Tag Archives: governor

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 22, 2020

As the 2019-20 school year winds down, state leaders continue to open Texas back up. While parents, students, and teachers focus on end-of-year tasks and COVID-modified celebrations, many education leaders are already focused on summer learning and how school will roll out next fall. This Memorial Day weekend, we hope our readers will get to take a much deserved break before starting the next chapter.


Gov. Abbott’s May 18th press conference

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Monday, May 18, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference to announce the further reopening of Texas. Child care centers and youth clubs were allowed to reopen that day, and businesses were allowed to have a limited number of employees back in the office. Today, restaurants may increase their capacity to 50% and bars can open at 25% capacity. On May 31, day camps and certain professional sports (without in-person spectators) can resume activity.

On June 1, schools can reopen to students, according to the governor, but with enhanced safety measures and physical distancing requirements in place. As noted in this article from the Texas Tribune republished on our site this week, Texas schools cannot require students to attend in the summer. Districts can make summer school attendance a condition for grade promotion, but only if they offer a distance learning option.

In conjunction with the governor’s announcement about summer school, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) outlined health and safety considerations for reopening schools next month, such as taking students’ temperatures daily and having students eat lunch at their desks. These overlap with the more comprehensive CDC school considerations, which also emphasize using masks and direct school systems to train their staff, have a back-up staffing plan, and strengthen paid/sick leave policies.

For more coronavirus-related resources from TEA, click here. Visit ATPE’s frequently updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page and follow the ATPE lobby team via @TeachtheVote on Twitter for developments on the response to COVID-19. Also, check out our recent recap of legislative and regulatory developments impacting Texas and education since the pandemic began.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is attempting to respond to numerous questions about what next year’s school calendars will look like. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has spoken several times recently about flexible school years, urging schools to consider starting the 2020-21 school year earlier, ending it later, and building in flexible “breaks” to accommodate pandemic-related issues.

TEA’s new school calendar FAQ stresses that calendar changes are local school board decisions, but that the calendar is a “key lever” in addressing student learning loss, even if this causes financial strain on the district. Teacher pay and contracts are also briefly addressed in the new FAQ, which states that, “in most cases, a district can require its teachers to work the extra days if the district: 1) provides additional compensation under existing contracts that permit extended calendar/number of days worked flexibility to the teachers for the extra time required to complete the adjusted school year; and 2) extends by agreement the existing teacher contracts to address the extra time and any associated compensation.”

ATPE member and former Texas Teacher of the Year Stephanie Stoebe told CBS Austin news this week, “I could support us having longer breaks. I could support year-round school, but I definitely believe we need to be in the classroom.” Also featured in the story, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell noted that difficult school calendar decisions involve considerations such as childcare arrangements and the potential need for more funding that some districts may not have. Read ATPE’s recent press statement about school calendar concerns here.


TEA released new guidance yesterday on CARES Act funding for school districts, which includes information about using federal stimulus funds to provide services to private school students and the ability of districts to use the emergency funds to supplant, not supplement, obligations in their current budgets.

Commissioner Mike Morath

As expected, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath sided this week with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s interpretation of “equitable services” under the CARES Act. DeVos asked states to instruct their public school districts to use Title-I-based federal emergency education funds to provide services (such as teacher professional development and technology) to all non-profit, private school students in their bounds, regardless of income or student residence location. This interpretation differs from the long-established intent behind the equitable services provision in Title I of federal education law, which requires equitable services only for students who reside within a public school’s attendance zone located in a low-income area and are failing or at risk of failing to meet achievement standards.

Read more about the development in this Teach the Vote blog post.


ELECTION UPDATE: The on-again/off-again saga of mail-in voting in Texas continues, but appears to be off again for now. The Texas Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether to expand mail-in voting in light of concerns about the spread of COVID-19. A state district court and appellate court both ruled in favor of expanding mail-in voting, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) appealed the rulings.

Also this week, a federal judge ruled that the state’s current restrictions on voting by mail violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and that all registered voters in Texas could apply to vote by mail. Again, at the request of Paxton, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed one day later to temporarily stay the expanded vote-by-mail ruling while it decides whether to substantively overturn the decision.

Read more on the dispute in this week’s Texas election roundup blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) sent a letter this week to state agencies and institutions of higher education asking them to submit a plan to reduce their budgets by 5% for the current biennium.

State leaders suggest cutting administrative costs that are not “mission critical.” The Foundation School Program, school safety, and employer contributions to the Teacher Retirement System, among other essential government functions, are excluded from the call for a reduction.

Looking ahead to the next two-year state budget that lawmakers will adopt in 2021, the letter from “the big three” leaders also warns of additional belt-tightening in the months ahead.

“Every state agency and institution should prepare to submit reduced budget requests as well as strategies to achieve further savings. Furthermore, when the state revenue picture becomes clearer in the coming months, it may become necessary to make additional budget adjustments.”


ATPE wants to hear from you regarding your concerns about returning to campus for the 2020-21 school year. We invite educators to take our short, confidential survey to share your feedback. Your input will help us develop resources and provide support for Texas educators and students during this uncertain time.

This survey is open to any Texas educator, so please share it with your colleagues. The survey may be taken only once from an IP address and will remain open through June 3.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 27, 2020

Educators worked tirelessly this week to prepare distance learning materials for students, collaborate in virtual meetings with colleagues, and even pass out meals. As you press on into “pandemic-mode” learning, check out the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


Gov. Abbott gives a COVID-19 update, March 26, 2020.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Last week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott cancelled this year’s STAAR assessments and issued an executive order to close Texas schools through April 3, 2020, hoping to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Parents and districts await further guidance from the state as to whether school closures will be extended beyond this date. Both Abbott and Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath have indicated there is a possibility of extended school closure (as some other states have done), but they are waiting to see how the situation unfolds.

Guidance for school districts regarding closure decisions beyond April 3, plus information to assist in the continuation of instruction can be found on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) coronavirus resource page. TEA’s frequently-updated resource page also includes guidance and FAQs on numerous issues such as special education, staffing, grading, and assessment. The agency added to its site this week updated guidelines on SPED and special populations, assessments, Individual Graduation Committees, funding, instructional continuity, sample notifications of infected students or staff, educator evaluations, contract nonrenewals, reading academies, and more. You’ll also find on the TEA resources page a link to the new “meal finder” tool that helps parents find the locations of meals as provided by school districts. In related news, Texas has also secured flexibility this week from the federal government to enable parents to pick up meals without their children being present in the vehicle.

On the federal front, President Donald Trump last week signed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which included school meal service flexibility and paid family/sick leave. This week, a third coronavirus relief bill has been passed by the U.S. House and Senate and signed by the president late this afternoon. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act contains $13.5 billion in funding for K-12 education, plus additional amounts for child nutrition, and child care; temporary deferment on payments and interest for federal student loans; and authorization for the U.S. Secretary of Education to waive numerous testing, accountability, and funding mandates. The $2 trillion bill was passed unanimously by the Senate on Wednesday, and the House approved it today by a rare voice vote.

The CARES Act will impact education in terms of finance and support, as well as in terms of workforce and labor as it provides benefits that could directly or indirectly benefit educators. This includes a one-time cash rebate payment of $1,200 to each individual earning below $75,000 per year and $500 per child for families that earn under $150,000 per year. Individuals earning up to $99,000 and families earning up to $198,000 will be eligible for smaller payments. This calculation will be based on your 2019 tax return, if you have already filed it; otherwise it will be based on your 2018 tax return. Individuals earning Social Security benefits and/or government pensions are also eligible. The Washington Post has created a calculator to estimate your rebate amount. Read more about the rebate checks, which federal officials have said they hope to distribute within three weeks, here. The CARES Act also provides approximately $260 billion for enhanced unemployment benefits.

While the CARES Act passed by Congress today addresses education-related waivers, states including Texas have already been applying for waivers of federal testing requirements, which we’ve reported previously on Teach the Vote. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos indicated last week that waivers of federal testing requirements will be granted following a “proper request” from states. DeVos is expected to appear this evening at a White House briefing on the coronavirus response. As always, ATPE’s lobby team will be monitoring the press briefing and sharing pertinent updates via Twitter.

For the latest pandemic-related news and as a complement to TEA’s resources, 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 account as more regulatory developments occur.

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ELECTION UPDATE: Election dates are being pushed later into the year amid fears that the coronavirus risks make voting unsafe. Last week, Gov. Abbott announced local governments, such as city councils and school districts, may postpone their May 2 local elections until November 3, 2020. Multiple school districts are taking advantage of this change, while others are choosing to stick with their May election date for now. These municipal elections are separate from the Texas primary runoff elections, which will now be held on July 14, 2020 instead of May 26, 2020.

Voting in the Texas presidential primaries seems like ages ago, but not everything has come to a stop. Some states are still conducting primaries, which means presidential candidates are still accruing delegates. Other states are delaying primaries into the summer. While campaign tactics may have changed, there are still many candidates at all levels of government who are hanging in the balance as we wait for the pandemic to be behind us.

For more news on campaigns and elections in Texas and the nation, visit yesterday’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


Restrictions imposed in response to the coronavirus threat unsurprisingly are affecting the outreach efforts related to the 2020 U.S. Census. As of yesterday, the census response rate in Texas was 24%, compared to the national response rate of 28%.

Most responses in Texas have been completed online, which is good and bad. On one hand, the new modality of online completion is perfect for busy lives (and pandemics). On the other hand, Texas has WIDE swaths of areas with limited or no internet access (as indicated by all non-purple areas in the map above). Unfortunately, the novel coronavirus pandemic has pushed the U.S. Census Bureau to delay its timeline by two weeks, which means census workers will have to traverse the Texas heat to hand-deliver census packets in these areas. Texas historically has lower response rates than the rest of the nation because of our vast expanses of (beautiful) land and hard-to-count populations. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education.

For FAQs on the 2020 Census, check out this recent blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


SEL Competencies from casel.org

Today is International Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Day. According to the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), social and emotional learning is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” Research shows that incorporating these core SEL competencies into schools can lead to significant increases in academic achievement, post-graduation outcomes, and improved behavior and attitude.

Visit selday.org for more information and resources and check out these resources from Inside SEL for parents, educators, and school communities on implementing SEL strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out this video from Edutopia for a quick overview of SEL and its benefits!

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 20, 2020

It has been a strange week of social distancing, press conferences, rising coronavirus cases, and adjusting to new schedules and work environments. Feel free to get as close to your device as you’d like while reading the latest in education news updates from the ATPE Governmental Relations team, including a lighthearted reminder about the importance of teachers.


Gov. Abbott issues order to close all Texas schools, March 19, 2020.

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Last Friday, Gov. Abbott declared a state of public disaster due to the coronavirus pandemic. Yesterday, the governor issued an executive order to close all Texas schools through April 3, 2020, including all Texas public and private K-12 and higher education institutions. The order, which is effective at midnight tonight, also requires the closure of gyms, dine-in restaurants, and bars, restricts nursing home visits, and limits gatherings to fewer than 10 people. In a virtual town hall yesterday evening featuring Gov. Abbott and several other state officials, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath indicated that school closures beyond April 3 will be determined in the coming weeks as the coronavirus crisis evolves.

The executive order follows a decision by the governor earlier this week to cancel STAAR assessments for this year. Many other states have taken the same action and have implored the the Department of Education to cancel federal assessment-related accountability requirements for this year. In a press release today, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos indicated that federal testing requirements will be waived, following a “proper request” from states. Read more about the announcement in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath speaks at town hall, March 19, 2020.

The closure of Texas schools and cancellation of STAAR tests have prompted frequent communication from the Texas Education Agency (TEA). In his segment during the governor’s town hall last night, Commissioner Morath reiterated the information related to the STAAR tests and school meals provided on TEA’s coronavirus resource page. Namely, without the STAAR and end-of-course (EOC) exams, school districts will use local measures to determine promotion and graduation decisions. Additionally, the state has just launched a new “meal finder” tool to help parents find the locations of meals as provided by school districts.

For educators and school district leaders looking for guidance on continuing to provide instruction despite the closure of schools, TEA today issued a set of new tools, including planning checklists and resources to help ensure students have Internet access at home. Other recent guidance from TEA has reminded school officials that continued funding during closure is dependent on students receiving instructional support even when they are unable to physically attend school.

As reported earlier this week on the Teach the Vote blog, in Washington, D.C. President Trump signed the second coronavirus bill, named the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Included in the bill is flexibility to allow schools that have closed due to COVID-19 to continue providing food service to qualifying students while they are not on campus. In Texas and across the nation, school leaders and educators await further changes that may be included in a third coronavirus bill, with a proposal introduced today by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The bill is expected to contain a three-month suspension on federal student loan payments and interest, as well as a provision that grants Secretary DeVos authority to waive any part of federal education law for one year (except certain civil rights laws).

For more on state and federal initiatives this week regarding the coronavirus, see this blog post by the ATPE lobby team. Visit ATPE’s frequently-updated Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page for expert answers and resources during this unique time. Also, watch for updates from the ATPE lobbyists here on Teach the Vote and via our Twitter account as more regulatory developments occur.


ELECTION UPDATE: This week, Gov. Abbott announced local political subdivisions — such as city councils, county courts, and school boards — are permitted to postpone their May 2 local elections until November 3, 2020. The May 2 municipal elections are separate from the primary runoff elections, which at this point are still set to be held on May 26, 2020. Amid pressure to postpone the runoffs or expand options for early voting and the use of mail-in ballots, Gov. Abbott stated during his March 19 town hall that party leaders have been discussing options and that the state would be announcing more about the runoffs very soon, potentially as early as today.

In the meantime, with county and senatorial district party conventions originally scheduled to take place this weekend, the state Democratic and Republican parties have offered suggestions to their voters on how to keep up with the latest announcements about schedule changes. The Texas Democratic Party is asking voters not to attend county conventions and instead fill out an online form indicating interest in attending the state convention and presidential voting preferences.

The Texas Republican Party shared an update for its voters following last night’s town hall meeting and noted that county party leaders were making individual decisions about cancellation or postponement of their conventions this weekend. According to the message, Republican voters can email convention@texasgop.org or text the word “CONVENTION” to 72000 to receive contact information for their county and notices about conventions.

Read more about what’s going on regarding Texas elections in yesterday’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. As always, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources created especially for educators, and use our features here on Teach the Vote to learn more about the candidates.


As of this week, over 11 million people living in America filled out the 2020 Census. Census counts determine many important streams of funding, such as for roads, emergency services, and public education. Your response to the census is as crucial as helping to spread the word to others. For census FAQs and information on how coronavirus is impacting this very important data collection, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


To slow the spread of COVID-19, schools all over the country are experiencing extended closures while many employers have instituted work-from-home policies. As schools try to continue instruction and learning for students from afar, parents and guardians are finding themselves thrown into a new and not-so-easy profession: teaching. Discovering how difficult it is to teach just a few kids (let alone a class of 22+), some parents have taken to social media to affirm that teaching is the work of heroes and that teachers should be paid more. For a little levity this afternoon, check out some of the best tweets we’ve seen lately, including one from award-winning popular tv producer Shonda Rimes:


 

 


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/.

Breaking news: Governor releases Texas School Safety Update

Gov. Greg Abbott released his 23-page Texas School Safety Update today. As we have reported here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog, Gov. Abbott convened a series of roundtable discussions on the issues of school shootings and school safety following the tragic shooting that occurred last year at Santa Fe High School. The governor also designated school safety as an emergency item for the 86th Texas Legislature to work on during the 2019 legislative session. 

The Texas School Safety Update is aimed largely at highlighting in one document the funding and policy decisions that have been made over the last two years to address school safety. Entitled “Improving School Safety in Texas,” the report shared with the public today details both legislative and administrative actions that have been taken at least partly in response to the governor’s focus on school safety and his recommendations for dealing with the issue. View the full report here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 24, 2019

We’re down to the final stretch of the 86th legislative session, and there’s been major breaking news about education bills in the last 24 hours. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators have reached a deal on priority legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and teacher retirement funding. The deal was announced in a press conference yesterday afternoon by, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston), and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), along with the House and Senate conferees on House Bill 3 (Senators Larry Taylor, Donna Campbell, Jane Nelson, Kirk Watson, and Royce West and Representatives Dan Huberty, Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Mary Gonzalez, and Ken King). They happily announced that negotiations had concluded and a compromise had been made on the school finance bill, House Bill 3; the property tax bill, Senate Bill 2; and Senate Bill 12 pertaining to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

Architects of the compromise provided reporters with an explanatory flyer highlighting its elements, which can be viewed here, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell reported on the announced deal on our Teach the Vote blog yesterday, and we’ve got updated information about the bill posted on our blog today.

As of this Friday afternoon, the final conference committee reports on these bills had not been released to the public, so many of the finer details about the agreement remain unknown. Meanwhile, we know that the school finance bill raises the basic allotment, aims to reduce recapture by 47% over the next two years, and caps the rate of local school district property tax increases at 2.5% starting in the year 2021. The plan is said to raise the state’s share of education funding from its current level of 38% up to 45%.

The final version of HB 3 also aims to increase pay to some educators by providing additional funding to districts through a $140 million merit pay program and various other allotments. Teacher pay was another of Gov. Abbott’s emergency issues so declared earlier this session, along with school finance reform. To the extent that the compromise bill raises funding for school districts generally, HB 3 requires school districts to spend a significant portion of those increases to improve compensation. The final version of HB 3 does not include any across-the-board pay raise requirements, however.

The agreement on SB 12 is expected to raise the state’s contribution to the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound and provide current retirees with a 13th check. While the amount of the 13th check will vary, it is believed that the average amount of this payment will be around $2,000. The state is also increasing funding for TRS-ActiveCare, which will help active school employees with their healthcare costs.

Check out our lobbyists’ latest comprehensive blog post here for more detail on what is in the final versions of these high-profile bills. As we enter the final days of the session, don’t forget to follow the Teachthevote.org blog and our Twitter account for the most up-to-date information about the bills.


Legislation aimed at improving school safety and providing for mental health interventions for students is one step closer to passing. The issue was one of the emergency items Governor Abbott declared during his State of the State address in January.

After dying on a technicality earlier this week, a major mental health bill, Senate Bill 10 by Rep. John Zerwas (R- Richmond), was brought back to life when major portions of it were grafted onto another bill late on the night of the House’s deadline for passing bills on second reading. The carrier bill is Senate Bill 11, this session’s major school safety bill. SB 10 which would create a Texas Mental Health Consortium of mental health professionals from universities and health care providers around the state in order to identify children with mental illness and connect them to resources. SB 11 requires more training for school resource officers and encourages teaching students about how to prevent domestic violence, in part.

Yesterday afternoon both the House and Senate voted to send the newly expanded SB 11 to a conference committee.


Aside from House Bill 3, another bill pertaining to student testing remains pending and is generating a lot of attention among educators this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that HB 3906 by Rep Dan Huberty (R – Kingwood) as amended by the Senate dramatically impacts STAAR and remains pending at this late stage of the session.

As originally filed, HB 3906 primarily broke what are large, single day, tests into smaller tests that could be administered over multiple days, with those days falling over a number of weeks or even months. All of the mini-tests would have to fit within the same time frame as the current STAAR test they are meant to replace. The goal was to reduce student stress, allow for the test to be closer in time to the content being taught, and make the information gleaned from the test more useful to students and teachers during the school year in which the test is given.

The Senate put a number of additional provisions into the bill. The most controversial provision is a move from third through eighth grade reading tests, which do not include an integrated writing test, to third through eighth grade language arts tests, which do include embedded writing tests. There are currently stand-alone writing tests in fourth and seventh grades. The new format could certainly be viewed as an increase of four additional writing tests.

There have been conflicting reports on tests that are required by federal law. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not require ANY state-level writing tests. In fact, the US Department of Education sent the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a letter informing the agency that Texas was out of compliance with federal law because it included two standalone writing tests as requirements.

In addition to the new writing tests proposed in HB 3906, the Senate also added the following provisions to the bill:

  • Third-grade STAAR results as disaggregated by Pre-K attendance to be added to the state’s early education report;
  • A prohibition against STAAR testing on a Monday;
  • A limit on multiple choice questions to no more than 75 percent;
  • State-developed benchmark tests;
  • A requirement to administer the vast majority of the STAAR test electronically by the 2022-23 school year, as well as a transition plan;
  • Creation of a new Assessment Advisory Committee; and
  • A study on STAAR testing.

Due in large part to what they see as in an increase in testing, parents and teachers alike have been calling on their legislators to oppose this bill. As a result, the House voted on a motion from Rep. Huberty to send HB 3906 to a conference committee today.

ATPE encourages those who are willing to continue advocating with regard to HB 3906 to consider calling out specific provisions, such as the additional writing assessments for deletion from the bill while recommending that more favorable components be passed into law. ATPE members are reminded that they can use Advocacy Central to easily contact their legislators by phone, email, or social media.


 

Governor Abbott declares emergency items, includes teacher pay

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a total of six emergency items in Tuesday’s State of the State address to a joint session of the 86th Texas Legislature. The State of the State is traditionally delivered by the governor at the beginning of each legislative session, and is the state equivalent to the national State of the Union address delivered by the president.

The governor often uses the State of the State as an opportunity to announce emergency items for the current legislature. The first 60 days of the legislative session are meant for organization and bill filing, and legislators cannot vote on bills until after 60 days have passed. Emergency items declared by the governor are the only exception.

Standing ovation for teacher pay announcement during State of the State address, Feb. 5, 2019.

Governor Abbott listed six emergency items on Tuesday: School finance reform, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, property tax relief, and disaster response.

What does this mean functionally? The legislature may vote on bills under these emergency headings immediately instead of waiting for the March 8 deadline, theoretically granting them a one-month head start ahead of other bills. Yet few of these bills have been filed, and none have begun the committee process that marks the first major step in a bill’s journey to becoming a law. For this reason, the practical impact of designation as emergency items has more to do with sending a signal to legislators and the public that these are the governor’s top priorities.

In addition, each of these items is expected to require a significant amount of state funding. The budget offered by the Texas House would provide $7.1 billion in new revenue for public education, contingent upon spending a significant portion of that money on providing property tax relief, ostensibly by rebalancing the state and local share of education funding. Increasing the state’s share will ease the burden on local property taxpayers, but will not increase overall public school funding. To increase overall school funding will require spending additional money on top of what is required to ease local tax pressure.

Increasing teacher pay will require another tranche of state funds. The Texas Senate has proposed Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would grant teachers a $5,000 annual raise. The bill’s cost is tagged at $3.7 billion for the first biennium. Gov. Abbott’s comments today on teacher pay implied that he prefers a plan under development by House leaders to provide a differentiated pay program that could create a path for select teachers to earn as much as $100,000. This would apply to far fewer teachers than the Senate’s plan and consequently carry a much smaller price tag.

School safety, mental health, and disaster response will each require further funding. Fortunately, the biennial revenue estimate delivered by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar in January projects legislators will have roughly $12 billion more than they budgeted the previous two years. It’s important to note that some of that money will be taken up by inflation and population growth. Some of the emergency items, such as disaster response, are prime targets for one-time spending from the Economic Stabilization Fund. The state’s “rainy day fund,” as it is often called, is projected to total $15.4 billion by the end of 2021.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 9, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This past Tuesday was Election Day. All across the country registered voters lined up at polling places (some with hours-long waits) to cast their ballots and make their voices heard. There were a number of impressive wins and historical elections across the country and Texas was no exception. Turnout for this midterm election was nearly double what it was in 2014.

While Texas’s Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz were all able to secure reelection, the margins by which they won were closer than usual. Democrats in the Texas House were able to flip 12 seats, a gain that has implications for the impending race for a new House Speaker, while the minority party in the Senate also gained two seats. Senate Democrats will most likely still face a vacancy for at least the first part of the 2019 legislative session; Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D-Houston) announced her resignation today following her election to a U.S. Congressional seat on Tuesday. Gov. Greg Abbott must now call a special election to fill the state senate seat within the next couple of months. Additionally, the seat flipping in the state legislature might not be complete at this point as a number of candidates who seemingly lost their elections Tuesday by narrow margins are waiting for provisional and mail-in absentee ballots to be counted. Margins that remain slim following the completion of the vote counting could trigger recounts in a few races.

What we know for sure at this point is that Texans made a statement with this election by electing a myriad of pro-public education candidates to office. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins breaks down the math of this week’s election results in this blog post.

 


A 2012 decision by the state of Texas to spend less money on students with disabilities is coming back to haunt it. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ruled to uphold a penalty levied by the U.S. Department of Education that withholds $33.3 million dollars in federal funding from Texas’s special education grants. The penalty was imposed after Texas was found to have withheld the same amount of money in funding for special education programs. While the state argued that its special education programs had helped students overcome their disabilities and hence fewer special education services were needed following the 2012 funding decrease, the federal education ageny contended that states can not reduce funding levels from year to year.

You can read more about the ruling and the history behind it in this article from the Texas Tribune.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 26, 2018

During this first week of early voting, here’s your roundup of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


Early voting for the 2018 general election began on Monday with Educator Voting Day. Educators were encouraged to the head to the polls and cast their ballots alongside friends, family, and colleagues. Many educators took to social media to share their “I voted” selfies. While there is no tally of how many educators have turned out at the polls thus far, counties across the state are seeing record numbers of voter turnout for early voting in a midterm election.

Educators especially must remember what’s at stake during this election with regard to school funding, teacher pay, retirement benefits, and a myriad of other issues. It is important to go into this election as informed as possible. For more information on candidates, where to find polling places in your county, and what’s needed in order to vote, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

With such a robust start to the early voting period, it’s only fitting that this week end with today’s Student Voting Day. As decreed by Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos last October:

The first Friday of the early voting period [is] Student Voting Day in Texas. This is a day when our entire community is called upon to urge and encourage all eligible students in Texas to make their voices heard by casting their ballots at ANY polling location in the county of their registration.

Early voting will continue through Nov. 2. For many voters, this weekend offers the only opportunity to early vote on the weekend. The general election is on Tuesday, Nov. 6. Whether you vote early or on election day, take time to learn about the candidates and build and print out your sample ballot before heading to the polls.


Much attention has been paid nationally to the competitive race for U.S. Senate between incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz and his challenger Congressman Beto O’Rourke, but Texans know that isn’t the only race at issue in this election. Contests for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and many other down ballot races will be decided in this election, and the outcomes of those contests on Nov. 6 could set the course for education policy in Texas for generations to come. As recent media reports show, educators and public education issues are taking center stage in a number of high-profile races, including statewide contests.

Monty Exter

“The expectation is that teachers just don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of elections is that the enthusiasm and participation of educators is on the rise.” – as reported by the Texas Tribune.

In an article published this week by the Texas Tribune and reposted here on Teach The Vote, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter explained that for quite some time the education community has been expected to lay down and take whatever the legislature gives them. But that tide may be starting to change. Educators have been becoming increasingly vocal and active in recent elections. A popular target of educators’ dissatisfaction with the status quo has been Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), and the Texas Tribune‘s article highlights the role educators have played in the bid by Democratic challenger Mike Collier to unseat him.

Another statewide race where public education has emerged as an issue, somewhat surprisingly, is the election for Texas Attorney General. There, Justin Nelson (D) is challenging the current AG Ken Paxton (R) and calling out the incumbent for eyebrow-raising stances he has taken on questions of political involvement by educators. Earlier this year when educators started activating behind another challenger vying to unseat Lt. Gov. Patrick in the Republican primary election, Paxton issued a non-binding legal opinion questioning the propriety of certain actions being taken by school officials and pro-public education groups like ATPE to increase voter turnout among educators and even students who are eligible to vote. Paxton has used the AG’s office to continue to intimidate school district leaders out of promoting voting, and Nelson has responded by appealing directly to educators in the late stages of his campaign.

Read more about how educator involvement in this election has become a central focus in the AG’s race and how the education community is responding to the attempts to tamp down educators’ enthusiasm in this post by ATPE’s Exter. For public school employees who still have questions about what is and is not permissible political speech under state law, the Texas Educators Vote (TEV) coalition of which ATPE is a member also created this guide on Election Do’s and Dont’s for educators.


If you want to beat the crowds on Election Day, you’ll want to turn out at the polls during the “12 Days of Voting” happening now. But ATPE can point to numerous other reasons for educators to get out and vote regardless of the crowds or lines.

As has been stated many times before, the results of this election happening now are crucial to every Texan but to educators especially. During this early voting period, we’ve begun highlighting some of the reasons why educators should take this election to heart. It doesn’t take much to see that with state leaders campaigning on boasts about non-existent pay raises for teachers, with continuous increases in the cost of healthcare, and with local taxpayers bearing more and more of the burden for school funding, it doesn’t take much to see that it’s time for a change. Check out the latest installments of our 12 Days of Voting series at the links below, and keep watching for new posts in our blog series throughout the early voting period:


A brand new poll released by the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune today shows that high numbers of Texas voters are enthusiastic about the general election happening now. As reported by the Texas Tribune today, 76 percent of the voters polled said they were “absolutely certain” they would be voting in the midterms. Both Republican and Democratic voters displayed such enthusiasm according to the new polls results. In most recent midterm elections, the actual percentage of registered voters who turned out at the polls in Texas has been only about 38 percent.

The poll also showed statewide officeholders holding considerable leads over their challengers among likely voters. Here are more excerpts from the Texas Tribune‘s reporting:

 

 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 5, 2018

Here are highlights of this week’s education news, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting today in Austin. The board’s agenda includes revisiting a new certification rule that was recently vetoed by the State Board of Education and beginning a periodic review of the requirements for certification as a superintendent in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is at the meeting and has provided this report on today’s discussions.

 


Tuesday, Oct. 9, is the deadline to register to vote in the November 2018 general election. With statistics showing that Texas ranks dead last in the country for voter turnout, and with educators in other states making headlines by running for office and voting to oust elected officials who don’t support public schools, now is the time for Texas educators to make a big showing at the polls. The November general election will determine who holds such critical offices as Texas governor, lieutenant governor, and numerous seats in the state legislature and SBOE. Races for the Texas House will help determine who becomes our next House Speaker, and the people elected will be empowered to make crucial decisions that affect your paycheck, your working conditions, and most importantly, your students.

If you aren’t yet registered to vote, simply fill out an application and drop it in the mail no later than Tuesday. Not sure if you’re registered? Find out here. If you’re already registered, do you part to help others know about Tuesday’s deadline. Make sure your friends, family members, and even eligible students are registered to vote by Tuesday.

Once your registration is secure, the next step is to learn about the candidates who’ll be on your ballot. Our candidate profiles right here on Teach the Vote allow you to research all legislators’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to our survey on education issues, and more to help you make informed choices at the polls. If the candidates in your area haven’t answered our ATPE Candidate Survey, please encourage them to contact us. It’s a great tool for sharing their education views with voters.