Tag Archives: Kel Seliger

New School Year, New Laws: Assessment

In last week’s “New School Year, New Laws” blog series penned by the ATPE lobby team, we discussed several bills passed during the recent 86th Legislative session that will impact curriculum and instruction. This week, the ATPE lobby team will address legislative changes adopted this year that pertain to how the state evaluates teaching and learning through assessment.

House Bill (HB) 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin): Civics questions on U.S. History exams

HB 1244 alters the U.S. History end-of-course (EOC) exam by requiring that it include 10 questions randomly selected by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and pulled from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics test. This is the test that is used during the naturalization process. Does this mean there will be new curriculum standards (TEKS) for U.S. History? No, the bill specifies that TEA must ensure that the questions on the new exam will be aligned with the existing TEKS. Additionally, TEA will be required to issue an annual report that provides the questions, answers, and student performance regarding the 10 civics questions. Student performance data included in the report will be disaggregated by district and campus. HB 1244 applies beginning with students who enter the ninth grade during the 2019-20 school year.

HB 3906 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Multifaceted assessments

HB 3906 makes several test-related changes that are effective with the 2019-20 school year. First, with regard to mathematics assessments: the State Board of Education (SBOE) will determine the sections of the grades 3-8 mathematics assessments on which students can use technology aids. TEA can now prohibit the use of technology on certain parts of the Algebra I assessment. Additionally, students can now use a calculator application on a “computing device” (computer) in place of a graphing calculator.

With regard to how TEA designs assessments, the target time it should take a student to complete a distinct “part” of the test was shortened. For grades three and four, the test should be designed so that 85% of students can complete the part within 60 minutes (previously 120 minutes). For grades five through eight, 85% of students should be able to complete the part within 75 minutes (previously 180 minutes). Lastly, assessments and end-of-course exams can now be split into multiple parts administered over more than one day, and the tests may not be administered on the first instructional day of the week (typically Monday).

Also effective immediately, TEA is required to establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program. Districts can opt into the pilot program, which will be used to determine if formative assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments. TEA will also begin creating a transition plan for the eventual electronic administration of assessments, develop electronic interim assessments for districts to use, and create both technical and educator assessment advisory committees to provide recommendations to the commissioner and TEA on assessment development.

Some provisions in HB 3906 will roll out in the coming years. The bill eliminates the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7, which will take effect on Sept. 1, 2021. Under federal law, states are required to teach and assess “reading or language arts.” Texas does assess reading and will continue to do so under HB 3906. Also, by the 2022-23 school year, the amount of multiple choice questions on assessments will be limited to 75% and assessments will be administered electronically pursuant to this bill.

Senate Bill (SB) 213 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo): Continuing the individual graduation committees

Individual graduation committees allow a student to graduate in the event that they have completed all curricular requirements but have not passed their EOCs, even with a re-test opportunity. Students complete remediation and a project or portfolio to demonstrate proficiency in the course. Ultimately, the committee considers a variety of factors before making a decision on whether the student can graduate. The committees first came into existence with the enactment of a 2015 bill also carried by Sen. Seliger, but the law permitting the use of the committees was scheduled to expire. This year’s SB 213 extends the use of individual graduation committees for another four years, until 2023. This bill took effect immediately upon its passage.

HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood): Test-related provisions in the school finance and reform bill

Earlier this year, a New York Times article and other media reports cited multiple studies indicating that State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) tests were written above grade level. Spurred by consternation over such media reports, Chairman Huberty included in his HB 3 language that calls for an “assessment instrument study.” This requires TEA to work with a public institution of higher education to determine if each STAAR test is written at the appropriate grade level. Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is required to submit a report on the findings of this study by Dec. 1 of this year.

The outcomes-based funding mechanism in HB 3 that relies on indicators of college, career, and military readiness will include performance on assessments such as the SAT, ACT, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). HB 3 also includes district reimbursement for the administration of certain college prep assessments. Finally, HB 3 requires districts to create an early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plan, which would include annual, quantifiable goals for student performance in reading and math.

If you’d like to learn even more about how these and other legislative changes may affect you and your classroom, we encourage you to check out ATPE’s brand new publication, “An Educator’s Guide to Changes Enacted by the 86th Texas Legislature.” This digital guide compiled by ATPE’s legal staff aims to help educators become aware of new laws affecting instruction, compensation, student discipline, and much more. Access the comprehensive guide here. Next Monday, visit ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog once again for more highlights from this year’s legislative session when we’ll be featuring new bills that impact special education in Texas.

Changes to student testing are coming in light of legislation passed

The 86th Texas Legislature passed a number of measures that will have an impact on standardized testing of students in our public schools.

First, House Bill (HB) 3, the omnibus school finance and tax reform bill carried by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) contains some sections related to student testing. Most notably, the bill calls for an “assessment instrument study,” which requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to work with a public institution of higher education to determine if each State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test is written at the appropriate grade level. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is required to submit a report on the findings of this study by December 1 of this year.

HB 3 also included changes to testing that will affect districts, such as an outcomes-based funding mechanism that relies on indicators of college, career, and military readiness of each annual graduating class within a district. These indicators include student performance on assessments such as the SAT, ACT, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. HB 3 also includes district reimbursement for college prep assessments and requirements for districts to create an early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plan, which would include annual, quantifiable goals for student performance in reading and math.

Fortunately, the final version of the school finance bill that passed does not include earlier language proposed by the Senate that would have tied a merit pay program for teachers more directly to the performance of their students. In fact, the final bill expressly prohibits the commissioner from requiring districts to use assessments to evaluate teacher performance in local teacher designation systems. ATPE and others urged lawmakers to remove such merit pay language from HB 3, fearing that it would lead to a statewide ranking of teachers based largely on data drawn from student scores on high-stakes tests that were never designed to be used as measures of educator effectiveness.

A major stand-alone testing bill, HB 3906, was also unanimously passed by the legislature and is awaiting a signature by Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill, similarly carried by Rep. Huberty, maintains the concept of a maximum time limit on STAAR tests in grades 3-8, but allows for the tests to be broken into smaller sections that would be administered during the school year rather than on a single day. Backers of the bill hope that multiple smaller tests will give the assessment more of a formative approach rather than forcing students to take a single, summative high-stakes test that has been cited as creating undue stress for students. Opponents, on the other hand, are concerned that breaking up the tests increases the overall number of testing days.

HB 3906 left the Senate with provisions that created a combined reading and writing “language arts” test. However, this concept was stripped from the final version of the bill, which simply eliminates the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. This change will not take effect until September 1, 2021. The bill also prohibits giving STAAR tests to students on the first instructional day of the week, and requires a transition to electronic assessments after TEA conducts a study of how feasible this transition might be.

Under HB 3906, TEA is also required to develop non-multiple choice questions to round out STAAR tests due to the bill’s new 75% limit on multiple choice questions. Additionally, TEA will be required to establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments. TEA is also required under HB 3906 to develop interim assessments for districts to use, presumably as test prep, and to create both a technical and educator assessment advisory committee that would provide recommendations to the commissioner and TEA on assessment development.

The legislature also passed a few smaller bills related to testing this session, such as Senate Bill (SB) 213 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), which extends the use of individual graduation committees for another four years, until 2023. This ATPE-supported bill has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott and takes effect immediately.

Additionally, HB 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and HB 1891 by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) have passed the legislature and await the Governor’s action. HB 1244 changes the U.S. History end-of course exam by requiring it to include 10 randomly selected questions from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics test. TEA is required to ensure that these questions are aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and will provide annual reports with the answers to the questions and student performance. HB 1891 allows students who meet the required score on a high school equivalency exam, such as the General Education Diploma (GED), to be exempt from the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA). The required score will be set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

ATPE will be watching the implementation of these bills as they roll out and begin to affect districts, teachers, and students. Stay tuned!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 19, 2017

A recap of the week’s education-related news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week in the Texas capital we witnessed a tug-of-war between the state’s top legislative leaders as the end of the 85th legislative session looms.

Tomorrow, May 20, is the last day for Senate bills to make it out of House committees, and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has been vocal in complaints about his conservative Senate priorities stalling in the more moderate House. At the same time, the Senate has held back on advancing an important sunset bill that would keep several state agencies in operation and has tacked controversial Senate-preferred amendments onto major House bills. A prime example is House Bill (HB) 21, the school finance bill that turned into a private school voucher measure when it came out of a Senate committee last week. That bill is slated for a Senate floor debate this weekend, and ATPE members are being urged to contact their lawmakers about the need to pass school finance reforms without vouchers.

Dollar banknotes heapThe impasse between the two chambers means that we’ve yet to see any details of a potential compromise on the state budget. That bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, remains pending in a conference committee.

Earlier this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) told reporters that it was imperative for legislators to pass a property tax reform bill and a legislation regulating public bathrooms. Soon thereafter, Speaker of the House Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) sent a letter to Lt. Gov. Patrick Monday evening identifying a different pair of bills that must be passed this session in order to avoid the need for a special session: the budget, which lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass, and a sunset safety net bill that keeps several state agencies from being forced to shut down. As reported by The Texas Tribune, Straus also used the opportunity in his letter to urge the Senate to act on other House priorities, including some education concerns:

“We certainly understand that some bills that are passed in one chamber will not have the support to move forward in the other,” Straus wrote. “Still, as the House continues to pass priority Senate bills, I respectfully ask that the Senate also consider acting soon on issues that are priorities of the House, including public education, school accountability and testing reform, child protection, mental health, cybersecurity and preserving health insurance for retired teachers.”

In response to the Straus letter, Patrick called a press conference on Wednesday and reiterated that the bathroom bill and property tax bill, SB 2, were top priorities that must be addressed. Patrick indicated that the Senate would take no vote on the sunset bill until the House acted on those two priorities. Threatening a special session, which only the governor has power to call, Patrick added that he would ask for many more of the Senate’s conservative priorities, such as school vouchers, to be added to any such special session call. The lieutenant governor declined to answer any reporters’ questions.

Abbott stated after the press conference that there was no reason lawmakers couldn’t address his priorities during the regular session without the need for calling a special session. Straus issued a statement expressing “optimism” that the two chambers would “produce a reasonable and equitable compromise on the budget,” and noted that the property tax bill, SB 2, was on the House calendar and scheduled for debate. (Since then, SB 2 has experienced a number of delays and challenges, including a point of order that could defeat the bill on a technical rules violation.) While holding out hope for avoiding a special session, Straus also criticized the Senate in his written statement for endangering a school finance fix that would also provide property tax relief for homeowners:

“The House made a sincere effort to start fixing our school finance system, but the Senate is trying to derail that effort at the 11th hour,” Straus wrote in reference to HB 21. “The Senate is demanding that we provide far fewer resources for schools than the House approved and that we begin to subsidize private education – a concept that the members of the House overwhelmingly rejected in early April.”

The Senate has until Wednesday to hear most remaining House bills on second reading. It remains to be seen whether enough common ground will be found to avoid a special session. As we head into the last full week of the regular session, stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us on Twitter for the latest developments.


Drugs and MoneyA number of high-profile education bills are on the Senate’s calendar for floor debate. Today’s calendar includes HB 21 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), the school finance bill referenced above to which the Senate has attached an educational savings account voucher provision and reduced funding for school districts. Also on tap for a likely vote today is Rep. Trent Ashby’s (R-Lufkin) bill dealing with TRS-Care, HB 3976. For more on the measure to change retired educators’ healthcare options, check out this comprehensive blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter. Also, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann with the latest on bills acted upon in the Senate this week.


Among the many measures still pending near the end of the legislative session are bills dealing with testing and accountability. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) has authored HB 22, a bill crafted with educator input aimed at improving the state’s A-F accountability rating system for schools. As approved by the House, the bill would condense the rated domains from five to three and eliminate the overall summative grade, deemed one of the most controversial aspects of the A-F system. This week, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 22, and Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) opted to replace the bill’s language with his plan taken from another bill, SB 2051. As substituted, the bill does not provide nearly as much relief, prompting ATPE and other educator groups to voice concerns about it during the Thursday hearing. The committee also heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath about the bill. For more on that hearing, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann, as well as related coverage from The Texas Tribune.

Another high-profile bill being closely watched by the education community is Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) SB 463. That bill would extend the option for individual graduation committees (IGCs) to help college- and career-ready students unable to pass STAAR tests through 2019. Seliger, who authored the original law creating IGCs in 2015, hoped to make the statute permanent, but some groups that oppose the provision have insisted on a shorter time period. The House Public Education Committee advanced the bill this week, as reported by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, but time is running short for the bill to be placed on a calendar for floor debate.

Both the House and Senate education committees will be holding formal meetings today during breaks from the floor action to vote on additional bills.


ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe testifies before the House Public Education Committee, May 18, 2017.

During a House Public Education Committee hearing on Thursday, Round Rock ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe was among several educators to testify against a bill that would water down educator preparation standards. SB 1278 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) would prevent educator preparation programs from being held accountable for their candidates’ performance on certain educator certification exams in subjects deemed shortage areas, and the bill also allows individuals with five days’ experience working as a substitute teacher or teacher’s aide to count that work as required field experience rather than student teaching. The bill is being pushed by some of the state’s largest for-profit alternative certification providers.

Stoebe, a former Texas teacher of the year, testified about the importance of having properly trained teachers in classrooms that serve some of our most vulnerable populations. She urged the legislature not to roll back improvements made in rules by the State Board for Educator Certification this year to impose higher standards for educator preparation programs. ATPE also joined with a number of other educator groups in submitting a written statement in joint opposition to SB 1278.

Click here to watch video of the hearing (and view Stoebe’s testimony beginning at 1:26:11 on the archived video file). Also, view more details on the hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s blog post here.

ThinkstockPhotos-487217874_breakingUPDATE: Just this afternoon, the House Public Education Committee held a formal meeting to take votes on some of the bills heard earlier this week. The committee voted against sending SB 1278 to the full House. Those voting against the bill were the committee’s vice-chairman, Rep. Diego Bernal, (D-San Antonio), plus Reps. Joe Deshotel (D-Beaumont), Ken King (R-Canadian), Linda Koop (R-Dallas), and Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas). Chairman Huberty voted for SB 1278, along with Reps. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Lance Gooden (R-Terrell), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston). The committee also voted down a trio of charter school bills: SB 1061, SB 1838, and SB 1883, plus SB 1886 that would have created an Inspector General’s office within the Texas Education Agency. Bills advanced by the committee today were Senate Bills 801, 825, 1177, 1553 (committee substitute), 1659, 2084, and 2141.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 14, 2017

The ATPE state office is closed today in observance of Good Friday. We’ll be back Monday with full coverage of the 85th Legislature and other advocacy news. Here are highlights from this week:


Retirement planning written on a notepad.

On Thursday, April 13, the Texas House Select Committee on State and Federal Power and Responsibility heard testimony about Social Security offsets in federal law that negatively affect many educators. The hearing was on HCR 101 by Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Corpus Christi) urging Congress to repeal the Government Pension Offset (GPO) and the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. Learn more about the offsets in current law and how they affect educators here. Although the Texas Legislature does not have the authority to change federal laws, such as those governing Social Security, the measure would be a statement of support from Texas lawmakers for changing the GPO and WEP, which both have the effect of reducing many educators’ benefits. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was among the witnesses who testified for the bill, which was left pending.


Last legislative session, ATPE supported a bill by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) to create alternative pathways for eligible students to graduate without necessarily having passed all required STAAR tests. The law allowing for individual graduation committees to evaluate students’ post-secondary readiness is set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year unless extended. A number of bills have been filed this session to remove the expiration date on the law, including Sen. Seliger’s Senate Bill (SB) 463, which the Senate Education Committee heard this week. Learn more about the legislation, which ATPE supports, in this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.


Both the House Public Education Committee and Senate Education Committee held meetings this week to discuss numerous education-related bills. Hot topics included educator preparation and certification requirements, reporting teacher misconduct, virtual schools, and special education services. For a complete wrap-up of this week’s hearings, check out these blog posts by ATPE’s lobbyists:


Girl showing bank notesNext week in the Texas Legislature, the House of Representatives has scheduled a floor debate for Wednesday, April 19, on House Bill (HB) 21. That’s the high-profile school finance reform bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) that we’ve written about here on our blog. The Senate Education Committee is also hearing a number of bills dealing with school finance during its next hearing on Tuesday, April 18.

Over in the House Public Education Committee, next Tuesday’s meeting will cover proposed legislation on broad topics ranging from curriculum standards to UIL. The House committee will also consider HB 306 by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio), a companion bill to SB 179 that would create “David’s Law” aimed at curbing cyberbullying and harassment that leads to suicide. ATPE offered support for the Senate version of the bill during a Senate State Affairs Committee hearing last week.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) is also meeting next week. Its four-day meeting begins Tuesday and will feature testimony and discussions of proposed changes to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for science and English language arts and reading. View the complete SBOE agenda here and stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog and @TeachtheVote on Twitter next week for updates.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 13, 2017

The 85th legislative session began this week. Here are highlights from the week:

Tuesday marked the opening of the 85th legislative session. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided a report on the first day’s activities, including the unanimous election of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) to a record-tying fifth term as Speaker of the House. Over on the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) will preside once again and is actively pursuing a number of controversial priorities he wants lawmakers to enact this session. Patrick’s 2017 wish list includes private school vouchers, naturally, and politically motivated bills to ban educators from using payroll deduction for their association dues.

Failing grade wrinkledOne thing that won’t be on the Senate’s agenda, according to Patrick, is repealing the “A through F” rating system that sparked outrage when school districts got a recent preview of how they might be graded when the system takes effect next year. In a pair of public speeches on Wednesday, the lieutenant governor insisted that A-F is “not going away” and seemed almost giddy about Ds and Fs being slapped on the same school districts that have “met standards” in the current accountability system. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins has more about the reactions to A-F in today’s blog post.

The news from the state capitol wasn’t all negative this week. On Thursday, Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) held a press conference to announce a bill, Senate Bill (SB) 463, to permanently extend the now temporary law on graduation committees. The committees create graduation pathways for students who cannot pass all STAAR tests but are otherwise qualified to move on post-secondary life. Seliger authored the original bill creating the committees in 2015, which ATPE strongly supported.

We encourage ATPE members who are interested in these issues to use our new grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to learn more about what’s at stake, follow related bills as the session continues, and send messages to their lawmakers.

Related: Check out ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey’s Jan. 12, 2017 editorial in the Austin American-Statesman about vouchers and why running public education like a business is a bad idea.


As one of the Texas’s largest areas of expenditure, the public education budget is frequently a target for possible budget cuts, and this session will be no exception, unfortunately.

On the eve of the 85th legislature’s first day in Austin, State Comptroller Glenn Hegar released the state’s biennial revenue estimate (BRE) Monday. The BRE reflects a forecast of future revenues and economic trends for the next two years, and it provides the budgeting framework within which lawmakers have to operate this legislative session. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins wrote for our blog on Monday, the $104.9 billion available for general revenue spending is less than we need and will force lawmakers to prioritize. The hard decisions on those priorities are a stark reminder that elections have consequences.

cutting budget with scissor on wooden backgroundEarlier this week, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was a featured speaker at a conference hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that has long supported education reforms like privatization, merit pay for teachers, deregulation, and limiting spending. In addition to boasting of the success of “A through F” accountability ratings as a means to a voucher end, Patrick pointed to healthcare and education as areas of the state budget that would be ripe for cuts. If talk of education budget cuts by the state’s second highest ranking elected official don’t alarm you already during this first week of the session, consider also that Patrick’s remark sparked a roomful of applause at the TPPF gathering.

As Mark stated in his blog post, “Get ready to tighten your belts.”


The United States Capitol building

The 115th Congress continued its second week of business this week, one that was originally slated to include the confirmation hearing for President-Elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee was scheduled to conduct the confirmation hearing for billionaire and alt-school-choice supporter Betsy DeVos on Wednesday, but announced late Monday that the hearing had been postponed for a week “at the request of the Senate leadership to accommodate the Senate schedule.” Calls for the postponement of confirmation hearings had surfaced after news broke that the Office of Government Ethics had not completed its ethics reviews for many of Trump’s cabinet picks, including DeVos. The hearing on her nomination to become U.S. Secretary of Education is now scheduled for Tuesday, January 17 at 4 PM CST.

Read more about the start of the 115th Congress and the DeVos hearing in ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post from earlier this week. Kate’s post has been updated to include information on a letter that ATPE sent this week to the two newest members of the Texas Congressional Delegation. The letters welcome Congressmen Jodey Arrington (R) of Lubbock and Vicente Gonzalez (D) of McAllen to Congress and highlight ATPE’s top federal policy goals, namely the passage of Chairman Kevin Brady’s (R-TX) bill to repeal the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) for Social Security.

While the Department of Education (ED) awaits the appointment of a new boss, it is looking for qualified individuals to serve as peer reviewers of states’ Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plans. The peer review process is required by law and serves to provide recommendations that will inform ED as it reviews states’ plans. ED is looking for teachers, principals or other school leaders, and specialized instructional support personnel, among other qualified educators to serve. Learn more about the peer review process, ED’s call for qualified reviewers, and how to apply here.


Monty testifying at a TEA hearingAs we have reported recently on Teach the Vote, Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is proposing significant changes to the performance standards for STAAR tests. A public hearing was held today to give stakeholders another chance to weigh in on plans to accelerate a jump in the cut scores. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified at today’s hearing with concerns about the proposal. He’ll have a blog post coming up soon with more on the proposed rules and why they are drawing negative reactions from parents, teachers, and school district officials.


17_web_Spotlight_ATC_RegistrationOpenATPE members still have a few weeks left to register for ATPE at the Capitol, our political involvement training and lobby day event set for March 5-6, 2017, in Austin, Texas. There is no registration fee to attend, and incentive funds are available to help defray travel costs. The deadline to register and reserve hotel rooms at our special group rate is Feb. 3. Visit Advocacy Central on the ATPE website (member login is required) to view all the details, including news about our speakers and panelists.



And so begins the tenure of the 85th Texas Legislature…

ThinkstockPhotos-99674144Today marked the first official day of the 85th legislative session. At noon today, 181 legislators were sworn in before their families and other invited guests in their respective chambers. In the upper chamber, Senator Kel Seliger (R) of Amarillo was elected President pro tempore, while across the rotunda, Representative Joe Straus (R) of San Antonio was re-elected to his fifth consecutive term as Speaker of the House.

In a dramatic show of strength, Speaker Straus was elected by a vote of 150 to 0. He is now tied with Gib Lewis and Pete Laney as the longest serving Speaker in Texas history. In his comments today, Speaker Straus called on his fellow House members to be thoughtful with tax dollars but also smart with regulation, doing their part to ensure that the legislature creates a government that works. In his remarks on crafting education policy this session, the Speaker called on legislators to partner with teachers and not treat them as adversaries.

For the sake of educators and schoolchildren alike, we hope the sentiment of cooperation with the state’s teachers prevails over the remaining 139 days of the 85th legislative session. Either way, your ATPE lobby team will be here every step of the way to report back on what the legislature is doing with regard to public education and to represent you with passion and professionalism at your Texas capitol. We encourage you to join us in our efforts by talking to your own lawmakers about ATPE’s legislative priorities. ATPE members can use our convenient grassroots tools on Advocacy Central to track the progress of bills, send messages to lawmakers, and even receive mobile updates. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and ATPE.org for more as the legislative session continues.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was at the Capitol to welcome legislators back for the start of the 85th legislative session.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter was at the Capitol to welcome legislators back for the start of the 85th legislative session.

Rep. Dan Huberty shows off a celebratory cookie he received during a visit from Humble ATPE’s Gayle Sampley on opening day of the 85th legislature.

Abbott vetoes bill aimed at shrinking curriculum standards

This weekend marked the deadline for Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to sign or veto bills passed by the 84th Legislature. By Sunday, Abbott had vetoed a total of 42 bills. One fairly high-profile education bill was among the group: Senate Bill (SB) 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) was an ATPE-supported bill that called for the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and narrow the content and scope of the foundation curriculum standards that form the basis of STAAR tests.

The curriculum standards, officially known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), have always been a source of controversy. Partly because of political battles among SBOE factions aiming to inject the standards with content deemed to be either liberal-leaning or conservative-leaning, the TEKS have swelled to a point that many educators consider them to be unwieldy. ATPE and others who supported SB 313 hoped that an SBOE review aimed at narrowing the TEKS would provide some relief, but Abbott vetoed the bill on Friday, June 19.

In his official veto message on SB 313, Abbott wrote, “While Senate Bill 313 is intended to provide additional flexibility to school districts when purchasing classroom instructional materials, the bill potentially restricts the ability of the State Board of Education to address the needs of Texas classrooms. Portions of Senate Bill 313 may have merit, but serious concerns were raised about other parts of the bill. I look forward to working with the Legislature and other stakeholders to ensure this issue is vigorously evaluated before next Session.”

The “serious concerns” cited by Abbott were apparently those voiced by a small group of conservatives worried that the bill would open the door for introduction of Common Core to Texas. A number of Tea Party operatives had criticized the bill on that basis, despite the existence of another state law passed in 2013 that already prohibits the adoption of any national curriculum standards in Texas. (In fact, while serving as Attorney General, Abbott issued an opinion emphasizing that school districts in Texas are not authorized to use Common Core under state law. Nothing in SB 313 would have negated that law.) Even the bill’s author told reporters recently that SB 313 had nothing to do with Common Core, and Sen. Seliger reiterated his own opposition to Common Core. Notwithstanding the substance of the actual bill and strong state laws that already keep Common Core out of our state, the perceived link between SB 313 and Common Core became the curriculum bill’s fatal flaw.

Late in the legislative session, some conservative members of the SBOE and leaders of Tea Party groups were already lobbying lawmakers to reject the bill, but SB 313 ultimately passed with only a handful of no votes, as we reported on our blog back on June 1. With passage of the measure, social conservatives opposed to SB 313 shifted their efforts instead toward lobbying Abbott to veto the bill. The leadership of the Texas Republican Party recently adopted a resolution urging Abbott to veto SB 313, complaining that the bill “puts recent conservative curriculum victories in jeopardy, including emphasis on patriotism as required by state law, discussion of the Founding Fathers and documents, American Exceptionalism, America’s rich religious heritage, character education, achievements of Ronald Reagan.” The resolution also claimed that the current TEKS “require students to know specific facts and reflect conservative values of Texas, but forcing the SBOE to remove content and make it more general reflects the philosophy underlying the Common Core standards.”

We’re disappointed in this instance that Gov. Abbott paid more deference to the politically-motivated, fact-challenged paranoia of a few individuals with extreme viewpoints than to the vast numbers of SB 313 supporters who wanted to see something done about the voluminous TEKS our teachers are forced to cover every year despite the limitations of time and testing. The only consolation is that we still have House Bill 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which the governor did sign into law, and that bill will require the Texas Education Agency to conduct a comprehensive study of the TEKS. We hope that the study will produce the kind of “vigorous evaluation” of the issue that Abbott wants to see and allow the legislature and SBOE to make some positive, lasting changes in 2017.

Legislative Update: Improved graduation committee bill closer to final passage, more voucher news, advisors blast pre-K

A popular bill to help high school upperclassmen who’ve been unable to pass a STAAR test required for graduation is one step closer to becoming law after undergoing a few upgrades today on the House floor. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) calls for the creation of individual graduation committees to help decide if certain students may be allowed to graduate despite failing a mandatory state standardized test. ATPE supports the bill.

On second reading today, the full House voted by a voice vote to give preliminary approval to SB 149 after adding four floor amendments. The first two amendments came from Rep. Dan Huberty (R), who is sponsoring the bill on the Senate side. His first amendment, reportedly added at the request of the Texas Counseling Association, removes the requirement that a school counselor serve on the graduation committee and replaces that person with “the department chair or lead teacher supervising the teacher” serving on the committee. Huberty’s second amendment contained simple clean-up language referring to graduation requirements.

A third floor amendment by Rep. Armando Walle (D) expanded SB 149 to cover students who fail not just one mandatory STAAR test, but two STAAR tests required for graduation. Walle’s amendment was approved by a record vote of 131-0.

Finally, Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) offered a floor amendment that was requested by ATPE based upon a suggestion from an ATPE member. The amendment, which was accepted by the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Huberty, requires the commissioner of education to adopt rules permitting the bill to apply to a former high school student who completed all coursework for graduation but failed an end-of-course exam in one course that was required for graduation. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter explained to the committee two weeks ago, the amendment would help students who just missed graduating in recent years because of standardized tests they were unable to pass.

SB 149 must be approved one more time on the House floor before heading back to the Senate to decide if senators will accept the changes made to the bill by the House. The measure has been fast-tracked in an attempt to make it applicable this school year.

The full Senate gave final approval to a divisive private school voucher bill today. By a vote of 18-12, the Senate passed SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor on third reading. The bill will head now to the House, where it is expected to encounter significantly more opposition than in the Senate. Read more about the bill and the Senate floor votes on SB 4 here and find downloadable talking points against SB 4 that you can share with your representatives here.

Shortly after today’s vote, Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) took to Facebook to offer additional details on why he chose to vote against SB 4. Citing statistics from Louisiana, Rodriguez said, “There is no clear evidence showing that voucher students perform better than do public school students. In fact, evidence suggests precisely the opposite.” Rodriguez further stated, “Voucher schools are not held to the same standards as public schools, and without state accountability standards fly-by-night private schools could start popping up simply to get access to public dollars. Without clear accountability that tracks public school standards, parents might not know the school isn’t meeting their expectations. My amendment would have allowed vouchers with more transparency, but unfortunately it was not accepted, and for that reason I voted against SB 4.”

ATPE appreciates all those senators who voted against SB 4 and encourages members to thank them for their efforts to keep the voucher bill from moving forward.

An advisory board appointed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) at the start of the legislative session is making waves with a written statement blasting two high-profile pre-kindergarten bills that are moving through the legislative process. In their letter to the Texas Senate delegation today, 18 signatories from “Lt. Governor’s Grassroots Advisory Board,” are asking senators to oppose HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) and its companion bill, SB 801 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D).

HB 4, a bill that ATPE supported, was finally passed by the House earlier this month by a vote of 128-17. The bill has been one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s top priorities for the 84th Legislature. Patrick’s close advisors are now calling the bill “a threat to parental rights,” despite its overwhelming support in the House and Governor’s office. The letter from the advisory board, made up of local Tea Party leaders, further states, “In other words, we are experimenting at great cost to taxpayers with a program that removes our young children from homes and half-day religious preschools and mothers’ day out programs to a Godless environment with only evidence showing absolutely NO LONG-TERM BENEFITS beyond the 1st grade.”

Yesterday, the House Public Education Committee held an impromptu desk meeting to vote out several pending bills that had already been heard during prior meetings. They included the following:

  • HB 338 (committee substitute) by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) relating to the evaluation of an internal auditor employed by a school district.
  • HB 1170 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to the applicability to open-enrollment charter schools of certain laws regarding local governments and political subdivisions.
  • HB 1171 also by Rep. Farney relating to the applicability of certain immunity and liability laws to open-enrollment charter schools.
  • HB 1474 (committee substitute) by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to the placement of money in the state instructional materials fund for public schools to use to purchase instructional materials.
  • HB 1486 (committee substitute) by Rep. Rick Galindo (R) relating to a prohibition on vendor contact with a member of the board of trustees of an independent school district during the procurement process.
  • HB 1706 by Rep. VanDeaver relating to reducing paperwork and duplicate reports required of a school district.
  • HB 2293 (committee substitute) by Rep. Drew Darby (R) relating to the certification by the comptroller to the commissioner of education of the taxable value of property in each school district.
  • HB 2812 by Rep. Drew Springer (R) relating to the limit on junior college courses that a high school student may enroll in for dual credit.
  • HB 2847 (committee substitute) by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to policies and training regarding the use of epinephrine auto-injectors by school districts and open-enrollment charter schools; providing immunity.
  • HB 3106 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) relating to the period of time allowed for appointment of a board of managers for a school district.
  • HB 3562 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D) relating to the adoption of a policy allowing a grace period after the exhaustion of the balance of a meal card or account used by students to purchase meals in public schools.

This morning, the House Public Education Committee began its regularly scheduled meeting with more than two dozen bills on the agenda for public hearing. The deadline for House committees to report out bills is May 11, less than three weeks away, meaning that this is a critical time for legislators to get their bills heard. Before beginning today’s public testimony, the House Public Education Committee voted 7-0 to approve a committee substitute version of Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock’s (R) school finance bill, HB 1759.

Aycock announced that the committee would vote out no other pending bills today, meaning that Rep. Farney’s controversial HB 2543 to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule is among the bills still pending and not yet on its way to the House floor. Also being held pending by the committee for now are these bills recalled from the committee’s Educator Quality Subcommittee, where they were heard last week:

  • HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • HB 2014 by Rep. Kenneth Sheets (R) relating to the authority of military personnel to obtain certification to teach career and technology education classes in public schools.
  • HB 2205 by Rep. Crownover relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • HB 2566 by Rep. VanDeaver relating to educator preparation programs.
  • HB 3494 by Rep. Huberty relating to educator preparation programs and teacher certification examinations.

The Senate Education Committee is also meeting today, with a much shorter agenda. It includes UIL sunset legislation (SB 213) filed by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R), a bill by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) to assess the quality of school districts’ programs for English Language Learners (SB 1868), and another controversial voucher bill (SB 1513) by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) that ATPE opposes. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

Updated information on bills to eliminate salary schedule for teachers

Several ATPE members have inquired about the status of bills attempting to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. The bills are Senate Bill 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and House Bill 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown). ATPE is opposed to both bills.

SB 893 by Sen. Seliger relates to public school teacher performance appraisals, continuing education, professional development, career advancement, and compensation. The bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19. During that hearing, ATPE testified against the bill. Read more about that hearing here. The Senate Education Committee favorably voted out a substitute version of the bill on March 24. The committee substitute changed language in the bill pertaining to student and teacher performance and attempted to ensure that state standardized tests would not be the only measure of student performance used in a state or district developed teacher appraisal system. However, ATPE believes that the bill still overemphasizes the role of “objective” student performance measures. The full Senate amended and then passed SB 893 on April 7. The vote was 27-4, with Democratic Sens. Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio, Jose Menendez, and Royce West opposing the bill. The Senate rejected a floor amendment by Sen. Menendez that attempted to restore the minimum salary schedule for teachers in the bill. SB 893 has been sent to the House for consideration.

HB 2543 by Rep. Farney is the House companion bill also relating to public school teacher performance appraisals, continuing education, professional development, career advancement, and compensation. HB 2543 was identical to SB 893 at the time of filing. The House Public Education Committee heard HB 2543 on Tuesday, April 7, and ATPE testified against it. The bill was left pending while the author considers possible amendments to the bill.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates about both of these bills as developments occur. In the meantime, we encourage ATPE members to keep contacting their state representatives and urging them to oppose these bills as they move through the Texas House. Click here for additional information about SB 893 and HB 2543 to share with your legislators.

Legislative Update: “A-F” bill on the Senate floor, ATPE testifies against vouchers, House prepares to debate budget

A couple of troubling bills are being heard or are likely to be heard soon on the Senate floor. ATPE members are encouraged to contact their senators and ask them to vote against these bills:

Senate Bill (SB) 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, is a bill calling for “A” through “F” grades to be assigned to entire school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Floor debate is happening today on this bill, which is part of a larger reform package supported by the Senate leadership, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE and many other education stakeholders testified against the bill at its March 12 committee hearing. ATPE opposes assigning letter grades to schools and labeling them as failures, because such labels harm the students who attend those schools. Absent more meaningful reforms, merely changing a label will not give parents a more complete picture of a school’s condition; instead, it provides a narrow snapshot based primarily on state standardized tests, which parents and education experts alike increasingly question as appropriate measures of school or educator effectiveness. UPDATE: The Senate has voted 20-10 to pass the bill onto third reading. Chairman Taylor added a floor amendment to delay implementation of the “A” through “F” campus grades until 2017-18. The Senate also approved a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) that calls for the commissioner of education to develop performance indicators tied to the letter grades for both campuses and districts.

SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) proposes doing away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers and changes state statutes relating to teacher evaluation, professional development, and employment. ATPE and many other educator groups opposed the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee. The committee approved a substitute version of the bill, which remains problematic insofar as it still eliminates teachers from the state minimum salary schedule, it focuses too heavily on objective measures of performance in teacher evaluations rather than observable job-related behaviors, and it diminishes local control over employment decisions by requiring districts to adhere to a rigid state framework that is not well-defined.

The Senate Education Committee heard various pieces of voucher legislation on Thursday, May 26. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter provided this report on the meeting.

Committee members heard testimony on SB 4 by Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R), SB 276 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), and SB 642 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R). The public education community generally opposed the bills on the grounds that they divert funding and send it to unproven, potentially for-profit entities with little to no accountability for how those public dollars are spent. In addition to those general arguments, ATPE brought forward comments and responses in our testimony, including but not limited to the following:

  • The fiscal note on the legislation, an estimate of savings or cost to the state, are probably erroneous due to underestimation of the number of kindergarten and first-grade students or their siblings who would take voucher dollars despite never having been or planning to be enrolled in a public school. These students represent a cost to the state and would likely outweigh the savings reported in the current fiscal note.
  • In response to concerns, based on questionable data analysis, that classroom teachers only represent 22 percent of campus spending, ATPE recommended that an across-the-board teacher pay raise would be a more definitive method of increasing the percentage of dollars spent in that area than would a speculative voucher scheme.
  • In response to concerns that public school teachers felt stifled, ATPE recommended that addressing the state’s student testing regime and its attendant consequences would do far more to bring back freedom and creativity in the classroom than vouchers possibly could.
  • In response to the committee’s stated desire to help minority, low socio-economic, at-risk, ELL and special education students, ATPE suggested that meaningfully adjusting the weights and allotments in the school finance formulas would be much more impactful than the illusory promise of vouchers allowing a small minority of students to “escape failing campuses.”
  • In response to concerns expressed by the committee about Common Core curriculum standards, ATPE pointed out that instructional materials based on Common Core were some of the least expensive and most readily available materials on the market nationwide, and that there was nothing in the proposed legislation to prevent private schools accepting public dollars in the form of a voucher from using Common Core materials.

ATPE also pointed out that research on existing voucher programs has shown no benefits to the students using them or any competition-driven benefit to the education system as a whole; that private schools on average, particularly those outside the top tier who would be far more likely to take a voucher, do not perform any better than public schools; and that under Texas law, home schools are private schools.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met Friday, March 27. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann attended and testified at the meeting. Watch for a full report on the meeting tomorrow here on our TeachtheVote.org blog.

The Texas House is gearing up for a budget debate tomorrow, March 31. Hundreds of pages of floor amendments have been pre-filed for House Bill (HB) 1, the lower chamber’s budget proposal. They include amendments to prohibit spending state money on private school vouchers, to fund studies relating to charter schools and alternative assessments, and to provide additional funding for public education if state tax revenue exceeds the comptroller’s forecasts. Stay tuned for updates on tomorrow’s floor debate, which is expected to be lengthy.

The Senate Education Committee is expected to meet at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, April 1, to hear several bills relating to training for teachers. The following bills are scheduled to be heard:

  • SB 168 by Sen. Carlos Uresti (D) relating to temporary waiver of superintendent certification for employment of public school district superintendents.
  • SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R) relating to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide reading instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three.
  • SB 934 by Kolkhorst relating to providing training academies for public school teachers who provide mathematics instruction to students in kindergarten through grade three.
  • SB 935 by Kolkhorst relating to the establishment of reading excellence teams.
  • SB 945 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) relating to funding under the public school finance system for a school district with a compressed tax rate below the state maximum compressed tax rate.
  • SB 972 by Kolkhorst relating to training academies for public school teachers who provide reading comprehension instruction to students in grades four and five.