Tag Archives: John Cornyn

Texas election roundup: Endorsement news and more

Now that the filing deadline has passed, candidates are turning to the business of campaigning in earnest. This often begins with racking up endorsements from influential people or organizations in order to signal the strength of their candidacy.

A significant endorsement this week comes from the national Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which endorsed M.J. Hegar in the crowded Democratic primary for U.S. Senate here in Texas. Hegar’s primary opponents include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) and former gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Rep. Chris Bell, among others. The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in the general election.

Elsewhere, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner won reelection to another four-year term as leader of the state’s largest city. Turner previously served as vice-chair of the House Appropriations Committee as a member of the Texas Legislature.

At this point, it appears much of the action in the 2020 primaries will be on the Democratic side of the ticket. In addition to the presidential primary, more than twice as many Democratic state legislators face primary opponents than Republicans this time around. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information on specific candidates running in your neighborhood coming soon!

As we wrap up the 2019 calendar year, we in the ATPE Governmental Relations Department and our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to thank you for your hard work advocating for your profession this year. The 2019 legislative session was a major turnaround from previous sessions, and it was entirely because Texas educators showed up at the polls in 2018 and elected pro-public education candidates. We will need to do the same thing in 2020 to improve upon our gains and keep from losing the incredible progress we’ve made. Congratulations on a successful year, and here’s to an even better 2020!

Texas election roundup: Campaign finances

A new set of campaign finance reports has shed some light on the 2020 races for federal office around Texas.

Current U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) is up for reelection and reported raising more than the entire field of Democratic challengers combined. Cornyn listed $3.2 million in donations for the third quarter, while his Democratic rivals posted a combined $2.8 million. Former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar raised $1 million, the most of the Democratic field, followed by $557,000 raised by Houston City Council Member Amanda Edwards, and $550,000 raised by state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). Cornyn listed nearly $11 million cash on hand, compared to $894,000 listed by Hegar. Cornyn has also outspent Hegar 12-to-one. Republican state Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) announced this week that he will no longer pursue a primary challenge against Cornyn.

In competitive U.S. House of Representatives races, U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX 2) outraised his Democratic rival Elisa Cardnell by $1.4 million to $100,000. Democrat Stephen Daniel edged out Rep. Ron Wright (R-TX 6) $111,000 to $106,000. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX 7) outraised her top Republican challenger $640,000 to $469,000. Democrats Shannon Hutcheson, Pritesh Gandhi, and Mike Siegel outraised Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX 10) $504,000 to $334,000. Former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) nearly doubled Rep. Chip Roy’s (R-TX 21) fundraising total, $941,000 to $574,000, but Roy maintains nearly double the cash on hand reported by Davis. Democrats Kathaleen Wall and Sri Kulkarni led fundraising in TX-22, and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones posted a $1.1 million fundraising total in retiring Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-TX 23) district, which far exceeded all other contenders. Republican Beth Van Duyne leads the field in fundraising in TX-24, followed by Democrat Kim Olson, who maintains a cash advantage against Van Duyne. Rep. John Carter’s (R-TX-31) $152,000 fundraising total was just enough to beat the combined total of his nine Democratic challengers. Finally, Colin Allred (D-TX 32) outraised Republican challenger Genevieve Collins $583,000 to $458,000.

Voting is the single most powerful way educators can use their voices to make change happen. The elections beginning this November and lasting through November of 2020 have the potential to be the most consequential elections in a generation, so it is critical that you and everyone you know who is eligible is registered to vote. You can find more information and resources about voter registration and voting at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Texas election news roundup

It’s another week and another round of election news in Texas.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) has been busy setting special elections to finish the unexpired terms of legislators who have decided to step down before the next election. Voters will decide who succeeds state Reps. John Zerwas (R-Richmond) and Eric Johnson (D-Dallas) on November 5, 2019, which is also the date of the state constitutional election. The winners of those two races will have to turn around and defend their seats in the 2020 elections next year.

In the meantime, another Democrat has filed to run against U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the 2020 election. Cristina Tzintzún Ramirez is a Latina organizer who started the Workers Defense Project and Jolt Texas, the latter of which aims to mobilize young Hispanic voters. Ramirez will join a Democratic field that already includes state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), former congressional candidate MJ Hegar, and former congressman and gubernatorial candidate Chris Bell.

Finally, Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) announced plans late last week to challenge state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), who has often sided with his Republican colleagues in the 31-member Texas Senate on issues such as school privatization. This sets up a potentially heated Democratic primary for the South Texas Senate district.

This November’s election will decide a number of important potential amendments to the Texas Constitution, including one relating to school finance. It is critical that educators stay engaged beginning this November and following through the party primaries in March 2020 — all the way to the November 2020 general election. Now is a good time to check if you’re registered to vote, which you can do by using resources put together by the Texas Educators Vote coalition of which ATPE is a member. Check out the coalition’s new website at TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Texans in Congress support federal voucher bills as Trump continues privatization push

United States Capitol BuildingIt probably comes as no surprise to Texans that federal voucher bills are being filed in the U.S. Congress after President Donald Trump campaigned on a $20 billion voucher plan promise. He continued to promote such a plan last night during his first speech to Congress. However, Texans might be surprised to learn that some of their elected representatives are jumping on board as supporters of these pieces of legislation.

Texan serves as original co-sponsor on House voucher bill

A bill termed the “Choices in Education Act of 2017” was filed in the U.S. House recently with Texas Rep. Pete Olson (R-Sugar Land) as an original co-sponsor of the legislation. H.R. 610 would create a federal voucher program and repeal the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was most recently amended by and is commonly referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Instead, the Department of Education’s (ED) authority would be limited to awarding block grants to states that legalize vouchers and follow the federal voucher program requirements.

The “Choices in Education Act” voucher would work like this:

  • ED would distribute block grants to qualified states.
  • States would distribute that money to districts based on the number of eligible school children within each district.
  • Districts would be responsible for distributing a portion of their funds to parents who choose to enroll their child in a private school or home-school their child. The amount distributed would be equal to the per-student federal funding in each state. Districts would be responsible for distributing funding in a way that ensures money is spent on “appropriate educational expenses.”

Both Texas senators co-sponsor Senate voucher bill

In the U.S. Senate, Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) has a voucher bill (S. 235) called the “Creating Hope and Opportunity for Individuals and Communities through Education Act” or the CHOICE Act. Both Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz have signed on as cosponsors.

The “Choice Act” has three parts:

  1. The bill would expand eligibility for the “D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program,” the federally funded voucher program that distributes funding to students in the District of Columbia only.
  2. The bill would make funding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) portable, meaning qualified students could take their portion to the private or public school of their choice. It would also provide states seed money for establishing a special education voucher program.
  3. The bill would create the Military Scholarship Program, allowing students living on military bases to use a voucher at the private or public school of their choice. Students would be eligible for the combined cost of tuition, fees, and transportation, with an $8,000 cap for elementary students and $12,000 for secondary students.

White House continues push but offers no details

The White HouseLast night during his prime time speech to a joint session of Congress, his first time to address the body, President Donald Trump reiterated his support for vouchers and called on Congress to pass a bill that funds “school choice for disadvantaged youth.” He didn’t offer additional details on such a plan, adding that “families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”

It has been reported that the White House is considering a tax credit scholarship approach, something neither of the above bills would offer. Again, details on the type of federal tax credit scholarship President Trump might be considering have not been released. (Check out an example of a tax credit scholarship in our post on Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s voucher bill being considered here in Texas.) In short, tax credit scholarships give taxpaying entities or individuals a break on their taxes in exchange for donations to a voucher fund. The fund is then used to provide vouchers for students to attend private schools or to fund a home-school education. During his campaign, President Trump campaigned on a promise to redirect $20 billion dollars in federal spending to a voucher program.

 

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1ATPE members can alert their federal representatives of their opinions on these and other federal voucher bills by logging on to Advocacy Central.

Outcry against DeVos continues amid majority support from U.S. Senate

Educators, parents and other stakeholders continue to express concern over Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos and her qualifications to the lead the U.S. Department of Education. Especially since her nomination hearing held last week, concerns are growing regarding DeVos’s lack of commitment to public education, meaningful experience in public schools, and credentials to become the next Education Secretary. U.S. Senate Democrats aren’t letting up, but the latest reports continue to indicate she has wide support among Republicans, meaning her confirmation is in sight.

After pressing hard for a delay of the vote to advance DeVos’s nomination to the full Senate (the final step in the process to confirmation), Democrats on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee got a small win over the weekend. They had requested the delay in order to have more time to review the Office of Government Ethics report that found 102 potential conflicts of interest DeVos would have on the job (she’s agreed to divest from the companies and investments of concern) and to give her more time to answer additional questions they were unable to ask during her confirmation hearing. Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) ultimately granted the delay, pushing it to Jan. 31, but he and many of his Republican colleagues remain vocal in support of the nominee.

That does not seem to be the case when considering the outcry from educators, parents, and the public, which has exploded since the hearing. As we reported last week, DeVos showed a lack of understanding for some federal education laws, namely the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. She also failed to commit to protecting funding for public schools, wouldn’t agree that equal and rigorous accountability should follow tax dollars, and didn’t indicate a belief that federal laws protecting and supporting students should extend to any school where public money was transferred.

Despite all of that, in a publication this week, Chairman Alexander again called DeVos’s positions “well within the mainstream” of the public’s views on education. He compared the 837 follow-up questions for DeVos to the roughly 50 submitted by Republicans for each of the two previous secretaries nominated by President Obama. And in an exchange on the Senate floor with HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman Alexander said Democrats and DeVos’s opponents are “grasping for straws.” Ranking Member Murray countered: “it’s our job to ask [cabinet nominees] tough questions.”

Democrats have also maintained that the two previous Secretaries of Education, Arne Duncan and John B. King, had established records in education. DeVos, on the other hand, has no professional experience in public schools, has never attended public schools, and has never enrolled her children in public schools.

The reality of DeVos’s nomination is that she seems to have a clear path to confirmation. Republicans support her nomination and make up a majority on both the HELP Committee and in the full Senate. Still, as the opposition to her nomination grows, advocates for public education have seen some small wins so far.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Texas’s two Senators do not sit on the HELP committee, but they will vote on confirmation when it hits the Senate floor. ATPE members can access Advocacy Central to write Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz regarding their position on DeVos’s confirmation.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 24, 2016

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of the education news from Texas and Washington, D.C.:


image2A group of ATPE state officers and employees were in the nation’s capital this week for business on Capitol Hill. ATPE State President Cory Colby, Vice President Julleen Bottoms, Executive Director Gary Godsey, and Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended numerous meetings, along with ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyists at the firm of Arnold & Porter.

The ATPE representatives’ busy agenda this week included meeting with members of Texas’s congressional delegation and their staffs, along with officials at the U.S. Department of Education. Topics of discussion included the ongoing implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) and legislation to improve Social Security benefits for educators. ATPE’s team also attended a hearing of the U.S. Committee on Education and the Workforce yesterday. Read more in today’s blog post from Kate Kuhlmann.


The Commissioner of Education this week recognized a group of eight school districts that are among the first to adopt and submit their plans to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to become Districts of Innovation (DOI). The DOI law, passed in 2015, allows certain acceptably-rated school districts to adopt innovation plans and exempt themselves from various education laws. ATPE has created a DOI resource page to assist educators and parents in districts that may be considering these new regulatory exemptions. TEA also announced its creation of a website to track which districts have become DOIs with links to their innovation plans. Learn more in our DOI blog post from yesterday.


Donna Bahorich

Donna Bahorich

With the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability approaching its last meeting, members of the State Board of Education (SBOE) want to hear from stakeholders before recommendations are made to the 85th Legislature on student testing and accountability systems. SBOE Chairwoman Donna Bahorich recently announced the availability of a public survey on testing and related issues. The SBOE survey remains open through Thursday, June 30, and we encourage you to share your valuable input. Click here to learn more and access the SBOE survey.


Here’s a look at ATPE’s week in Washington in pictures. (Click each photo to view a larger version.)

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Cory Colby, Kate Kuhlmann, Gary Godsey, and Julleen Bottoms on Capitol Hill

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ATPE meets with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX)

ESSA hearing

Attending a House committee on ESSA implementation featuring U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

 

Julleen and Gary at hearing

Julleen Bottoms and Gary Godsey at the meeting of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce

Cory and Julleen at Cornyn office

Cory Colby and Julleen Bottoms at the office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)

DOE

Kuhlmann, Bottoms, Colby, and Godsey at the U.S. Department of Education

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ATPE meets with Congressman Roger Williams (R-TX)

ATPE officers make the rounds in D.C.

Things were certainly heated in Washington, D.C. last week—June 16–19—as ATPE State President Ginger Franks, Vice President Richard Wiggins, Executive Director Gary G. Godsey and Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg brought Texas weather (98 degrees) and hot issues to the Texas congressional delegation and U.S. Department of Education.

Our team attended meetings with key Texas Congressmen who serve on the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce as well as majority and minority staff members of other Congressmen on the committee. We met with the two Texas Senators, Sens. Cornyn and Cruz, and Texas Congressmen serving on the House Ways and Means committees, which oversees the Social Security system.

We focused on educating Congress about the recent federal requirement that Texas institute a new principal and teacher evaluation system (that accountability based on student test scores) as a condition of receiving a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The waiver exempts Texas from accountability sanctions from the outdated accountability standards under current law; the outdated accountability standards are a result of more than a decade of Congressional gridlock and inability to update the ESEA. The DOE is using this inaction to force states to adopt several “reforms,” including the teacher evaluation piece, in exchange for flexibility under current law.

ATPE has worked hard with Texas Commissioner of Education Michael Williams and the Texas Education Agency to create an evaluation system primarily based on recently adopted state standards of practice for what an educator should know and be able to do. On the test score portion of the evaluation, ATPE recommended using student scores aggregated at the campus level so that all educators are held accountable for every student on the campus, instead of using classroom scores at the individual teacher level. We have also asked for an extension of the pilot program’s timeline so that the program’s first year can be properly evaluated prior to full implementation of the system in all districts.

During our meeting with the DOE, we were pleased to hear that the department has recently decided to consider requests for more flexibility, and we are hopeful Commissioner Williams will request and receive more time. We also hope that the Commissioner will continue conversation about using campus scores, which we believe are more accurate and create a sense of campus collaboration instead of competition, anger and fear of the unknown.

Our message to our Congressmen was to please help us persuade the DOE that Texas does need that flexibility and that we would prefer to handle our own state-level teacher evaluation system. In addition, we advocated for changes to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP), a Social Security provisions that effects public servants who don’t contribute to Social Security for at least thirty years. The formula used for the WEP is arbitrary and is not proportional to the number of years paid in, unlike the formula that applies to all other Americans who are covered by Social Security.