The weekend is here, and it’s time for your wrap-up of education news from ATPE:
We’re less than a month away from a 30-day special session ordered by Gov. Greg Abbott. Passing sunset legislation to keep a handful of agencies from going out of business during the interim will be the first order a business, after attempts to pass such a bill during the regular session fell victim to a battle of wills over ideological issues. Gov. Abbott has laid out 19 additional issues for lawmakers to consider during the special session, with signs that even more topics could be added to the agenda as we move closer to the start date. The governor’s wish list, featuring a number of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s questionable “priorities” from the regular session, includes regulating local school bathroom policies, funding private school vouchers, mandating that school districts come up with their own funds for a teacher pay raise, tinkering with teachers’ employment and due process rights, and prohibiting educators from using payroll deduction for their voluntary membership dues to professional associations like ATPE.
Aside from the need to deal with the agency sunset matters that were allowed to falter during the regular session, the governor’s declaring this particular score of issues as being “extraordinary” and urgent enough to warrant spending a million dollars of the taxpayers’ money to debate is a decision that has left many scratching their heads. Arguably the most important priority that did not get addressed during the regular session was school finance reform, but that issue has barely registered as a blip on the governor’s special session radar. Abbott made it clear during his recent press conference that he intends merely for the legislature to appoint a commission to study the issue over the next two years. Many lawmakers, especially in the House, have indicated that they do not share the governor’s views on the urgency of spending another month arguing about such petty concerns as how local bathroom policies are written and how educators spend their own hard-earned money.
ATPE weighed in on the merits of the special session plans this week in an opinion piece written by Executive Director Gary Godsey and published by The Texas Tribune on its TribTalk website. Godsey explained that the founders of our state government gave governors the ability to call special sessions “under ‘extraordinary occasions.’ Examples noted in the Texas Constitution are the presence of a public enemy or a need to appoint presidential electors. Nowhere does it mention attacking teachers, schools, or political enemies merely to score points heading into the next election cycle.” Read the full piece republished on our blog here.
With the renewed attacks on public schools and hardworking educators that are anticipated in the new few weeks, it is important for educators to stay engaged and share their input with legislators. ATPE members are encouraged to visit Advocacy Central to send messages to their own lawmakers about protecting educators’ rights, properly funding the needs of our public (not private) education system, and preserving local control. The special session will convene on July 18.
The State Board of Education (SBOE) has been meeting this week in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has been in attendance to report on all the action.
As Mark reported for our blog on Tuesday, the board began its meeting hearing from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and learning about legislative revisions to the state’s “A through F” accountability system and the recent roll-out of new STAAR report cards by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Much of the SBOE’s work this week has been centered around revisions to the curriculum standards for English and Spanish language arts and reading. The board also looked at its process for TEKS revisions, as Mark described on Wednesday. Appointing board members to serve on a new Long-Range Plan Steering Committee was also on the agenda this week. On Thursday, Mark reported that SBOE committees took a closer look at education bills passed by the 85th Texas Legislature this year and considered impacts on the Permanent School Fund. It was also reported this week that the fund surpassed its investment benchmarks and hit the $32 billion mark for the first time.
For a wrap-up of this week’s SBOE action, check out Mark’s latest blog post here.
This week, a group of ATPE leaders and staff traveled to Washington, DC to discuss federal education concerns. ATPE State President Julleen Bottoms and Vice President Carl Garner were joined by Executive Director Gary Godsey and ATPE lobbyists Kate Kuhlmann and Monty Exter. David Pore, ATPE’s Washington-based lobbyist, arranged meetings for the team with several key officials in the nation’s capital.
The team had a jam-packed schedule of more than 20 meetings this week, visiting with both the U.S. House and Senate committees that cover K-12 education issues, staff of the U.S. Department of Education, and a sizable chunk of the Texas congressional delegation. ATPE’s representatives primarily focused the discussions on three issue areas: the repeal and replacement of the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that limits many educators’ access to Social Security benefits; implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA); and troubling signs that the country’s new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is pushing for privatization of the public education system.
One of the first meetings our team conducted this week was with Congressman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), the chair of the powerful U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Brady has been working with ATPE and other stakeholder groups on a bill that will repeal the current WEP and replace it with a much fairer system. During the meeting, he told ATPE Vice Present Carl Garner that he is looking forward to reintroducing his legislation and that when he does so, he expects it to move through Congress quickly.
Overall the visiting ATPE team reported that they received a very positive reception to our message during their many visits with lawmakers and staff. Executive Director Gary Godsey called it the most productive trip to Washington he’s taken since joining the organization. For more highlights of the Washington trip, check out ATPE’s Facebook page.