Tag Archives: Judith Zaffirini

New School Year, New Laws: Special Education

In this week’s blog post in the “New School Year, New Laws” series, the ATPE lobby team looks at changes to special education resulting from the 86th legislative session earlier this year.

Three years ago, the Houston Chronicle published an investigative series on how Texas was systematically denying special education services to students through an arbitrary 8.5% cap on special education enrollment. After confirming the findings, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) ordered the state to complete a Special Education Strategic Plan and Corrective Action Response. In the interim before the 2019 legislative session, special education advocates worked diligently with lawmakers, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) on the strategic plan, corrective action response, and special education funding to try to mitigate the negative effects of having denied years of services to students. This involvement from stakeholders helped to prioritize special education in the legislative session.

Below are some of the bills passed this year to address special education funding and various initiatives for students with special needs.

House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Special education funding and advisory committee

Special education in Texas is currently funded through a system of weights based on student placement. For example, the weight for a homebound student is 5.0 (meaning that a school district receives 5 times the amount of the basic allotment for that student). The mainstream weight covers approximately 85% of students receiving special education services, according to the TEA. Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint) amended HB 3 to increase the mainstream weight from 1.1 to 1.15, which will generate hundreds of extra dollars for every student receiving special education services in the general education classroom. As an aside, stakeholders and agency officials alike are urging that the rhetoric around special education shift to characterize special education as a service rather than a placement.

HB 3 also creates a new dyslexia weight of 0.1, which will help direct even more money to students with special needs. The dyslexia weight will also capture and fund students who are receiving services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, which is not federally funded like the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Lastly, HB 3 establishes a 14-member special education allotment advisory committee that will make recommendations on special education funding. In September, the commissioner of education will appoint committee members, to include a variety of stakeholders both within and outside of the school setting, including two teachers.

These provisions of HB 3 became effective immediately upon the passage of the bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound): Addressing maintenance of financial support in the supplemental budget

Just before the 2019 legislative session began, news broke that Texas had failed to maintain “state financial support” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Essentially, the state spent $33.3 million less on special education in 2012 than it spent in the prior year, which is not allowed. Unfortunately, the state continued this trend in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and it is now estimated that the resulting federal penalty will reach $233 million.

This year’s supplemental spending bill, SB 500, included over $219 million to settle maintenance of financial support costs and to prevent future penalties.

SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso): Notification of enrollment opportunities

SB 139 specifically addresses the aforementioned 8.5% cap on enrollment in special education by requiring TEA to develop a notice regarding the elimination of the arbitrary limit. The notice must also include the rights of children under state and federal law and how parents and guardians can initiate referral and evaluation for special education services.

HB 111 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint): Trafficking, abuse, and maltreatment training

As part of their district improvement plan, school districts are required to adopt and implement a policy on sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of children. Districts must incorporate methods to increase awareness of these issues by providing training for new and existing employees on prevention techniques and the recognition of sexual abuse, sex trafficking, and other maltreatment of students. HB 111 specifically adds that the training should also include prevention and recognition for students with significant cognitive disabilities. HB 111 became effective immediately.

HB 165 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio): High school endorsements

Effective immediately, HB 165 allows students receiving special education services to earn high school endorsements on their transcripts if they complete, with or without modification, the foundation high school curriculum requirements and the additional endorsement curriculum requirements. Under previous law, a student receiving special education services was unable to earn an endorsement by virtue of being enrolled in a modified curriculum. This prevented the student from earning a Distinguished Level of Achievement upon graduation, which is an eligibility requirement for automatic admission to a public institution of higher education in Texas.

SB 522 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo): Services for students with visual impairments

SB 522 aims to improve the educational services provided to students with a visual impairment by aligning the terminology in state law with federal law regarding these students. Additionally, the individualized education plan (IEP) for students with a visual impairment must now include instruction in braille and the use of braille unless the student’s admission, review, and dismissal (ARD) committee determines that a different form of instruction is more appropriate. Under SB 522, instruction in braille must be provided by a teacher certified to teach students with visual impairments. This law became effective immediately.

SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) and HB 3630 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Highland Park): Prohibiting aversive disciplinary techniques

SB 712 and HB 3630 by are identical bills that prohibit the use of certain techniques on students that are meant to discourage recurring behaviors. These aversive techniques are defined in physical terms, such as inflicting pain on a student, as well as in social, emotional, and mental terms, such as verbally demeaning a student or using a timeout when such breaks are not a part of the student’s individualized education plan (IEP). This legislation does not affect a teacher’s ability to remove students under Texas Education Code Section 37.002, which allows teachers to remove students who are repetitively disruptive and limiting the learning of others. Both bills were effective immediately upon their passage earlier this year.


See the TEA’s “HB 3 in 30” video on special education for additional detail on legislative changes. For more information on the issues featured in our “New School Year, New Laws” series, be sure to check out “An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature,” in which ATPE’s attorneys provide a comprehensive look at new education laws passed in 2019. Join us next Monday here on Teach the Vote to read about legislative changes regarding professional opportunities for educators.

Texas election news roundup: Aug. 29, 2019

The past week has brought more announcements from incumbents who are seeking reelection, including state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), whose House District (HD) 75 voted for Beto O’Rourke over U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz by a 55 percent margin in 2018 and has sent Rep. Gonzalez to Austin with reliable consistency. State Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who chairs the House Energy Resources Committee, announced reelection plans in HD 9. The East Texas district has produced Republican margins of 50 percent or greater for the last several election cycles. Rep. Paddie also announced on Tuesday his endorsement by Gov. Greg Abbott for the 2020 election.

Republican Frank Pomeroy has announced plans to challenge state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) in Senate District (SD) 21. Pomeroy is pastor of the Sutherland Springs church that was the site of a mass shooting in 2017. Zaffirini has not seen a Republican challenger in recent years, however her district handed O’Rourke a 21-point margin in 2018. This is more or less consistent with previous general elections in SD 21.

In SD 19, San Antonio Democrat Xochil Pena Rodriguez has announced a run against state Sen. Pete Flores (R-Pleasanton), who won SD 19 in a September 2018 special election to succeed state Sen. Carlos Uresti (D-San Antonio). Flores pulled off an upset in a district that has shown a willingness to swing to the Republican column. Voters in SD 19 narrowly sided with Greg Abbott in the 2014 governor’s race, but Hillary Clinton and Beto O’Rourke each won the district by double digits.

Participation in elections is the single most powerful thing you can do as an educator in order to ensure state leaders pass laws aimed at helping our schools — not hurting them. While ATPE’s Teach the Vote provides resources in order to help illustrate candidates’ views on public education issues, our partners at the Texas Educators Vote (TEV) coalition have launched a new website with tools for helping to remind yourself when it’s time to head to the polls. Visit the TEV website here, then sign up for text reminders of important election dates. You can also get help finding your polling location and making sure you’re registered to vote in time for the next election.

Senate committee hears from dozens opposed to payroll deduction bill

On Monday, Feb. 13, the Senate Committee on State Affairs, chaired by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), conducted a public hearing on Senate Bill (SB) 13, Huffman’s own bill to eliminate the rights of some public employees to use payroll deduction for voluntary association dues. Dozens of ATPE members traveled to Austin to attend the hearing. Among the many witnesses who testified against SB 13 were ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey, State President Julleen Bottoms, State Vice President Carl Garner, State Secretary Byron Hildebrand, and State Treasurer Tonja Grey.

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Early in the hearing, Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) questioned the bill’s author on why she chose to file a bill that would prohibit payroll deduction by some public employees (such as educators, correctional officers, and CPS workers) while exempting fire, police, and EMS employees from the prohibition. “I just think it’s problematic to say this group of people does it this way and this group of people does it that way,” Sen. Estes said, noting that he would prefer to see a bill without an exception for first responders that would apply equally to all public employees. “Why?” Estes asked the bill’s author about the discriminatory impact of her bill.

 

In response to the questions from Estes and her other fellow senators, Chairwoman Huffman explained that she was comfortable excluding law enforcement and emergency personnel from the bill because they “serve the community… with great honor and distinction.” Huffman added that groups representing first responders don’t interfere with “business issues,” which was a complaint raised by a pair of business lobbyists who testified against SB 13.

It is not clear what type of “business interference” the supporters of this bill believe ATPE has been guilty of organizing. The examples cited by a representative of the National Federal of Independent Business (NFIB) were federal minimum wage and equal pay laws that she claimed unions were opposing nationally. ATPE has not taken a position on any such legislation in Washington, and ATPE’s Godsey pointed out in his testimony that our organization has been supportive of business. “We love small business,” Godsey emphasized to the committee. “We have never spent one dime lobbying against small business.”

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Sens. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) asked a number of questions during the hearing about why this bill was needed. They illustrated, for example, that no school board members or superintendents have complained about the current law requiring districts to let educators deduct association dues from their paychecks. Several of the teachers who testified during Monday’s hearing pointed out that their school leaders were supportive of leaving the current law alone and letting school employees continue the practice of using payroll deduction for their association dues. ATPE State President Bottoms, for example, noted that her own superintendent had even traveled to Austin Monday to support her appearance at the SB 13 hearing.

Although not a member of the committee, Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) also sat in on the hearing and  asked a number of questions about why the bill targets certain associations while allowing payroll deductions for other purposes, such as insurance premiums and taxes. ATPE appreciates the support of those senators from both parties who have taken issue with SB 13, principally for the discriminatory message that it sends to hardworking educators and the fact that the bill is wholly unnecessary. It solves no identified problems and does not produce any cost savings to the state. Interestingly, Chairwoman Huffman conceded during her opening remarks about SB 13 that there are no taxpayer costs associated with public employees using payroll deduction for their association dues. In admitting this, Huffman openly contradicted recent claims by both Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott that this legislation would prevent “taxpayer resources” from being used to collect union dues.

While the committee heard testimony from numerous ATPE members and other educators on Monday, members of the law enforcement community were also on hand to express opposition to SB 13. Even though law enforcement officials are currently exempted from Huffman’s bill, they nevertheless urged lawmakers not to discriminate against teachers and expressed disappointment that the Senate was even hearing such a bill as SB 13. ATPE sincerely appreciates the support of police, fire, and EMS employee associations to defeat this unnecessary bill.

Click here to watch archived video of the hearing. Sen. Huffman’s introduction of SB 13 begins at the 13:45 mark during the broadcast. The testimony on this bill begins at 1:11:28 during the broadcast. Also, visit ATPE’s Facebook page for video highlights and links to news reports about the hearing. ATPE members are urged to continue calling and writing to their legislators about SB 13 and its House counterpart, House Bill 510. For additional resources on communicating with lawmakers, check out ATPE’s Advocacy Central.

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