Tag Archives: innovation zones

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Sept. 9, 2016

Happy Friday! Here are stories making education news in Texas this week:

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has adopted final rules to implement a 2015 law allowing for Districts of Innovation (DOIs), which are acceptably-rated school districts that opt to exempt themselves from some education-related laws in the Texas statutes. ATPE opposed the legislation last year granting school districts the right to those regulatory exemptions and allowing them to operate in a similar manner as charter schools. We submitted formal input to the commissioner on his proposed rules, urging for more safeguards to protect students, parents, and district staff from unforeseen and harmful consequences of broad exemptions.

Monty at DOI hearing

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at a hearing on proposed rules for Districts of Innovation.

One of ATPE’s foremost concerns about the DOI law was the potential for educators to lose their immunity protections in state law, particularly if a district opts to exempt itself from all available statutes under the new law as one large school district has already attempted to do. We are grateful that the commissioner and his staff listened to our concerns and added language to the final rules to prohibit districts from waiving educators’ immunity rights. While the DOI law remains highly problematic in many respects, the commissioner’s final rules will at least curtail the likelihood of costly litigation to determine what types of liability might attach to certain DOIs that have adopted blanket waivers.

Read more about the rules in this week’s blog post, and also peruse ATPE’s DOI resource page to learn more about the procedures and timeline for a school district to become a DOI, what types of laws can be exempted in those districts, and how educators and parents can have a voice in the DOI process locally.


Last week we reported that the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability (TCONGAA) had finalized its report with recommendations to the Texas Legislature on testing and accountability. On the blog this week, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter breaks down each of the nine recommendations. Read his analysis here.


Today is the final day to submit comments on the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) rules pertaining to assessment provisions under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ATPE is pleased that a form of our previous input to Congress and ED is included in the rule proposal covering the newly created innovative assessment pilot.

As we state in our new round of comments submitted to ED, ATPE has encouraged policymakers to consider using “a scientifically valid sample of the student population to assess students and report disaggregated state-level data” in an effort to reduce “the time, emphasis, and expense placed on standardized testing.” The proposed rules will allow states to consider piloting a limited form of this testing structure at the district- and, potentially, state-level (up to seven states have the option to consider several types of innovative assessment systems and would have to submit an application for consideration by the department).

Still, it is not lost on ATPE that states’ ability to press the boundary is limited in the area where true innovation is needed. Our comments encourage the department to “look for opportunities to address the harmful nature of overusing standardized assessments as high-stakes and ineffective measures of success.” We’ve shared previous input with ED and Congress that highlights these concerns, and we remain committed to advocating for a reverse of the trend to increasingly use standardized tests as a high-stakes measure of success in public education.

The department released its proposed rules on the rule administering assessments, which were drafted by education stakeholders and professionals under a process referred to as negotiated rulemaking, and the rule pertaining to the newly created innovative assessment pilot in July. ED has released a series of draft ESSA rules over the past year and just last week released a highly anticipated proposal covering the controversial issue of supplement-not-supplant.


SBOE logoNext week will be a busy one for education policy stakeholders with several major hearings on the calendar. First, on Monday, Sept. 12, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) are hosting a free public event in Austin called “Learning Roundtable – Educating the Children of Poverty.” The day-long conference will feature presentations by state and national education researchers on the challenges of turning high-poverty schools into high-achieving schools. Texas has experienced a sharp increase in the number of economically disadvantaged students, which creates greater challenges for ensuring that they have opportunities to excel in school. ATPE will be attending the event and will report on it next week. Learn more about the event here.

On Tuesday, Sept. 13, the Senate Education Committee will conduct an interim hearing to evaluate digital learning opportunities and broadband access for schools and students. The committee will also monitor the implementation of a bill that allowed for students to use alternative measures to satisfy high school graduation requirements. ATPE strongly supported the bill creating graduation committees to evaluate certain students who had failed required STAAR exams. That bill is set to expire next year unless extended by the legislature in 2017. The Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility will also meet that same day to hear testimony on the extent to which state regulations are influenced by mandates attached to federal funding.

Also on the schedule for Tuesday are some high-profile SBOE meetings: SBOE’s Committee of the Full Board will begin with a morning work session on the curriculum standards for mathematics, followed by a public hearing on instructional materials submitted in response to Proclamation 2017. The hearing will be focused on a proposed new Mexican-American studies textbook that has generated controversy and national media attention. The textbook was developed by a publishing company headed up by Cynthia Dunbar, a former member of the SBOE. It is the only textbook of its kind being offered for the SBOE’s consideration at both its September and November meetings. A group of Texas educators and experts have reviewed the book and released a new report describing its content as offensive, biased, and filled with errors. A group called the Responsible Ethnic Studies Textbook Coalition plans to hold a rally to protest the book outside the TEA headquarters at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Sept. 14, SBOE meetings continue with its regular hearing by the Committee of the Full Board. Meanwhile, over at the Capitol there are two hearings of interest taking place that morning. First, the Senate Committee on State Affairs will discuss one of its interim charges to “examine the practice of using public funds and employees for the payment processing of union dues” and “make recommendations on whether Texas should end this practice.” ATPE has fought to protect educators’ rights to have access to payroll deduction for payment of their voluntary dues to our association, which is not affiliated with a union, and we will continue our work to educate lawmakers on the realities of this practice, which does not require any expenditure of public funds.


At the same time, the Senate Education Committee will hold another interim hearing on Wednesday, this one focused on vouchers and other “school choice programs,” such as the use of education savings accounts or tax credit “scholarships.” The committee will also monitor the implementation of recent legislation that changed the minimum instructional requirements for students from days to minutes and House Bill 1842, which changed accountability sanctions and interventions and created the means for school districts to become Districts of Innovation.

Thursday, Sept. 15 has the Senate Finance Committee looking at property tax relief and other topics. SBOE meetings continue that day with agendas for the board’s Committees on School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

The SBOE will wrap up its week of hearings on Friday, Sept. 16, with its regular board meeting. Review agendas and times/locations for all of next week’s SBOE-related meetings here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these hearings from the ATPE lobby team next week.


ThinkstockPhotos-470725623_voteYou’ve probably heard about a little election that is scheduled to take place in November. Much is at stake in the general election for those with an interest in public education. Remember that you still have about a month left to register to vote if you or someone you know is not yet registered. Register by Oct. 11 in order to make sure your vote is counted in November. It’s important!



Commissioner adopts final DOI rules, incorporates ATPE recommendations

Throughout the past year, ATPE has reported on the implementation of a new law that allows school districts to exempt themselves from several state laws governing public education. The law, which was incorporated into last year’s House Bill 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen), sets forth limited parameters for so-called “Districts of Innovation” (DOI) that have met minimal accountability standards and allows them to claim exemptions from various laws.

Earlier this year, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath proposed a set of rules to implement the new DOI law. ATPE submitted input on the proposed rules and testified at a public hearing back in April. Today, Commissioner Morath released his final adopted rules for DOIs, incorporating some recommendations from stakeholders and ignoring others. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) received and responded to comments from several groups representing educators and school boards, individual school districts pursuing DOI status, and Raise Your Hand Texas, the advocacy group that was behind the push to enact the DOI law last year.

ATPE’s formal comments to TEA included a request that the rules clearly state that civil immunity protections in the Texas Education Code will continue to apply to innovation districts. The agency responded that it agreed with ATPE’s position and in order to address our concern has added the immunity statutes to the list in commissioner’s rules of laws that DOIs are prohibited from exempting. This ATPE-advised change will help ensure that educators maintain their immunity protections and will not face increased liability risks and insurance costs as a result of working in a DOI.

The adopted DOI rules take effect Sept. 13, 2016. For more on DOIs, be sure to check out ATPE’s DOI resource page here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 29, 2016

It’s been a big news week for ATPE, and here’s a recap of current education stories we’re closely following:

Elections 2016 Card with Bokeh BackgroundWe are approaching two important elections during the month of May. First, the local uniform election date is May 7, followed by the May 24 election date for primary runoffs.

Early voting began this week and runs through May 3 for the first local election date. Many local school board races are on the May 7 ballot around the state, along with special elections in House Districts 120 and 139.

The next election will be the runoff election for party primaries in which no candidate earned more than 50 percent of the vote on March 1. Early voting for that May 24 runoff election will begin on May 16. Use our 2016 Races search page to find and view candidates’ profiles. New information has been added recently to several runoff candidates’ profiles. How do you know if there’s a runoff in which you can vote next month? Don’t miss our recent blog post on runoffs with lists of all the runoff candidates and tips on who is eligible to vote in a primary runoff election.

ThinkstockPhotos-455285291_gavelATPE filed a petition against the commissioner of education on Monday challenging his newly adopted rules to implement T-TESS as the state’s new recommended appraisal system. As we’ve been reporting here on Teach the Vote, the new rules were published last week in the Texas Register and are scheduled to take effect July 1, 2016, unless legal challenges by ATPE and other groups delay the roll-out of the new system.

Read our T-TESS blog post from Monday, which includes background information on ATPE’s legal challenge and why we take issue with aspects of the T-TESS rules. Also, be sure to check out our new T-TESS resource page on ATPE.org, where you’ll find details on the T-TESS design, history of the changes, links to news articles, and additional resources.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing earlier this week on proposed rules implementing the state’s new law providing for Districts of Innovation. Part of 2015’s House Bill 1842, we’ve been reporting on how the law allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws found in the Texas Education Code (TEC). School districts that claim the waivers could operate in virtually the same manner as a charter school.

Monty Exter

Monty Exter

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at Monday’s public hearing, raising concerns about unintended consequences in school districts that seek blanket waivers from all the statutes that are exemptible under the new law. He also pointed out districts could likely try to exempt themselves from aspects of the state’s school finance system, which would create “chaos” in how public schools are funded. Monty urged the commissioner to place additional safeguards into the rules to ensure that districts adopting innovation plans make their intentions clear to stakeholders who will be affected by them, including students, educators, and parents. Read more about the hearing in Monty’s blog post from Tuesday, and also check out ATPE’s quick video interview with him about innovation districts.

TEA is also accepting public written comments on the proposed rules. Submit your input by Monday, May 2, using the TEA website where you can view the commissioner’s proposed rules.

Next week, the House Public Education Committee will hold an interim hearing. The committee will meet on Tuesday in a joint hearing with the House Committee on Economic & Small Business Development. The committees will discuss partnerships between institutions of higher education, public schools, and the workforce that promote college and career readiness. The committee will hear both invited and public testimony. ATPE will be at the hearing and will report on any developments. The hearing begins at 10:00AM and can be watched live here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 22, 2016

Here’s a summary of this week’s education news highlights:


ThinkstockPhotos-481431733As we’ve been reporting for a few months now, there are two big elections happening during the month of May. First, the local uniform election date is May 7, followed by the May 24 election date for primary runoffs.

Early voting begins next week for the May 7 local elections, which are different from the primary runoffs. Many local political subdivisions conduct their elections on this date, including some school board positions. There are also two special elections taking place on May 7 in legislative districts with vacancies. House District 120 and House District 139 are both open seats due to resignations of Reps. Ruth Jones McClendon (D) and Sylvester Turner (D) respectively. The winners of those two special elections will serve out the remainder of the representatives’ terms for this year, but may not necessarily be the same candidates who will take those seats for the next full term beginning in January 2017. Visit  our 2016 Races page to view the candidates in these races with indications of whether they are running in the special election, the regular 2016 election, or both.

Early voting for the May 7 election ends Tuesday, May 3.

Monday, April 25, is your last day to register if you intend to vote in the May 24 primary runoff elections. Visit VoteTexas.gov to find out how to register to vote. If you aren’t sure whether or not you are eligible to vote in a particular party’s runoff election, please read our blog post on runoff voting to learn more about voter eligibility.

Early voting for the May 24 primary runoffs will begin on May 16. If you happen to live in a runoff district (mostly in the central and eastern parts of the state), now is the time to study up on the candidates who are running in your area. Use our 2016 Races search page to find and view candidates’ profiles. Several runoff candidates just recently participated in our ATPE candidate survey, so be sure to check out what they have to say about major education issues including testing, teacher evaluations, vouchers, and educators’ healthcare benefits.

We reported last week that the State Board for Education Certification (SBEC) was meeting on Friday, April 15. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended the meeting and wrote a summary for Teach the Vote on actions taken by the certification board. Read Kate’s blog post from Tuesday to learn more about changes to certification exam rules and future comprehensive revisions that are planned for the regulations that apply to educator preparation programs.

Also this week, ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided an update on the conclusion of negotiated rulemaking for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in Washington, D.C. Learn more about how the new federal law is being implemented in Kate’s blog post from yesterday.

On Tuesday, April 19, the House Appropriations Committee held an interim hearing to discuss revenue and factors that have an impact on the state’s economy and budget. ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson attended the meeting and reported on it as follows: The House Appropriations Committee heard from the Comptroller and Legislative Budget Board regarding the Texas economy and the Economic Stabilization Fund, commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund. While more jobs are still being created in Texas than lost, ripple effects from the price of oil and natural gas being depressed have resulted in lower state revenue collections than what was previously projected. Going into the 2015 legislative session, the state had roughly $8 billion in excess revenue available to be included in the two-year budget. Going into 2017, the excess revenue will be approximately $4 billion, with only $600 million being General Revenue that is unrestricted. The remaining $3.4 billion is dedicated to specific purposes. Several pressing issues will be present in the legislature in 2017, including a looming school finance decision from the Supreme Court, a nearly $1.8 billion deficit in TRS-Care, approximately $700 million in Medicaid underfunding, and the potential to redesign active employee health insurance through TRS Activecare, among other needs. The budget is the only piece of legislation that is constitutionally required to pass, and based on the revenue projections, the 2017 budget has the potential to be eerily similar to that of 2003 and 2011 when massive cuts were chosen over increased funding. The choices of our elected officials will directly affect the 5.2 million students and nearly 700,000 employees of Texas’s public schools.

Final commissioner’s rules to implement T-TESS as the state’s new recommended appraisal system were published today in the Texas Register. The rules are intended to take effect on July 1, 2016. However, ATPE and other educator groups are currently pursuing legal options that might have an impact ultimately on implementation of the new rules. We’ll keep you posted on those developments in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, there is a good deal of misinformation regarding T-TESS being reported in the media, but ATPE has developed a resource page to help educators learn more about the new T-TESS system and how it’s designed. Check out our T-TESS resources at atpe.org/T-TESS.

We’ve also been reporting lately on some school districts’ efforts to become Districts of Innovation using a new law that passed in 2015. Passed as an eleventh-hour addition to House Bill 1842, the law on innovation districts allows certain acceptably performing school districts to propose local innovation plans and claim exemptions from numerous state laws found in the Texas Education Code (TEC). School districts that claim the waivers would operate in virtually the same manner as a charter school. ATPE has raised serious concerns about the plans in districts that are considering becoming innovation districts, since blanket waivers could cause teachers to lose many of the statutory rights they currently enjoy, such as contracts and minimum salaries; cause parents to lose access to certain information about their children’s education; and possibly even affect immunity provisions that protect school districts and individual employees of those districts from being sued.

The commissioner has proposed rules for innovation districts and will conduct a public hearing at the request of ATPE and other entities on on Monday, April 25. Stay tuned for updates next week. If you’d like to submit your own public comments on the commissioner’s proposed rules, you have until May 2 to submit those to TEA.


On Wednesday of this week, the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability met in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter reported on the meeting as follows:

The commission heard from Dr. James Pellegrino, Distinguished Professor of Education Liberal Arts & Sciences Distinguished Professor Co-Director, Learning Sciences Research Institute University of Illinois at Chicago. Among other things, Dr. Pellegrino walked the commission through the differences in formative, interim, and summative testing, explaining what the purposes, benefits, and limitations were of each.

The commission also entertained a “discussion” on the A-F grading and rating system for schools. They brought in Christy Hovanetz, Senior Policy Fellow, Accountability, Foundation for Excellence in Education. Unfortunately, it was more of a sales pitch than a discussion, since the Foundation for Excellence in Education is the organization that former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush (R) created to sell the idea of A-F and other Florida reforms to policymakers around the country.

Lastly, the commission had a discussion with Lori Taylor, Associate Professor and Director of the Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics and Public Policy, The Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, FAST (Financial Allocation Study for Texas) and Paul Haeberlen, President and Chief Operating Officer, Education Resource Group. The talks focused on incorporating elements of FAST, which is the comptroller’s school efficiency matrix, into the academic accountability system. The conversation highlighted policy questions around the differences between rewards and sanctions and focusing on absolute performance versus either productivity or efficiency.

Video archives of all the Commission meetings can be found here.

ThinkstockPhotos-173786481_bluebonnetsHappy Earth Day!

Legislative Update: Sine die edition!

We’ve survived 140 long days and can now wrap up the 84th legislative session! Shortly after noon today, the Texas Senate adjourned sine die. The House followed suit about 20 minutes later, after several speeches and recognition of legislators who are not returning next session. Among those who announced their retirement from the House are Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), who chaired the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. Sylvester Turner (D), who served since 1988 and held several leadership posts. We’ll have more on our friends’ announcements and will be posting a complete wrap-up of education bills here on Teach the Vote this week. In the meantime, here’s what happened to the remaining school-related bills that saw action over this last weekend of the session.

Money matters

We reported over the weekend on final passage of the state’s appropriations bills. With the budget finalized, there were a few lingering pieces of that compromise still pending. On Friday, May 29, both the House and Senate approved a conference committee report on SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R), which increases the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000, subject to voter approval. It was part of the legislature’s compromise on a combination property tax and franchise tax cut that adds up to almost $4 billion; HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), the franchise tax vehicle, was already sent to the governor.

Also related to funding, there was another high-profile bill still pending this weekend to curtail state spending. SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), was designed to restrict the state’s constitutional spending limit, based on a calculation that factors in population growth and inflation. It languished in a conference committee this weekend until an announcement came that House and Senate conferees could not reach an agreement.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

HB 2804 is Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) bill to overhaul the state’s accountability system and place slightly less emphasis on the role of student test scores in how schools are rated. The Senate adopted a conference committee report on the bill Saturday, and the House followed suit on Sunday. The Senate’s vote to approve the final version of the bill was unanimous. The House’s final vote on HB 2804 was 119 to 17. As finally passed, the bill includes a requirement, which ATPE opposed, to assign “A through F” grades to school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. “Under the bill,” as described in an article by Morgan Smith in The Texas Tribune yesterday, “student performance on state standardized exams would remain the primary measure of school performance. But it would no longer be as dominant a factor in determining a school’s accountability rating. About 45 percent of the rating would take into account a variety of additional information — such as community engagement, AP course enrollment, attendance and dropout rates.”

The legislature also gave final approval to HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), which deals with a five-year timeline for accountability sanctions and interventions for low-performing traditional and charter schools. The bill includes replacing a school board or charter governing board with an appointed board of managers if the district fails to improve the performance of a persistently low-performing campus. While the bill contemplates potentially much harsher sanctions at the district level, it deletes provisions from current law that mandated or strongly encouraged the indiscriminate removal of principals and classroom teachers from struggling campuses. ATPE has long opposed the current statutory language, which only served to destabilize already struggling schools.

After the House passed its version of HB 1842 with only a single no vote, the Senate passed a substitute version on May 26 that added numerous floor amendments, most taken from other bills that would otherwise have died. The controversial amendments included Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) “innovation zones” school deregulation language from SB 1241; Sen. Royce West’s (R) “Opportunity School District” (now called a  “School Turnaround District”) plan from SB 669; and language expanding charter and virtual schools. On Friday, Chairman Aycock announced that the House would not accept all of the Senate’s changes and sent the bill to a conference committee.

As negotiated by the House and Senate conferees, the final version of HB 1842 preserves the district-wide version of Sen. Larry Taylor’s “innovation zone” plan. ATPE previously opposed both multi-campus and district-wide “innovation zones” in Taylor’s standalone bill; however, of all the numerous alternative management and deregulation proposals that were advanced this session, the “innovation zones” concept was perhaps one of the least objectionable ideas. Unlike the remainder of HB 1842 that focuses on struggling campuses, “districts of innovation” or “innovation zones” are limited to those with acceptable or higher accountability ratings. ATPE will monitor the implementation of the bill should any school district choose to take advantage of the new option. The final version of HB 1842 does not include any of the controversial language creating an “opportunity” or “school turnaround district” (OSD/STD); nor does it include language on charter school closures or reauthorizations or on the expansion of virtual schools.

The Senate’s final vote to adopt the conference committee report on HB 1842 was 26 to 5, with Sens. Chuy Hinojosa (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. In the House, the motion passed by a vote of 125 to 18; click here to find out how your House member voted on the final version of HB 1842.

Student testing and curriculum

The House and Senate both approved a bill that attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) also calls for auditing of state contracts with test vendors and aims to limit the breadth of curriculum standards known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) that are included on standardized tests. The Senate voted 27 to 4 to adopt a conference committee report on the bill on Saturday; Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Konni Burton (R), Kelly Hancock (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against it. On Sunday, the House accepted the conference committee report by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. David Simpson (R) casting the only vote against it. As finally passed, the ATPE-supported bill requires state tests to be validated before being administered and also designed so that 85 percent of students can complete the test within an allotted time frame. HB 743 also calls for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a comprehensive study of the tests and the TEKS.

HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards. The bill makes several technical changes to testing requirements that were modified substantially in 2013 pursuant to House Bill 5. The House and Senate passed differing versions of this bill in May. On Friday, May 29, the House voted to accept the Senate’s changes to HB 2349; Reps. Matt Schaefer (R) and David Simpson (R) were the only representatives who opposed the motion to concur. ATPE supported the bill.

SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) is another bill ATPE supported that deals with narrowing the curriculum standards, state testing, and instructional materials. Yesterday, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on the bill. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), and Van Taylor (R) voted against the motion to approve the agreed-upon bill in the Senate. The House vote was 86 to 50. The bill as finally passed requires the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the TEKS for foundation curriculum subjects. SB 313 also calls for TEA to provide individual students with a detailed performance report for each TEKS standard affiliated with a state test. The conference committee’s final version of the bill stripped out a House floor amendment providing students in special education programs with a means to opt out of STAAR testing requirements, which might have conflicted with federal law.

Educator preparation, certification, and discipline matters

A conference committee was appointed to iron out differences between House and Senate language for HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R). The bill changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes modifications to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill includes language taken from another educator preparation bill, HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R), which requires a survey of new teachers’ satisfaction to be factored into the accountability system, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs.  As it did with several other bills, the Senate amended several of its own dying bills onto HB 2205 last week, and most of those changes survived the conference committee. Principally, the Senate added language from Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R) SB 892 to lower the statutory minimum GPA for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. The bill adds a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain a 3.0 GPA, however. The Senate also integrated Sen. Paul Bettencourt’s (R) SB 1003 making it easier for school districts to issue teaching permits to non-certified CTE teachers and his SB 1222 giving the commissioner of education power to issue subpoenas when investigating educators for possible misconduct. The conference committee stripped out language that would have required 30 hours of field-based experience delivered in a classroom setting before an alternative certification candidate could be hired as a teacher of record. The bill as finally passed also limits retakes of certification exams to four attempts.

Yesterday, the Senate approved the conference committee report on HB 2205 by a vote of 19 to 12. All Democratic senators voted against the motion to approve HB 2205 except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) who voted for it; while Sens. Jane Nelson (R) and Robert Nichols (R) were the only Republican senators to break ranks with their party and vote against the motion to approve the conference committee report on HB 2205. On the House side, the final vote was 125 to 16, with Reps. Diego Bernal (D), Garnet Coleman (D), Nicole Collier (D), Harold Dutton (D), Joe Farias (D), Mary Goznalez (D), Roland Gutierrez (D), Abel Herrero (D), Todd Hunter (R), Trey Martinez-Fischer (D), Poncho Nevarez (D), Justin Rodriguez (D), Toni Rose (D), David Simpson (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Armando Walle (D) voting against it. While were are disappointed in the decision to lower individual admission standards for alternative certification programs, ATPE appreciates that the bill likely contains more positive changes than negative ones in the long run.

Suicide prevention

ATPE-requested legislation to try to deter youth suicide is heading to the governor soon. HB 2186 by Rep. Byron Cook (R) deals with training educators in spotting and responding to warning signs of suicide among students. The bill honors the memory of suicide victim Jonathan Childers, who was the teenage son of Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. After the upper chamber made minor changes to the bill, the House voted Friday, May 29, to concur in the Senate amendments. The vote was 141 to 5, with Reps. Larry Phillips (R), Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), Jonathan Stickland (R), and Tony Tinderholt (R) opposing it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) will require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The ATPE-supported bill was sent to a conference committee after the House and Senate could not agree on language. However, the committee was later discharged and the House voted unanimously on Saturday, May 30, to accept the Senate’s version of the bill.

School counselors

HB 18 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors. The bill would create post-secondary education and career counseling academies for certain school counselors and make stipends available to those who attend the academies. ATPE supported the bill. On Sunday, May 31, the House and Senate both voted to approve a conference committee report on HB 18, which preserves most of the Senate’s language. The final vote on the negotiated bill was 135 to 8 in the House and 30 to 1 in the Senate.

Charter schools

A pair of bills by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) dealing with charter schools were finalized on Friday. First, HB 1170 includes certain charter schools in the definition of local governmental entities in order to allow them to enter into contracts and risk pools with other local entities. The move is meant to allow charter schools to save money on needed purchases, services, and liability insurance. The House voted Friday to accept Senate changes to the bill and finally pass it. The vote was 140 to 2, with opposition coming from Reps. Terry Canales (D) and J.D. Sheffield (R). HB 1171 relates to immunity provisions for charter schools. Once again, the House voted 143 to 1 to accept the Senate’s version of the bill; Rep. Larry Phillips (R) was the only no vote on the motion to concur.

Cameras in the classroom

SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) calls for school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras, notify parents and staff of the installation of the cameras, and keep recorded video footage on file for at least six months. The House and Senate voted yesterday to approve a conference committee report on the bill. The vote was 23 to 8 in the Senate and 140 to 3 in the House.

Ethics reform

An attempt to pass an ethics reform bill died after House and Senate leaders could not agree on language. SB 19 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) was sponsored in the House by Rep. Byron Cook (R). After the two chambers passed dramatically different versions of the bill, a conference committee failed to reach a compromise. Negotiations fell apart over “dark money,” with the House wanting to shed light on secret contributions to non-profit groups advancing political agendas and the Senate refusing to budge on the contentious issue.

We at ATPE are so grateful to all the members who helped us advocate for legislation to help public education students and staff and stop numerous bad bills from becoming law. Thank you for being engaged educators, parents, and citizens and for reaching out to your legislators with input when others were trying to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters.