity and fidelity of educator evaluations and that current conditions will not yield fair and valid appraisal results. Read more in this ATPE press release.

Gov. Abbott explains a new coronavirus executive order during a press conference with other state leaders, March 31, 2020.

Mid-March, Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order to close Texas schools through today. This week, Abbott extended school facility closure for an additional month through a new executive order, which also asks Texans to stay at home and only go out for essential services and activities. At the earliest, school buildings could reopen on May 4th, but many educators and families are dubious that school facilities will reopen at all this school year. Today, Austin ISD became the first major Texas school district to announce that it will close “indefinitely.” Superintendent Paul Cruz wrote in a message that the district would “compensate all staff through the end of the contract and/or fiscal year.” Dallas County has also extended its local stay-at-home order through May 20, as announced today. Please be aware that educators are considered essential critical infrastructure workers, as they facilitate distance learning and/or perform other essential functions while school buildings are closed. To learn more about expectations for educators in responding to this crisis, refer to ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources.

TEA public health campaign digital poster.

After Gov. Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR tests, the education community anxiously awaited a federal announcement that states would be off-the-hook for testing and accountability requirements. Last Friday, Texas was approved by the federal government to waive statewide testing and accountability. For the 2019-20 school year, all districts will be “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster.” This information can be found on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) coronavirus resource page, which is updated almost daily. It has several resources on instructional continuity, special education, assessment, graduation, TELPAS/LPAC, accountability, school improvement, educator evaluations, and more. The agency has also launched a “Stay Well, Texas” coordinated public health campaign that they have asked school districts to help implement. Remember, parents can use TEA’s new “meal finder” tool and pick up meals without their children being present in the vehicle.

In Washington, D.C., Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act. The two aid packages include billions in funding for education and children, student loan interest deferment, paid leave support, school meal service flexibility, and Department of Education waiver authority. The CARES Act also provides for direct cash payments to eligible individuals, which the federal government plans to begin distributing this month. Read more about the CARES Act provisions in our Teach the Vote blog post from last week. Also, check out ATPE’s analysis of the FFCRA to learn about expanded paid leave benefits.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos joined President Donald Trump at his White House press briefing last Friday evening. She announced that the department is requesting funding from Congress for “microgrants” for students, families, and teachers. DeVos’s argument for funding the microgrants matches her recent pitches for a federal tax credit scholarship voucher program. Read more about the microgrant proposal in this blog post by the ATPE lobby team.

For the latest ATPE guidance on dealing with COVID-19, we encourage you to visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page.  Also, follow the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and on Twitter for related legislative and regulatory news.


Even in the midst of widespread stay at home orders, Texas agencies continue to move forward with their work. That includes the Texas Sunset Commission, which put out its sunset recommendations for the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter provided this overview.

Each state agency must go through a “sunset” review process every few years in which the commission takes a look at the work that agency is doing and determines if the agency should continue to exist and what changes should be made.

Unlike most agencies that are created by statue, TRS exists due to a provision in the Texas Constitution and therefore isn’t subject to being abolished by the sunset process. However, the legislature still uses the sunset review process to identify changes they would like to see in an agency and then incorporate those recommendations into a major piece of legislation in the following legislative session.

The Sunset Commission has identified four issues, with corresponding recommendations for TRS to address them. The commission’s top issues include a need for TRS “to repair Its relationship with Its members by focusing on their needs,” and a need for “more effective contract management and oversight.” Some of these recommendations stem from TRS’s recent controversy over lease space, but the commission’s report delved beyond any single controversy to look at root issues that impact multiple interactions and operational decision points that are affected by these underlying areas the commission feels are in need of improvements.

Tune in to our Teach the Vote blog next week for additional analysis of the TRS sunset report.


ELECTION UPDATE: Late yesterday, the Texas Secretary of State ordered local elections officials to postpone all municipal elections to November 3. While many local officials had already followed Gov. Greg Abbott’s suggestion to postpone their municipal elections regularly scheduled for May 2, some small and mid-sized cities had yet to do so. In ordering local municipalities to comply, the secretary of state referred to the governor’s latest executive order issued this week in which he recommended all Texans stay at home unless performing essential business and services.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Democratic National Convention has been delayed until August. National and state parties are rushing to adjust their schedules and programming in response to the need for social distancing and the unpredictable times in which the nation finds itself.

For more on campaigns and elections, read yesterday’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Remember that you can research candidates here on Teach the Vote to learn more about their views on public education. The ATPE lobby team will continue to update the site with additional candidate info between now and November.


Response rate as of March 31, 2020 (source).

Great job, Texas! Our 2020 U.S. Census response rate has increased from 24% last week to over 36% this week, but we are still behind the current national rate of 41%. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, Including for public education. Unfortunately, the census collection now faces its own battle against the effects of the coronavirus, including timeline delays that could push any census work involving human interaction deeper into the heat of the summer. In a state like Texas, which has a large hard-to-count population, it is more important than ever that we push online/phone/mail census completion options to reduce the need for hand-delivered packets and in-person counting. For this week’s celebration of Census Day on April 1, 2020, find resources, updates, reminders, and play with an interactive census map in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. Find useful FAQs on the 2020 Census here.


During April, we observe National Child Abuse Prevention Month to increase awareness and curb the incidence of child abuse and maltreatment. In 2018, over 63,000 children in Texas were victims of maltreatment, with over 11,000 of these under one year of age and 75% of all Texas cases due to neglect only. Across the nation, 92% of child abuse perpetrators were parents, and teachers are often on the front lines in observing and reporting troubling situations. As reported by the Texas Tribune, child abuse reporting has drastically slowed due to school closures and the newly created distance between teachers and their students. Additionally, families are enduring heightened stress and many of the protective factors that help to mitigate child abuse, such as social connections, support, and social-emotional learning, are also lacking during this time. TEA has recently updated guidance on reporting abuse to clarify that educators are still obligated to report suspected abuse and neglect. Visit childwelfare.gov for resources, tools, and even profile picture borders and email signature graphics to promote National Child Abuse Prevention Month.


ATPE wants to hear how you are adapting to a new educational environment during the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to email us your personal stories, tips on best practices for distance learning, or strategies you’re using to stay upbeat during the crisis. If anything positive has come out of the pandemic, it is confirmation that teachers love their students! Choir teacher Kelly Moss in Richardson ISD created this YouTube video to reach out to her students with song since they couldn’t be together in person. Get your tissues ready…


BREAKING: New executive order by Gov. Abbott extends closure of school facilities

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference today addressing the state’s response to the new coronavirus pandemic. Abbott explained today that he was issuing a new executive order, known as GA-14, that is more restrictive and supersedes some previous orders issued by the governor’s office in recent weeks, in order to “further reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to maximize the number of lives we can save.”

The new statewide order, which takes effect at 12:01 a.m. on April 2, and runs through April 30, 2020, calls for people to minimize in-person contact with individuals outside of their own household except for providing or obtaining essential services. Gov. Abbott is relying on federal guidelines to define “essential services” for purposes of the new order issued today. In its “Identification of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers During COVID-19 Response,” the federal government has previously noted in a March 28, 2020, advisory publication that essential workers would include “Educators supporting public and private K-12 schools, colleges, and universities for purposes of facilitating distance learning or performing other essential functions.”

Under Gov. Abbott’s latest executive order, school buildings across Texas will remain closed to students, and many staff, until at least May 4, 2020. The order does not change the requirement that school districts, and district educators, continue to provide a “continuity of learning” for their students through distance learning efforts. The relevant language of Gov. Abbott’s Executive Order GA-14 on school closure is as follows:

In accordance with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC, schools shall remain temporarily closed to in-person classroom attendance and shall not recommence before May 4, 2020.

For the latest pandemic-related news for educators, we encourage you to visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page. The frequently updated resource offers expert answers and guidance for Texas educators during this unique time. Also, watch for updates from the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter accounts as more regulatory developments occur.

Texas election roundup: The long delay

Election politics is pretty much in a holding pattern across most of Texas as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Friday that the primary runoff elections for state and federal offices originally scheduled for May 26 will be postponed until July 14. This is the same date as the special runoff election for Senate District (SD) 14 to replace state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who announced his retirement from the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Speaking of the SD 14 race, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced this week she will push back her resignation in order to focus on the coronavirus response. Eckhardt had announced plans to resign her office, as she is legally required to do, in order to run for the SD 14 seat. Eckhardt is permitted to serve in her current office until a successor is sworn in, which in this case will be former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has also filed to run for the SD 14 seat.

Earlier this month, Gov. Abbott gave local political subdivisions (i.e. city councils, county governments, local school boards, etc.) the ability to postpone their elections to November 3 from their original May 2 uniform election date. According to TXElects.com, only a handful have formally delayed their local elections as of yet. While Georgetown and Fort Bend ISD are among those that have gone ahead and moved their elections, Waco and Waco ISD are considering sticking with the May 2 elections as scheduled. This has apparently created somewhat of a standoff in McLennan County, where the county elections administrator reportedly warned the city and school districts that the county would refuse to conduct the elections in May regardless of their decision.

The delays, coupled with local stay-at-home orders, have radically altered the campaign landscape in Texas. Many campaigns are suspending fundraising operations and focusing on community services. Most have put aside in-person campaigning in order to focus their resources online in order to reach people stuck in their homes. But while activity has ground down, it has certainly not stopped.

As candidates and officeholders continue to try shape their messaging in light of the current health crisis, they may be wise to consider the results of a national poll by Ragnar Research. First reported by the Quorum Report, the poll shows that 88% of Americans view the coronavirus outbreak as either “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” When sorted by political parties, 53% of Republicans said the coronavirus outbreak is “very serious,” compared to 83% of Democrats and 70% of independents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls the coronavirus outbreak a “serious public health risk.”

Other political pollsters are also continuing to survey the American public more broadly during this time of national crisis. According to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday, 34% believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 54% believe it is on the wrong track. At the same time, 48% of respondents approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while 46% disapprove. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of recent polls puts President Trump at -2.5% approval, or 47% approve to 49.5% disapprove.

It’s also easy to forget there is still a presidential primary underway to choose the Democrat who will face Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders won this month’s primary in Utah, while 12 other states and Puerto Rico have postponed their presidential primaries. Connecticut, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Delaware have moved their primary elections to June 2. With Joe Biden building an insurmountable delegate lead in the primary contest, the political forecasters at FiveThirtyEight.com have placed Biden at 98% odds to win the nomination. A Monmouth poll released Tuesday has Biden leading Trump by 3% if the election were held now.

 

State and federal officials respond to virus with new closures, contemplate aid for schools

Regulatory developments stemming from the growing concerns about the new coronavirus pandemic gripping the nation have been occurring swiftly these last two weeks. Numerous school districts announced decisions to extend spring breaks and/or close their doors temporarily, leaving school leaders and educators scrambling to find ways to continue providing instruction during the closures. Many municipalities, including Austin, have ordered certain businesses to close and limited the size of permitted gatherings.

Statewide closure orders

In a press conference today in Arlington, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a new executive order calling for statewide closure of schools, gyms, bars, and restaurants through April 3. The governor has faced some recent criticism at home and nationally for leaving closure orders up to the discretion of local officials prior to now. The statewide closure order, which takes effect at midnight tomorrow, also restricts gatherings of 10 people or more and limits visitors to nursing homes. The order affecting bars and restaurants will still permit food delivery and takeout. In what may be welcome news for many stressed-out educators and parents of students now stuck at home, Gov. Abbott is also allowing restaurants that already hold liquor licenses to deliver alcoholic beverages along with their food deliveries.

Guidance for Texas schools

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has shared new guidance with school officials about issues related to school closures, including the cancellation of STAAR testing this year. Texas, like many other states, has requested that the U.S. Department of Education waive student testing and accountability requirements that are part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), but a decision has not yet been made. In the meantime, TEA issued correspondence this week providing information to districts on how the cancellation will impact academic operations.

In the absence of State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) scores, districts will have discretion in promotion decisions for 5th and 8th grade students. Without the necessary end-of-course (EOC) assessments, graduating seniors will use the Individual Graduation Committee (IGC) process to graduate. For non-graduating students who are in courses with an EOC, they will not have to take the EOC in a future year so long as they earn credit for the course this year. The STAAR Alternate 2 exam is also cancelled. Determinations regarding students receiving special education services will be completed by their admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committees. The Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) is also impacted by this cancellation and the agency is still undergoing conversations to determine how to proceed to serve these students. See TEA’s Coronavirus Support and Guidance webpage for more information.

Yesterday the governor announced the planned launch this weekend of a new “Texas Students MealFinder Map,” offered in conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to help parents find available meals for their children during the school closures. Also yesterday, Gov. Abbott gave local officials the authority to postpone their May 2 elections. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins will have more on the election-related order in his election roundup blog post for Teach the Vote later today.

Tonight, Gov. Abbott will be joined by Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other state officials in a virtual town hall that will be aired by television stations and live-streamed starting at 7 p.m. CDT.

Federal initiatives

While there are a multitude of state and local activities that impact Texas public education in response to the coronavirus pandemic, there is also significant legislation being considered and enacted at the federal level.

Last night, President Donald Trump signed into law the second coronavirus-related aid bill passed by Congress, which is dubbed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Among the bill’s several provisions, most of which do not directly impact public education or educators, is a provision giving the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to waive federal provisions regarding the National School Lunch Program. This flexibility should allow schools that have closed due to COVID-19 to continue providing food service to qualifying students while they are not on campus. The first coronavirus bill signed by the president was a supplemental appropriations package that sent $8.3 billion to federal agencies to promote their work in combating the developing crisis in America.

In general, members of Congress and the White House are still looking to appropriate funds to ease the burdens of unexpected costs for needs such as school cleaning, counseling, online/distance learning support, and campus closures. Additionally, funds are being considered to facilitate remote work by employees of the U.S. Department of Education and to ease student loan obligations temporarily. There are also widely publicized discussions ongoing about the potential for sending payments directly to individuals to help them deal with the crisis.

Currently, proposals vary widely on the amount of spending that should go toward schools, with numbers from as little as $100 million to as much as $3 billion being touted in various press releases. In addition to the uncertainty on the amount of funding, it is also too soon to know specifically how funds would flow. What is certain is a general agreement that public education providers and institutions of higher education need assistance and should be a part of the broader conversation on federal relief.

Check back for more information on federal aid as specific proposals gain traction and move toward passage. Also, be sure to visit ATPE’s coronavirus FAQ and resources page for comprehensive information to assist educators in dealing with the pandemic.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas’ coronavirus strategy is a patchwork of different local rules

While other states fighting coronavirus enforce widespread closures, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott goes with a patchwork system

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has employed a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the new coronavirus however they see fit. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, states across the country are increasingly taking a more heavy-handed approach to contain the new strain of coronavirus — shuttering schools, bars and restaurants and deploying state militaries.

Nearly 30 states have mandated temporary school closures, for example, with some orders applying even to private institutions. In Texas, though, only half of school districts have ordered students to stay home after spring break.

That’s because Gov. Greg Abbott has clung so far to a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the virus however they see fit. The result has been a patchwork of local policies that differ from county to county, with leaders setting various limits on public gatherings and other putting in place other regulations meant to encourage “social distancing.”

Over the weekend, Abbott said he was confident that cities will make the best decisions for their communities. And he appeared to double down on that approach Monday at a news conference in San Antonio, where he praised Mayor Ron Nirenberg for opening the state’s first drive-through testing facility and choosing to go well beyond almost every other Texas city in banning public gatherings of more than 50 people, following recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Those are smart strategies that will prove effective,” he said.

To be sure, Abbott has taken notable steps to combat the spread of the virus. Last week, he declared a state of disaster — as every state has — and directed state agencies to provide flexible and remote work options to employees. He restricted visitation to high-risk facilities including nursing homes, hospitals, day cares and jails. Amid panic buying, he waived regulations on the trucking industry to streamline the flow of goods to depleted grocery stores. And on Monday, amid bipartisan pressure from state lawmakers, he waived standardized testing requirements for public schools, saying it would be impossible to administer the STAAR tests as planned given the closure of more than 560 districts and charter schools beyond spring break.

Overall, though, Abbott’s cumulative actions stop short of those taken in many other states, including neighboring Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana, whose governors shuttered schools across the board, mobilized their militaries and implemented travel restrictions.

According to the National Governors Association, about 20 state leaders have activated their national guards and limited travel of state employees or citizens, and about 17 have passed legislation to divert state funds to the response effort. (Abbott promised Monday that federal money is on the way.) More than a dozen have also ordered restaurants and bars to close to in-house patrons — a policy various cities and counties, including Houston and Dallas, enacted Monday.

Local decision-making

Abbott’s office, asked about the local protocols, said Monday that cities and counties “have done a very good job of doing what is right for their municipalities” and nodded to how helpful local decision-making can be in a state as large as Texas. That approach is in stark contrast to Abbott’s recent attitude toward local control. In the past few years, he has routinely sparred with mayors and backed several laws that chipped away at the power of cities and counties.

“Texas is so diverse that what is right in Houston and Harris County and Dallas and San Antonio may not be the best approach in Amarillo,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said. “These cities and counties are following the proper protocol and guidance that they are receiving from their local health departments.”

Abbott’s push for local decision-making comes as the nation’s top infectious disease expert said the most effective way to stop spread of COVID-19 may be a 14-day nationwide shutdown.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of the new coronavirus, said Sunday that “Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

On Sunday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers that decisions on extended school closures would be left up to locals.

That means that policies may differ even among neighboring school districts.

Public-health experts said such a patchwork approach can be confusing and make it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of containment policies. They also said governors have sufficient authority to ensure such consistency during emergencies.

It “makes people feel that they don’t really know what’s going on and that the people who are in charge don’t really know what’s going on,” said Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

Leaders should be consistent not only in policy, said Bassett, who was New York City health commissioner during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, but also in messaging, “otherwise people aren’t confident that they’re being given good advice.”

She noted that President Donald Trump has largely deferred to governors on COVID-19 response strategy.

Because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention health care, it’s an authority that largely resides with the states, and some have more decentralized approaches than others, said Claire Standley, a researcher with the Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University.

That can be a good thing, particularly when the federal government’s response is inadequate, Standley said, noting that New York was able to expedite COVID-19 testing before federal guidelines were finalized.

But having many different response policies across a state might make it difficult to manage the crisis, too.

“I honestly think it’s more about coordination between central level and peripheral level and having that trust in place,” she said. “If people don’t trust their authorities, they’re not going to comply with regulations, which is largely what we’ve been seeing so far with a few exceptions.”

Elected officials respond

Abbott has also been in frequent contact with members of the Texas Legislature and other local officials since the spread of the virus reached a fever pitch last week. The governor’s office has organized a number of conference calls already in an attempt to get state lawmakers and local players on the same page as new information becomes available.

Many Republicans and some local officials have lauded Abbott’s decentralized strategy so far, thanking his office for his leadership approach, giving local governments the flexibility to operate as they see fit on most matters.

“I have not been one who has been bashful about criticizing Abbott in the past,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who has previously criticized Abbott for micromanaging county spending. “But I think he’s doing a fantastic job and giving us the flexibility to do what’s right for our areas. I don’t see any politics in this deal; I see [Abbott] really trying to tackle a difficult issue and recognizing the importance of the fact that this is a huge state.”

Meanwhile, a number of Democrats have offered muted praise for Abbott’s crisis management, though some have suggested the governor could be doing more to offer guidance for local governments.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, a freshman Democrat from Driftwood, said she thinks clearer guidance at the state and federal levels would better position local governments to respond to the virus.

“I’ve observed confusion from my local decision makers,” Zweiner told The Texas Tribune. “I see my city councils, my city administrators, my county commissioners desperate for answers on what the right thing to do is, and they’re not getting answers; they’re getting general advice.”

Another House Democrat, state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, told the Tribune that the best thing leaders can do is “give to the people of Texas consistency, uniformity and predictability, because that’s not coming from any other direction.”

“To the extent we can give people some normalcy … and whoever has the most authority to do that as swiftly as possible, should do it,” Moody said. “They should do it with an understanding that no one expects them to be perfect right now, but that we expect them to act quickly so that we remain ahead of the virus.”

But Republicans said Abbott has handled the situation appropriately — and that he has rightly shifted certain responsibilities to local governments.

“In terms of a crisis, we don’t need somebody to act like a dictator and push all of that information down to people,” said state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. “We need those empowered local officials to make the detailed decisions, and the governor has empowered local officials to make those judgments.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/17/experts-say-texas-patchwork-strategy-coronavirus-problem/.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 21, 2020

It’s the first week of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already voted or are making your plan to vote by March 3, stay up-to-date on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2020 Texas primary election started this week on February 18, which was also Educator Voting Day. Many counties saw record numbers of voters at the polls on Tuesday. The early voting period ends February 28 and Texas’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. If you haven’t made it out to the polls yet, be sure to get the scoop on voting procedures and reminders! (Doesn’t that make you want ice-cream?) Also, check out the latest “Texas election roundup” blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

Why vote in the primaries? ATPE’s lobbyists explained why it’s so important in this “Primary Colors” blog series for Teach the Vote. In many cases, the winning candidate is chosen in the primary rather than in the November general election, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell described in Part I of the series (with a list of affected races). In  Part II of “Primary Colors,” ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains that for educators who face imminent attacks, it is imperative to show up at the polls and make informed choices so that the next legislative session is as positive as our last.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project for Teach the Vote. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know it’s not too late! Encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details.

 

  • Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.
  • Learn about the non-binding ballot propositions proposed by the state Democratic and Republican parties that will appear on the primary ballot. These measures don’t affect the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues. Check out this Teach the Vote blog post for more information.
  • Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020.
  • Use Vote411.org to build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to find additional election-related resources created for educators.
  • Find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org.

This week, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced his plans to resign from the Texas Senate in order to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs. Watson has served in the state legislature since being elected to office in 2006, and he was a key member of the Senate Education Committee during the 2019 legislative session. Senator Watson served as mayor of Austin before setting his sights on the legislature. The race to succeed Watson could draw a number of high-profile contenders from the Austin area. State Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Celia Israel (D-Austin) each indicated this week they are not interested in running for the seat, which is in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Gov. Greg Abbott will be required to call a special election in order to fill the Senate District 14 vacancy, which could be held on the uniform election dates in May or November of this year.


Two polls of note were released this week that show voter support for public education. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that Texas voters want increased spending for public education, and lower property taxes, and they believe the quality of Texas public education is excellent or good. Another statewide poll, commissioned by the education-focused non-profit Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation showed that 77% of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers. Those polled also believe that teacher quality is extremely or very important in overall school quality, teachers are undervalued, teacher pay is too low, standardized tests may not be the best measure of student learning, and public schools have too little money.

These two new Texas polls are consistent with another recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center, (NSBAC) which we reported on last week. In the NSBAC poll, 64% of the respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, 73% were opposed to public spending on private, religious, and home schools, and 80% expressed favorable opinions of the teachers in their community.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the Feb. 21, 2020, SBEC meeting.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin for its first meeting of the year. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified to urge the board to use its authority to remedy an unforeseen impact of House Bill (HB) 3 on former Master Teacher certificate holders. Under the bill’s repeal of the Master Teacher certificates, Master Teachers will no longer be able to renew their certificates and may face tricky situations trying to keep their current teaching assignments as a result. HB 3 author Rep. Dan Huberty also sent a letter to the board asking for their help in preserving the classroom expertise of Master Teachers.

Read complete details of the meeting in this comprehensive blog post from Chevalier.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Board of Trustees also met this week in Austin, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meetings. Hot topics of discussion at the meetings on Thursday and Friday, February 20-21, 2020, included healthcare for active and retired educators and plans for relocating the TRS agency staff.

Read Exter’s latest blog post for Teach the Vote here for highlights of the meeting.