Tag Archives: Gov. Rick Perry

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 20, 2017

Here are education news highlights for this Inauguration Day edition of our wrap-up:


President Donald J. Trump took the oath of office today on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Immediately upon being sworn in as the nation’s 45th president, Trump gave a rather nontraditional inauguration speech more reminiscent of his days on the campaign trail, painting a bleak picture of the current state of U.S. economic affairs and vowing to help America “win again.” On education, Trump made reference to “an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” Media pundits were quick to respond that measures such as graduation rates have generally shown improvement despite the fact that a majority of states have decreased their education spending in recent years.

The inauguration festivities this weekend cap off a busy week in Washington, where Trump’s cabinet picks have been undergoing confirmation hearings on the hill. Former Texas governor Rick Perry, nominated to head the U.S. Department of Energy, fielded questions yesterday during a low-key and noncontroversial session with the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee and is expected to face little resistance to his confirmation. The same cannot be said of Trump’s pick to lead the Education Department (ED). Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos failed to temper growing fears at her confirmation hearing earlier this week. The hearing was held late Tuesday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee. While HELP Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised her nomination and his Republican colleagues on the committee seemed in step with advancing her nomination as early as next week, Democrats expressed serious concerns.

As reported by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann in her full report of this week’s hearing, the questions DeVos refused to answer, or in some cases couldn’t answer, are getting the most attention. She failed to promise to preserve funding for public schools and expressed confusion over the nation’s special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Not surprisingly, she also dug in hard on her support for vouchers, refusing to tie apples-to-apples accountability and reporting requirements to public money sent to schools outside of the traditional public school system.

A mandatory ethics review on DeVos was also released today. The review identified 102 potential financial conflicts of interest, from which she has agreed to disassociate. Senators will have until Tuesday to look over information on these conflicts of interest; the committee’s vote is expected to be held that day. Look for more from Kate on the vote and the ethics review next week.

Following the hearing, concerns about DeVos grew outside of the Capitol as well, and the expressed dissatisfaction for her nomination grew significantly on social media. Texans can call or write their senators to register their disapproval for DeVos’s nomination. ATPE members, log in to Advocacy Central to access contact information for Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) if you’d like to send a quick message to your senators about Betsy DeVos.


U.S. Dept of Education LogoThe U.S. Education Department (ED) wrapped up its final days under the Obama administration this week. As we have been reporting on Teach the Vote, it is the department expected to be headed up soon by billionaire Betsy DeVos, who despite nationwide opposition from the education community has ample Republican support to achieve more than the votes needed for Senate confirmation. In the meantime, though, there will be a very temporary change in leadership at ED. It was announced this week that Phil Rosenfelt, the deputy general counsel for ED, will be the acting secretary between the end of Secretary John King’s term as of today, and the confirmation of ED’s next secretary.

In his final week of work, Secretary King oversaw the issuance of two new non-binding guidance documents (find those here and here) and withdrawal of the controversial proposed rule on “supplement, not supplant.” The latter is a piece of federal law that requires states to show that federal money is only used to bolster a state’s education budget, not replacing any dollars that would otherwise be dedicated to education. ED’s interpretation of the law as it was slightly altered under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) altered the way states must demonstrate compliance. While the department compromised on many elements of the original proposal as it progressed through the rulemaking process, the latest version still garnered considerable disagreement among stakeholders. Most expected the rule to face elimination under the Trump administration. The department explained that it simply ran out of time under the current administration.


Earlier this week, Texas Senate and House leaders shared details on their respective plans for writing the state budget to cover the next two years. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter shared highlights of the two proposals in a blog post earlier this week. The Senate Finance Committee, chaired once again by Sen. Jane Nelson (R – Flower Mound), will commence hearings on its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, next week. The committee is slated to begin taking testimony Tuesday on Article III, the portion of the budget that covers public education, and ATPE’s Exter will be there to share our input. Watch for more coverage of the budget hearings next week on Teach the Vote.

Dollar fanThe House budget proposal calls for spending a bit more money on public education than the Senate’s version, and leaders on the House side have even expressed interest in looking to the state’s Economic Stabilization (“Rainy Day”) Fund for additional resources this session. The House plan includes contingency language that would authorize an extra $1.5 billion for public education if the 85th Legislature passes a school finance bill that reduces recapture and improves equity. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins writes for our blog today, increasing the state’s share of education funding is the key to lowering property tax burdens at the local level, and that is expected to be a prominent talking point during Tuesday’s budget hearing.


The first major private school voucher legislation was filed this week. Senate Bill (SB) 542 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, and its companion House Bill (HB) 1184 by Rep. Dwayne Bohac, are a rehash of the tax credit scholarship legislation filed last session by Bettencourt, Bohac, and others. The tax credits for funding scholarships to be used at private schools are one of several varieties of private school voucher that Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and like-minded senators have been pushing for multiple sessions. While a related voucher bill did pass the Senate in 2015 with significant assistance from the lieutenant governor, Bettencourt and others pushing for privatization found little appetite for vouchers in the House.

ATPE circulated this letter to lawmakers in 2015 opposing similar, though not identical, tax credit voucher bills in the 84th session. ATPE continues to oppose this and all forms of voucher legislation during the 85th legislative session and urges lawmakers in both chambers to do the same this year. For a preview of what is likely to the session’s other primary voucher vehicle, Education Savings Accounts, check out ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter’s recent blog post, ESAs: A Bad Deal for Students in Need.

CPS square logoRelated: The anti-voucher Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, will hold a legislative briefing and press conference on Monday, Jan. 23. A pro-voucher rally sponsored by Texans for Education Opportunity, Aspire Texas, and other groups is happening Tuesday at the capitol in connection with National School Choice Week.


Sen. Larry Taylor

Sen. Larry Taylor

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced his Senate committee assignments for the 85th Legislature this week. There were few changes from last session in terms of committee leadership, with Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) continuing to oversee the Senate Education Committee and Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) again chairing the Senate Finance Committee that will write the state’s budget. Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) stays on as chair of the Senate State Affairs Committee, where her bill to take away educators’ right to payroll deduction for their association dues is expected to be heard.

Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham) will no longer serve on the Senate Education Committee, having been tapped instead to chair the Senate Committee on Administration. She is one of three senators from last session’s education committee roster being replaced; also gone are Sens. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) and Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso). The new senators joining the education committee this year are Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), Brian Hughes (R-Mineola), and Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). These appointments reflect the lieutenant governor’s decision to change the Republican-Democratic split on the committee from 7-4 back in 2015 to its new party breakdown of 8-3. Patrick also stacked the committee with several supporters of privatization, hoping to clear a path for his priority voucher legislation to move quickly through the Senate.

For more on the Senate committee announcement and a link to the full roster, check out this week’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann. House committee assignments have not yet been released.


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenFinally, ATPE members are reminded to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training and lobby day event in March. This is the best chance for educators to learn more about the high-profile education bills being deliberated this session with presentations from ATPE’s lobbyists and legislative leaders like Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor. Best of all, ATPE members will be empowered to add their voices to the debate, meeting with their lawmakers face-to-face on Monday, March 6, at the Texas State Capitol. The registration deadline is Feb. 3, and complete details for ATPE at the Capitol are available on our website here.

Vote for candidates who will give Texas educators a voice in curriculum design

This is the tenth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: Texas has curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are adopted by the State Board of Education (SBOE). The TEKS determine what is taught and tested in Texas public schools, and they have an impact on the content that publishers include in textbooks used here and beyond our state. The TEKS adoption process has been controversial in the recent past and marked by ideological conflicts among the elected SBOE members. Often ignoring the recommendations of classroom teachers, the board in the past has appointed “expert” reviewers for proposed changes to the TEKS without setting legitimate qualifications for serving as an expert. The Legislature has also been a venue for heated debates about curriculum, usually involving the role of politics and religious views in curriculum standards and lesson plans.

It’s time for Texas to get serious about curriculum: All of these high-profile disputes over ideology have garnered negative media attention at the national level and left little time to address any structural problems with the TEKS, such as complexity and excessive length. (The more standards that are required to be taught in a course, the less time that can be devoted to any one of them. The more specific the standards are, the less flexibility there is for teachers to individualize lessons.) In fact, the overwhelming nature of the TEKS was the main impetus behind CSCOPE, a curriculum management system that was widely used by Texas school districts before political scrutiny led to its demise last year. The Legislature did try to address TEKS issues in 2013 when it passed House Bill (HB) 2836, calling for a comprehensive study on the number and scope of the curriculum standards and how they relate to state assessments. Despite a unanimous vote in the House and near unanimous vote in the Senate, Gov. Rick Perry vetoed the bill. Find out how your state senator voted on HB 2836: look up his profile using our 2014 Races search tool, open the Voting Record section and review his action on “Senate Vote #7.”

Texas educators should be the ones to determine the appropriate content and methodology behind what is taught in our classrooms – not politicians or policymakers from outside our state: We must preserve Texas teachers’ authority to develop their own lesson plans and customize them to meet the unique needs of their students. It is critical that we elect SBOE members who will seek and respect educator input whenever the TEKS are revised. That’s why ATPE asks SBOE candidates tough questions about the TEKS adoption process and the role of educators in SBOE policy decisions. We must also elect legislators who will maintain Texas’ control of its curriculum standards and will not try to mandate a standardized national curriculum like the Common Core. Finally, we need our elected officials to be willing to address the overall structure of the TEKS, to ensure that the standards are useful and manageable for our teachers and conducive to student learning.

Curriculum-related decisions will be made by elected legislators and SBOE members, and this is your chance to steer them in the right direction by voting in this election: Early voting has ended and the March 4 primary is only days away. There’s a good chance you live in a district where some races will be decided by this primary – not in November’s general election. Look up your legislative and SBOE candidates on Teach the Vote to find out which ones will have your back when it’s time to make critical choices about the curriculum taught in our schools. The “Survey Response,” “Voting Record” and “Additional Information” sections of each profile contain valuable insights to help you identify pro-public education candidates. If educators don’t vote, they’ll be surrendering their voice in curriculum discussions. Please take time to vote your profession on Tuesday!

Vote for candidates who will support real solutions for struggling schools

This is the eighth post in our A Dozen Days, A Dozen Ways to Vote Your Profession series.

At issue: State and federal accountability laws and rating systems subject public schools to strict, sometimes conflicting requirements for meeting student achievement goals. Those that fail to meet accountability targets face harsh progressive sanctions that can culminate in the closure of neighborhood schools. Schools and districts are assigned accountability ratings that have a large impact on local real estate values and the ability to generate property taxes to fund area schools. At a time when our state’s school funding is already deficient, that phenomenon is likely to worsen considering that Texas school districts soon will be assigned “A” through “F” accountability grades. More importantly, what happens to the morale of students, teachers and communities when their neighborhood school receives an “F”? Accountability sanctions that call for the privatization of school operations are especially troubling. For instance, state law allows a board of managers to take over the responsibilities of the elected school board in some instances, and legislators have filed several bills in recent sessions to create a separate school district for all of the state’s low-performing schools. This concept of a “recovery” or “achievement” school district typically hinges on allowing a private charter operator to manage all the schools, replacing most of the staff, eliminating statutory rights and benefits for remaining employees and divesting locally elected school board members of their powers.

Too many of our elected officials favor the wrong approaches: We will never help struggling schools turn around as long as our state’s “interventions” involve labeling entire districts as failures, outsourcing schools to private companies that don’t have to answer to local parents and voters, stripping educators of their contract rights and salary protections, and limiting schools’ access to the resources that will help their students achieve. Over the past decade, Gov. Perry and the legislature allowed hundreds of millions of dollars to be spent on a controversial merit pay plan that yielded little or no positive results at the same time that funding was slashed for needed programs like the Student Success Initiative (SSI), which provides intensive help for students struggling in reading and math. Instead of helping existing schools improve, they’ve allowed substandard alternative schools to proliferate and generate huge profits for private individuals and companies at the expense of students and taxpayers. Legislators and policymakers have also ignored the fact that schools with the highest needs— those that are deemed “low-performing” under the accountability system and those with the highest numbers of minority, low-income and limited English proficiency students—are being staffed with the least experienced teachers and principals, despite our efforts to raise awareness of that problem and propose viable solutions.

There are better ways to help struggling Texas schools: First, we must elect legislators who acknowledge the real harm caused by inadequately and inequitably funding our schools. We need to support pro-public education candidates who are not afraid of being attacked by wealthy PACs and scorecard-wielding “watchdog” groups that want to starve public schools of funding so that they will inevitably fail and be overrun by private schools. Let’s focus on real interventions and infusions of resources where they are most needed. That includes making sure public schools in need have access to high-quality, experienced superstar teachers and school leaders and prioritizing funding for programs that produce real results, like the SSI.

Your vote is your voice, and you have an opportunity to speak up now for students in our highest-need schools: This primary election is going to determine the final outcome of several legislative seats. Many incumbents who have supported public education in the past and candidates running on pro-public education platforms are being targeted by well-funded dark money groups that would just as soon dismantle our public education system and shutter neighborhood schools they deem as failures.

Find out where your candidates stand by viewing their profiles using our 2014 Races search feature on Teach the Vote: Did they vote to cut or increase education funding? Have they shown more support for expanding charter and online schools than for cultivating teacher quality and retention? Take a look at their survey responses, too. Do they favor private school vouchers? Do they believe it’s okay to shut down or let private entities take over public schools? This is your chance to send more pro-public education candidates to Austin. Don’t forget that tomorrow is the last day for early voting and Tuesday is election day!

From The Texas Tribune: Davis: Abbott Should Settle School Finance Lawsuit

by Jay Root, The Texas Tribune
Feb. 10, 2014

State Sen. Wendy Davis, the leading Democratic candidate for governor, called on her likely Republican opponent Monday to use his power as Texas attorney general to settle a massive school finance lawsuit instead of defending the troubled funding system in court.

“Attorney General Greg Abbott continues to defend the indefensible,” the Fort Worth Democrat said at an Austin news conference. “He’s wasting time and taxpayer money on a frivolous lawsuit that hurts Texas.”

Abbott’s office is responsible for the state’s defense against the more than two-thirds of Texas school districts that are suing over what they say is an inadequate and unfair funding system in a case that will probably reach the state Supreme Court.

While the case is ongoing, Abbott has said it would be inappropriate for him to comment on it. In a statement issued by his gubernatorial campaign after Davis called on him to settle, Abbott did not directly mention the lawsuit or whether he can or should settle it. But he said that if elected governor, he would deliver a first-rate public education system.

“While Sen. Davis remains fixated on the past, I’m focused on making education better for the future of our children,’’ Abbott said. “My goal is to make the Texas education system number one in the country, and I’ve been talking with Texans and educators about a plan to achieve this objective.”

An initial ruling in the school finance case came last February, when after a three-month trial, Austin district court judge John Dietz found that the state’s school finance system was unconstitutional both because of inadequate school funding and flaws in the way the state distributes money to districts.

A second phase of the trial, in which evidence was reopened to consider changes made by the 2013 Legislature, wrapped up last week. During the 2013 session, lawmakers restored about $3.4 billion of the $5.4 billion in public education cuts made in 2011.

Davis said Monday that Abbott should have instructed the Legislature last year how to avoid the litigation. She said lawmakers could have avoided cuts that she said caused teacher layoffs, increased classroom sizes and led to the elimination of vital programs.

“As our lawyer, it was Greg Abbott’s job to come and work with the Legislature to stave off yet another lawsuit. We knew that this lawsuit was coming,” Davis said. “And yet Greg Abbott remained silent.”

The Davis campaign distributed a memo outlining past cases in which the state settled litigation, ranging from prison overcrowding issues to redistricting. It was written by Dave Richards, who has been tangling with Texas in court for decades on issues including civil rights and voting rights. (Richards is the ex-husband of the late Gov. Ann Richards.)“

Texas’ Constitution and case-law provide clear precedent that establishes the attorney general’s discretionary power to settle cases,” Richards wrote. “Based on precedent, past actions and any informed interpretation of law, it is absolutely within the power of the attorney general to settle cases of this nature.”

Davis was asked during the news conference how Abbott would settle a case that ultimately requires legislative action. She said he should advise lawmakers, probably in a special session, to consider changes to the complicated school finance system.

Only the current governor, in this case Gov. Rick Perry, has the power to call lawmakers into a special session. However, Abbott last year recommended that Perry call lawmakers back to adopt new congressional and legislative district maps. Redistricting, abortion restrictions and other issues were considered in special sessions over the summer.“

A settlement recommendation to the Legislature should be to reconvene to look at these issues and to determine what we’re going to do to own our responsibility to the schoolchildren of Texas,’’ Davis said. “I believe a special session is likely needed in order for us to meet our obligations.”

She said the timing of legislative action largely will depend on court action. The Legislature must meet in regular session every two years, and the next regular session occurs in January.

An updated decision from Dietz is expected sometime this spring.

Morgan Smith contributed to this report.


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/02/10/davis-says-abbott-should-settle-school-lawsuit/.

Gov. Perry signs House Bill 5

Gov. Rick Perry held a press conference this afternoon to sign House Bill (HB) 5 into law. The bill’s author, House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), joined Perry for the ceremony. Sen. Education Committee Chairman Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were also present.

HB 5 reduces the number of standardized tests required to graduate and grants students and schools more flexibility in graduation requirements.

Read an article from the Austin American Statesman on the signing.

Stay tuned.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter speaks to Austin’s KVUE

2-1 Monty at CapitolEarlier today, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was interviewed by KVUE, an Austin TV station, about Texas Education Commissioner Michael Williams’ accountability plans and Gov. Rick Perry’s remarks on education in his State of the State address earlier this week.

“The governor feels that roads and water are more important than education,” Exter said during the interview.

The interview will air on the 10 p.m. newscast tonight.

Perry expresses support for vouchers in State of the State address

Gov. Rick Perry delivered his seventh State of the State address to the 83rd Texas Legislature earlier today. Regarding education, Perry advocated for providing students more alternatives to traditional public schools.

“Not every child learns for the same purpose, not every child thrives in the same settings and schools,” said Perry. “Limiting a child to just one opportunity does nothing more than limit that child’s future. The way forward must involve more public charter schools, which offer parents a tuition-free alternative to their neighborhood school.”

Perry also lent support to Sen. Education Committee Chairman Dan Patrick’s plan for using public funds for scholarship programs to send students to private schools. “It’s also time to introduce scholarship programs that give students a choice, especially those who are locked into low-performing schools,” said Perry.

Perry prefaced his remarks on the need for these alternatives to Texas’ public schools by announcing that according to the U.S. Department of Education, Texas’ graduation rates are the third highest in the nation – an all-time high.

You can find Perry’s full address here.