Tag Archives: legislature

Your chance to talk to the school finance commission!

If you’re a regular Teach the Vote reader (as you should be!), you’ve probably been following our updates from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Now’s your chance to participate!

The commission was created as part of HB 21, which passed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill was a consolation prize to public education supporters disappointed with the Texas Senate’s decision to kill a school finance reform bill containing $1.5 billion in additional public school funding for the 2018-2019 budget biennium.

The commission’s titular purpose is to discuss and make recommendations for how to improve the state’s “lawful but awful” school finance system. The first few meetings have focused on broad issues such as demographics, funding, educator retention, and charter schools. While some of the invited witnesses – including ATPE executive director Gary Godsey – have provided important perspectives, the commission has also served as a forum for outside actors with a financial interest in promoting vouchers and other schemes that would weaken the public school system.

Members of the public will now get the chance to address the 13-member commission at the upcoming March 19 meeting. This will likely be the only time educators, parents, students, and other community members will be allowed to speak their minds in front of this group.

The commission will present its recommendations to the governor and legislature at the end of the year. These recommendations may include everything from how much to pay teachers to how many students can be assigned to a single classroom, or whether taxpayer dollars should be transferred from the public school system to subsidize private school tuition. Details of the meeting are as follows:

Texas Commission on Public School Finance

Monday, March 19, 2018 – 9:00 a.m.

William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104

1701 N. Congress Avenue, Austin TX

The commission will hear from invited witnesses before opening testimony to members of the public. Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. A sign-up sheet will be posted on the commission’s webpage two days prior to the meeting. Sign-up sheets will also be available at the meeting. Those who are unable to attend the meeting can e-mail their comments to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will provide a livestream of the meeting that can be viewed here on Monday.

This meeting is expected to last well into the evening, but it is important that educators provide input. Consider that the state currently contributes just 38 percent of the cost for educating our students, down from a roughly 50-50 split a decade ago. As state lawmakers have gradually decreased the share the state chips in, school districts have been forced to increasingly rely on local property taxes to make up the difference. At the same time, some lawmakers are openly discussing ways to remove even more money from the system through vouchers and other forms of privatization. Here are some questions to think about when crafting your message if you plan to testify before the commission:

  1. What resources do you need to meet your students’ needs?
  2. What sorts of programs, benefits, or incentives would help attract and retain quality teachers?
  3. How would you explain the importance of making sure education dollars are spent on our public schools and not funneled out to private entities or used for other non-education purposes?
  4. Are you also a homeowner who pays property taxes? Increasing the state’s share of education funding to at least 50 percent would place less burden on school districts to raise local property taxes in order to keep their schools operating. How might this change help you as a taxpayer while also meeting the needs of our public schools?

There are plenty of resources available if you’d like to do your own research. You can search numerous articles here at Teach the Vote covering the entire universe of public education issues. You can also check out good primers such as this one by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. ATPE members who are considering testifying are also invited to contact our lobby team for any additional guidance.

We hope you take the time to stop by the meeting to testify or e-mail comments if you’re unable to make it. Let’s make sure our teacher voice is heard loud and clear!


House panel report includes education recommendations

On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness released its formal report containing recommendations for ensuring Texas remains the nation’s most desirable destination for relocating or opening up new businesses.

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) formed the committee in October 2017 in response to concerns that the 85th Texas Legislature pursued a number of legislative proposals that resulted in Texas dropping precipitously in the rankings of America’s Top States for Business.

“Texas has long enjoyed a booming economy and staggering job growth. Our economic strength has been predicated on a number of factors: high oil prices, geography, the tax and regulatory environment within the state, and the can-do attitude of millions of Texans,” Straus explained when he announced the committee. “However, there are forces, if left unchecked, that could derail the success our state has enjoyed.”

The committee conducted several hearings and weighed testimony from 42 prominent and influential witnesses from the business, law enforcement and local communities. The committee documented several findings related to education. Most notably, the report underscored the important role public schools play in ensuring the educated workforce necessary to sustain businesses operating in today’s economy. The following passage is taken directly from the committee’s report:

Public education teaches students basic skills before entering the workforce and fosters innovation. Policymakers must deal with school finance, examining not just the amount of money allocated for education, but how we distribute it — and how we can better incentivize public educators and institutions. The governor’s recently proposed 2.5 percent cap on property tax revenue will be detrimental to school funding since school districts receive 40 to 60 percent of property taxes across the state. The Texas House passed a 6 percent cap during the 85th Legislature, but the measure was killed by the Senate; this new proposal will severely reduce school resources unless more funding is appropriated by the legislature.

House Bill 21 of the 85th Legislature would have increased the state’s share of school funding and reduced the need for higher property taxes — easing the burden on homeowners — but the legislation died after being altered by the Senate. After all, how can the challenges facing the future competitiveness of the state’s workforce be addressed if Texas turns its back on its public school system, or does not address its method for allocating resources to public schools?

The importance of local control for school districts was stressed with the explanation that local control granted from the state is important for hiring staff and providing a safe campus for students. Educators want their graduates to meet the specific needs of where their district is located, which makes local control imperative for creating curriculum and making decisions about how to meet those needs. Testimony also demonstrated the need for presenting high school students with information about technical programs, rather than only promoting four-year universities. Public schools must address the needs of students with disabilities, but programs to help them transition to the workplace and speech, occupational and physical therapies are consistently underfunded.

Based upon these observations, the committee included a number of proposals specifically related to public education. From the report:

Recommendation: The legislature must prioritize funding for public education that is regularly adjusted to account for growth in population and inflation. Policymakers should closely examine the effectiveness of public education expenditures to ensure that dollars are used to maximize student success, and ensure the state’s academic accountability system increases the performance of schools and students.

  • In response to declines in state tax revenue, the 82nd Legislature reduced entitlement funding for public education by $5.4 billion. While subsequent legislatures have increased funding for public education, the majority of funds have been used only to cover costs created by the growth in the number of students.
  • Adjusted for increases in population and inflation, state spending on public education has decreased by nearly 16 percent since 2008. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of students who are classified as “economically disadvantaged” and are therefore more expensive to educate.
  • As the majority of new funding provided by the legislature simply addresses population growth, there have been few opportunities to invest in programs that have proven to increase academic achievement — such as technical career education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM courses, dual-credit offerings, and bilingual education.
  • As the state’s share of public education funding has declined, the burden on local property taxes and recapture payments has grown, eliminating any opportunity for local property tax rates to be reduced. About 54 percent of all property taxes paid in Texas are collected by school districts. Therefore, the fastest and most effective way to reduce the property-tax burden is for the state to pay more of the cost of public education.
  • Many of the school finance formula weights and allotments — such as the Cost of Education Index or Transportation Allotment — have not been updated or adjusted for the effects of population and inflation in more than two decades. Increases in state funding should be tied to regular adjustment of these weights, combined with the elimination of funding elements that are inefficient or no longer represent the diverse needs of Texas’ public education system.
  • The legislature must increase funding for special education programs and Early Childhood Intervention programs so that children with disabilities can successfully enter pre-kindergarten programs, while also providing more reliable funding for programs that help students with disabilities transition to the workplace.

Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) submitted the report Tuesday. It will be presented to the 86th Texas Legislature, which is scheduled to meet in January 2019. You read the full report here, courtesy of the Texas Tribune.

School finance commission focuses on charters

The Texas Commission on School Finance met for the fourth time Wednesday in Austin. After a late start due to members trickling in the day after the state’s heated primary elections, the commission quickly launched into a debate about just how much of its activities will be open to members of the public.

Texas Commission on School Finance meeting March 7, 2018.

Chairman Justice Scott Brister began by informing members of the commission that commission subcommittees will be free to hold meetings without posting notice to the public. Brister gave members specific guidance in order to avoid having to comply with state open meetings laws, and led a vote expanding the number of members who can attend committee meetings out of the public eye.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, argued for greater transparency, suggesting members of the public have an interest in what the commission is doing behind closed doors. State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) joined in highlighting the importance of transparency. Arguing for more secrecy, state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) noted members of the Texas Senate regularly hold secret meetings.

The committee also discussed logistics for the next meeting, March 19, when members of the public will be able to testify. Before public testimony, the commission plans to invite various stakeholders and interest groups to testify for up to five minutes. Brister stated the list of potential invited witnesses compiled by members and Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff numbered roughly fifty, and asked for help whittling down that number. He warned the March 19 meeting will be long, and members should expect to work well into the evening hours. Sen. Bettencourt asked to reduce the amount of time allotted to public witnesses to avoid a lengthy meeting, and Brister expressed interest in doing so based upon the number of witnesses who sign up.

The topic of Wednesday’s meeting was “efficiency,” with panels dedicated to efficiencies at the classroom, campus and district levels. The first panel featured witnesses from Cisco and Pasadena ISDs to discuss blended learning programs, which combine classroom time with self-paced digital learning incorporating technology such as computers and tablets. Todd Williams, an advisor to Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, asked whether blended learning would enable a single teacher to teach more students. Pasadena ISD Deputy Superintendent Karen Hickman indicated that may be possible, but had not been her district’s experience.

The next panel featured witnesses from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD, along with Dallas County Community College and the Dallas County Promise program. College partnership programs allow students to earn industry credentials or college credits by taking courses through local higher education institutions. While praising the work of PSJA ISD, Williams suggested college completion rates in these programs are not always where many would like to see them. DCCC Chancellor Joe May testified that the Dallas program is an efficient way to get students to a four-year degree at a quarter of the typical cost.

The final panel on district-level efficiencies was led off by San Antonio ISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez, who highlighted new innovative campuses and advanced teacher training. Martinez made a compelling argument against basing too much accountability on end-of-course exams, pointing out that SAT scores have a far greater impact on the future trajectory of individual students. Martinez also laid out a nuanced way of tracking income demographics for the purposes of equalization within the district. More controversially, Martinez discussed bringing in charter operators from New York to take over a local elementary campus. These types of arrangements receive financial incentives from the state as a result of SB 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature despite warnings raised by ATPE over the potential negative impacts on students and teachers. In consideration of these criticisms, Martinez suggested adding Dallas ISD’s ACE model or similar teacher retention programs as a third option under SB 1882. Martinez further acknowledged that charters are not interested in taking on the task of educating the most economically disadvantaged students.

The commission also heard from Paul Hill, a Washington-based policy consultant whose work has been affiliated with handing campuses over the charters and supporters of broader education privatization, including vouchers. Midland ISD Superintendent Orlando Riddick spoke of districts of innovation (DOI), and confirmed that districts are eager to waive requirements for maximum class sizes and teacher certification. ATPE has repeatedly warned of DOI being used to hire cheaper, uncertified teachers and assign larger classrooms.

The meeting ended with testimony from IDEA Public Schools charter founder Tom Torkelson. While acknowledging that well-trained teachers should earn more money, Torkelson also suggested that class size limits designed to protect students should be waived in order to place more students in a single classroom. Torkelson also suggested eliminating regional education service centers (ESCs), which were designed to increase efficiency by consolidating various support tasks in order to service multiple districts. Torkelson gave no indication what should replace the ESCs in his estimation.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, concluded Wednesday’s hearing by directing members to the task at hand: Finding a way to pay for public education for all Texas students. Anything short of that, he reminded members, will not help Texas out of its current predicament. The commission will next meet March 19, and members of the public will be allowed to testify.

Wrapping the Texas Primary Election

While dissecting yesterday’s election has only just begun, here are two immediate takeaways from last night.

First, turnout was up, and at least some — if not a lot — of that increased turnout was due to more educators embracing a culture of voting. Roughly 689,000 more Texans cast votes as compared to the last non-presidential primary in 2014. Approximately 200,000 more people cast a ballot in the Republican primary and just shy of 500,000 more people cast a ballot in the Democratic primary. Efforts by school districts, groups like Texas Educators Vote and Texans for Public Education, and many, many individual teachers created an energy which has unquestionably begun to translate into increased voter participation among the educator population. Educators should be proud of taking this first step, and should strive to continue to have even better engagement in future elections, including the upcoming runoff elections in many districts and the general election this fall.

The second takeaway: It was a good night to be an incumbent. With rare exceptions and regardless of partisanship or ideology, if you were an officeholder going into yesterday’s primary, you were still your party’s nominee coming out of the primary. Of the 59 contested races for a Texas House, Senate, State Board of Education, or statewide elected position where an incumbent was running against one or more challengers, the incumbent won in 50. That total increases to 51 if you count former longtime House member Trey Martinez Fisher, who won a primary against the current incumbent, as an incumbent. Two more incumbents could still prevail in the runoff election in May.

How did ATPE do?

Of the candidates the ATPE PAC invested in 72 percent won outright and another 8 percent are headed into runoffs as the top vote getters. Only 20 percent of the candidates ATPE PAC supported, including four challengers: Scott Milder, Jim Largent, Clint Bedsole, and James Wilson, did not prevail, despite running valiant races in defense of public education. Those are phenomenal win loss numbers for any PAC.

After a brief rest, ATPE and our pro-education allies will turn our attention the May 22 primary runoffs. But for today, congratulations to the winning candidates, condolences to those who did not prevail, good luck to those moving on to round two, and the most heartfelt of thanks to all of those Texans, including thousands upon thousands of active and retired educators, who took on their civic duty as voters!

For a complete list of results visit the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

Republican primary results can be found at this page.

Democratic primary results can be found at this page.

Texas primary election day reminders

Today is election day for the Republican and Democratic primaries in Texas. If you did not vote early, get out to the polls today! Here are some quick tips and reminders from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

  • Polls are open today until 7 p.m. tonight. You must vote in your assigned precinct unless your county offers countywide polling. Visit the Texas Secretary of State’s “Am I Registered” website to look up your precinct and polling location, or call your local registrar of voters to find out where you can vote.

  • You may vote in either the Republican or Democratic primary today – but not both! No matter which primary you choose, you can still vote for candidates of any party affiliation, including independent or third-party candidates, during the November general election.

    • Don’t forget to take your photo ID with you to the polls and any written notes or sample ballot you’ve created. You cannot use your cell phone while in the voting booth.

  • If you encounter any difficulty while attempting to cast your vote today, call the Election Protection Hotline at 866.OUR.VOTE.

  • Be prepared to share your input on the nonbinding propositions at the end of your ballot that will help shape the platform of the Republican or Democratic party this year. Learn more about them here.

  • If you early voted or are voting today in the Republican primary, consider participating in your precinct convention tonight after the polls close. It’s a chance to become a delegate for upcoming party conventions and propose or vote on resolutions to help shape the party platform on issues such as public education. (The Democratic party no longer holds precinct conventions but has a different process for becoming a delegate.) Learn more about the process for both parties here, and read tips from a Republican party precinct chair here.

  • Finally and most importantly, if you’re still undecided on candidates, use our search page to find your candidates for Texas House and Senate, State Board of Education, lieutenant governor, and governor. View their profiles here on Teach the Vote to find out how they answered ATPE’s candidate survey, view incumbents’ voting records, and more.

Your vote is your voice. Don’t be silent today! Texas schoolchildren are counting on you to exercise your right to elect sound leaders who will stand up for public education. Many races in Texas will be decided by what happens in today’s primary election and not the general election in November. There will also be many close races in today’s primaries, which could be decided by only a handful of votes. Your vote may be the one that makes the difference!

Guest Post: Learn about Republican party precinct conventions

Party Precinct Conventions:
How educators can influence Texas politics from the grassroots up – it’s easier than you think!

By Mark Terry
March 2018

As an educator, you’ve done your civic duty; you have voted in the primary election and made your voice heard. And, you are to be applauded for exercising your right to vote, as a citizen and an educator! We are all hoping that our ‘teacher voices’ will be heard. If all 700,000 teachers across Texas vote…in a primary that usually has less than 2 million voters, we will definitely be heard. But, would you like to change the course of politics in a way that is lasting and takes far fewer dedicated educators? It can happen!

Yes! You can dramatically change the way both political parties view public education. Imagine: You can set the party platforms, you can help select public education friendly candidates, and you can play an active role in the leadership of your precinct-county-state party leadership! And, it only takes the amount of time you want to commit.

Let’s talk grassroots influence starting with the basics.

Mark Terry | TEPSA Deputy Executive Director

Click here to see Mark’s video about precinct conventions.

When you vote, you vote in your precinct; it’s kind of like your neighborhood. Each legislator’s district is made up of many smaller precincts, and House member districts are smaller than Senate member districts. For example, my precinct is 3035 within my Texas House District 98 and Senate District 12. Each precinct has a precinct chair. The chair is responsible for helping candidates of their choice to win election (more on that later) and for the Republican party, holding a “precinct convention” immediately after the primary election. Wait…I know you just rolled your eyes, keep reading.

When I was first ‘elected’ to be the chair of Precinct 3035, I thought, “No way! I put in enough time as an educator and I do not want hundreds of people yelling at me.” Well, it doesn’t work that way. Your precinct convention is held 30 minutes after the polls close at your primary polling place. You, gather a dozen or so seats together in corner, and you hold your convention. My first convention had 11 people, and four of them had my last name. Four more were neighbors who were public school educators. And, the election judge has all the directions and forms you require for your convention! Your lesson plans are ready!

What did we do at the precinct convention? Well, first we elected delegates to the senate district convention. (Check out my video where I show maps for precincts, house districts, and senate districts.) We also reviewed the party platform (Republican in my case) and adopted it with any resolutions brought forth. Here’s where it gets fun! No one had any resolutions except one person…me! One resolution stated, “We resolve that the State of Texas shall NOT use any public funds for private education.” The second resolution I proposed said, “We resolve that the Republican Party shall support and adequately fund Texas’s system of public education.” Both were unanimously passed! Those resolutions and the names of the senate district convention delegates we elected that night next went to the Tarrant County Republican Party for review.

I bet you never knew there were resolutions of this sort presented to the Republican Party. Why didn’t anyone see these resolutions after our precinct approved them? It’s simple. When the resolutions went to our senate district convention, the party’s Resolution Committee didn’t give them a hearing. Remember, you are fighting those who run the party. So, I made a combined resolution from the floor during our senate district convention. Even though I was told I wouldn’t get a second, I did…and the measure failed 57% – 43%. If there had been a few more delegates, the resolution would have gone to the Texas Republican Party’s state convention that summer.

This is where the conversation on education can change. Sounds like a bunch of rhetorical mish-mash to me, but elected officials look to the party platform for guidance. Delegates set the platform at the precinct level, at the county or senate district level, at the Texas political party level…and, at the national level. Those 11 propositions that you’ve seen on the Republican primary ballot this year…same thing. They are not binding, but your legislator looks to the results to justify his or her votes!

Do you see where this is going? How many educators do you think are in your precinct? I can tell you…there are plenty. More than 11? You bet! (And, you have access to the voter rolls, which you can compare to the school districts in your voter district.) What would happen if 25, 50, or even 75 educators showed up at each precinct convention and each passed the same resolutions? What if those same educators elected themselves as senate district convention delegates and then state convention delegates? You’d change the course of party politics in our state!

Is that all precinct chairs do? For many it is, but your sphere of influence just grew. For one, you’ll receive requests for donations from everyone running in your senate district. You’ll also be the first to see the nasty little rumors and comments about ‘the other candidates’ as folks from county commissioners, to family court judges and up, try to curry your favor. Most importantly, folks in your precinct look to you for who should receive their vote. Again, do you see where this is going? You can campaign for your chosen candidate, in my case a conservative Republican who supports public education. The candidate will give you all the information you need to make “block walks” around your neighborhood with friends to introduce your candidate (he or she will often go with you) and you can put together four or five educators to man an “educator phone bank” (remember the voter lists). The point is, you and a small group of your educator buddies have an inordinate impact on who is elected in your voting district.

One last thing, how do you think the Tea Party took over the Republican Party? Protests? Voting? Nope, it started at the precinct conventions. Who told me that? A Tea Party-elected legislator.

You can do this! We can do this! We must do this for the sake of children, teachers, and the soul of our state. If you want more information, or to be reassured you can actually make it happen, give me a shout at mark@tepsa.org or @tepsamark on Twitter.

Mary Terry with Giovanni Capriglione

Mark Terry with his legislator, Rep. Giovanni Capriglione

Mark Terry is a former school principal and the Deputy Executive Director of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association (TEPSA). He serves as a Republican party precinct chair within House District 98 and Senate District 12.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 2, 2018

Happy Texas Independence Day! It’s also the last day of early voting in the Texas primaries. Read the latest election news and more in this week’s wrap-up from ATPE:

ELECTION UPDATE: Today is the last day for early voting in the 2018 Texas primary elections. Election day is Tuesday, March 6. Early voting is the most convenient way to cast your ballot, since you can visit any polling place in your county. On Tuesday, you’ll need to vote in your precinct’s assigned polling location unless your county is participating in the Countywide Polling Place Program.

As a starting point, check out these tips on voting from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz. You’ll find answers to common questions such as what forms of ID are required and whether you can bring notes into the voting booth with you.

Learn about the nonbinding propositions that will appear at the end of your primary ballot as a way for the state Republican and Democratic parties to develop their official platform positions on certain issues. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has the scoop on those propositions here.

Most importantly, if you’ve not voted yet, it’s not too late to explore our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, which are based on official records maintained in the House and Senate journals. Learn more about ATPE’s process for compiling and verifying voting records here. The candidates’ profiles also include their responses to our ATPE candidate survey, where available, links to the candidates’ websites and social media profiles, and more. We even share information about upcoming campaign-related events when requested by the candidates.

Remember that many candidates are looking for volunteers this weekend and especially for election day on Tuesday. Learn more about volunteering to help out a pro-public education campaign in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday.

If you are voting in the Republican primary, don’t forget about precinct conventions that will be happening Tuesday evening after the polls close. It’s a chance to become a delegate to the party’s conventions and help further shape the party’s platform on education and other issues. On the Democratic side, there are no precinct conventions but you can sign up to participate in the party’s county-level conventions in April. Learn more in this blog post we republished last month from the Texas Tribune.

For additional election resources for educators, check out the website for our Texas Educators Vote coalition. Kudos to everyone who has helped us create a culture of voting throughout the education community, despite a barrage of attacks from those who feel threatened by the prospect of more educators being actively engaged in the election process and voting for candidates who will stand up for public education.

If you’ve not voted yet, get out there today or make plans to vote on Tuesday! Remind your friends, too!


Over the past week, we’ve featured a series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters. We’ve been highlighting just a few of the specific reasons why educators’ votes in this primary election are going to shape the outcome of numerous debates when the Texas legislature meets again in 2019. If you’re still wondering what’s at stake on Tuesday, check out these posts by ATPE’s lobbyists on some of the hottest topics that the people you elect this year will be tackling during the next legislative session in 2019:


ATPE’s Kate Kuhlmann testifying at a recent SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann testified at the meeting and provided a report on the outcome of the board’s discussions. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more developments from SBEC in 2018.



Carl Garner

ATPE is asking Congress to protect teacher training and retention programs as it works on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provided an update on our blog this week about our efforts to ensure that Congress doesn’t strip out Title II program dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention. Read more about our effort being coordinated by ATPE’s Washington-based lobby team and the letter sent earlier this week to Texas’s congressional delegation from ATPE State President Carl Garner.



Recap of today’s SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today for its first meeting of 2018. ATPE engaged the board on several agenda items.

Among the items requiring action at today’s meeting, ATPE expressed support for the adoption of changes to the board’s continuing professional education (CPE) rules. Those changes originated from laws passed during the 85th Legislative Session that dealt with CPE for understanding appropriate relationships with students, digital learning, and educating students affected by grief and trauma. ATPE shared with the board that it worked actively with the legislators who wrote and passed SB7 (the educator misconduct bill that stemmed from media reports focused on an issue termed “passing the trash”) to encourage the inclusion of preventative measures in addition to appropriate sanctioning. While ATPE knows that educators engaging in this misconduct make up an extremely small percentage of the overall educator population, we recognize that one incident is too many. We support the SBEC’s and the legislature’s efforts to address these issues, not only with sanctioning on the back end, but also through ensuring educators receive ongoing education in an effort to prevent this from happening in the first place.

Other items adopted by the board today included new language involving educator preparation admission requirements, testing security and confidentiality for certification assessments, and standards specific to the new Early Childhood through Grade 3 Certificate. The board also reelected Haskell teacher Jill Druesedow as chair, made Harlingen Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos the vice-chair, and voted to make citizen member Leon Leal the secretary. The remaining items on the agenda were dedicated to discussion only.

One of today’s discussion items dealt with several proposed Educator Code of Ethics (COE) revisions requested by Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff. Several members of the board and other educator stakeholders joined ATPE in expressing concerns over pieces of the item, particularly the broad nature of one piece regarding written directives from administrators. SBEC directed staff to continue working on the language proposed at today’s meeting, and TEA staff expressed intention to hold a stakeholder meeting before the next SBEC meeting. ATPE will continue to work collaboratively with TEA and SBEC to find a more appropriate approach.

Finally, ATPE weighed in on a discussion item that dealt with educator preparation program (EPP) requirements. We offered support for a piece that defines long-term substitute experience as a 30 consecutive day assignment, encouraged the board to increase the minimum number of hours required for an abbreviated Trade and Industrial Workforce Training certificate program, and supported the addition of an EPP curriculum requirement specific to training on appropriate boundaries, relationships, and communications between educators and students. To learn more about the long-term substitute experience definition and how it plays into educator preparation, read our post covering the last meeting where ATPE member Stephanie Stoebe called for raised standards.

ATPE In-Depth: Learn about incumbent legislators’ voting records

In this critical election year, ATPE is urging educators and all voters who support public education to participate in both the primary election happening now and the general election in November. We created our popular Teach the Vote website in 2011 with the goal of helping voters make informed choices at the polls by learning more about the candidates’ stances, specifically on education issues. Our profiles of all candidates running for Texas House, Texas Senate, State Board of Education, governor, or lieutenant governor can be explored using our convenient search tools.

When you pull up a candidate’s individual profile, you’ll find a wealth of factual information that the ATPE Governmental Relations team has collected about the candidate, including links to the candidate’s own website and social media profiles. Upon request by the candidate, we share information about upcoming campaign events being hosted by the candidate or on his behalf on our Teach the Vote events calendar. We also provide background information on the candidates, such as how long they’ve been in office and whether they’ve been endorsed by other groups that rate educators on the basis of their education stances. (You will not find any endorsements by ATPE.) All candidates who have a known email address are invited to participate in ATPE’s candidate survey, which asks questions pertaining to top education issues such as school funding, private school vouchers, student testing, educator pay, and more. We also invite candidates to supply a photo of themselves for our website. Not all candidates choose to participate in the survey, but all are invited, and ATPE does not edit the candidates’ survey responses in any way. (We don’t even correct typos!) Our goal is to make the candidates’ views and platforms available to you to help you make your own decisions on how to vote.

Another highly valuable component of ATPE’s candidate profiles featured on Teach the Vote is the voting record section. Throughout each legislative session, ATPE’s experienced lobbyists and support staff track thousands of bills that could have an impact on public education, following the legislation through every step of the legislative process. To give you a sense of how much work that entails, there were 7,033 pieces of legislation filed during the 85th legislature’s regular session in 2017. However, only 1,314 of those measures actually passed, according to the legislative tracking service known as Telicon. Since most bills don’t make it all the way through the process, and even fewer bills generate “record votes” as opposed to general voice votes, there are limited opportunities for Texans to find out how their state legislators voted on issues of interest.

Members of the ATPE Lobby Team in 2017

That’s where ATPE’s work behind the scenes comes into play. During a legislative session, ATPE’s lobbyists use our Teach the Vote blog to report on developments as they are happening at the capitol, often providing links to unofficial vote counts when major bills are acted upon by the Texas House or Senate. After the conclusion of the session, our team compiles a spreadsheet to record and analyze some of the most significant votes taken on education issues. Because unofficial tallies announced immediately after a vote can sometimes turn out to be wrong, we painstakingly check and double-check the votes taken, relying ultimately on what is printed in the official House and Senate journals as the final word on how a legislator voted. ATPE also shares some historical voting records for those legislators who have served more than one term in office.

One way that ATPE’s staff goes the extra mile to provide you insights on voting records is by also reviewing and sharing information about legislators’ comments entered into the House or Senate journal. It is fairly common for a legislator to vote one way and then ask for comments to be recorded in the journal signaling an intent to have voted differently on the bill. Also, some legislators are absent when a record vote is taken, as they may have temporarily stepped away from their desks. Often, those temporary absences are unavoidable – especially during a long legislative day – but sometimes the lawmaker’s leave is intentional. He or she may wait to see what the outcome is on a particularly controversial bill and then record a statement of intent in the journal after the fact. We at ATPE believe it’s important for voters to know the full picture when it comes to record votes, and that’s why we research and provide you with those additional insights on a legislator’s intent. If a legislator changes his vote, constituents should be empowered to know about that and to ask why.

In all cases, ATPE provides detailed information to document the record votes that we have collected and chosen to include on our Teach the Vote candidate profiles. We provide the bill number and author; we indicate whether the vote was taken during a regular or special session; we include the date of the vote; we identify who filed the motion being voted upon; we give a brief explanation of the significance of the vote; we share any comments entered into the journal by the legislator after the vote that would provide insights behind the vote; and most importantly, we share enough information to allow viewers of our website an opportunity to verify our reports by looking up official records of the vote maintained by the legislature itself.

For instance, all votes taken by the 85th legislature in 2017 and highlighted in our Teach the Vote candidate profiles include a link to the specific pages in the House or Senate journal in which the official vote is recorded. Next to viewing hard copies of the journals themselves, accessing digital copies of the journals maintained online by the House and Senate are the most reliable and independent way to find out how a legislator voted, and that’s what ATPE uses to fill out the voting record section of our Teach the Vote candidate profiles. Click the image to the left to view a sample excerpt from a legislator’s voting record as showcased on Teach the Vote.

Collecting and reporting on voting records in this detailed and accountable manner is a monumental task, but ATPE believes it’s important to help educators obtain factual, non-biased information about their own legislators’ voting record. There are other groups that share voting record information, and quite a few that like to publicize their “scorecards” of lawmakers based on certain votes taken, but we believe ATPE’s voting records are some of the most carefully researched and responsibly reported data you can find during an election season. I highly encourage you to check out our candidate profiles today and find out how your legislator voted on education issues.

Why March 6 Matters: Healthcare

Early voting is underway NOW for the March 6 Texas primary elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote in this election! Today, we’re taking a closer look at healthcare for active and retired educators.

In our first post of this series we examined teacher pay, which lags behind the national average. While paychecks are a major concern, Texas also spends less than any other state on employee benefits, funding them only at about $967 per pupil, which includes the cost of health insurance. In fact, Texas spends less than our neighboring states Oklahoma and New Mexico, which are both under the national average as well but are spending $1,505 and $1,905 per pupil respectively, despite having significantly less wealth per capita than Texas (U.S. Census Bureau, Public Education Finances: 2014, G14-ASPEF, released May 2016).

The ever-increasing amount of money being taken out of educators’ paychecks for healthcare is primarily due to the fact that state funding and state-mandated district funding for health insurance, including the TRS-ActiveCare plan used by many districts for their employees, has remained unchanged since the program first began some 17 years ago.

When the Legislature first decided to subsidize teacher health insurance premiums back in 2001, the $225 contribution for each employee (made up of $75 from the state and $150 from the school district) was in line with what private employers were paying toward healthcare for their employees. Since that time, health insurance inflation generally has been between eight and ten percent per year, and educator premiums have increased more than 250 percent. Also during that time frame, many private employers have increased what they pay toward employee health insurance premiums, but Texas’s funding of the healthcare program for public school employees has fallen way behind.

Legislative inaction has now led to an insurance program for school district employees that is more burdensome than beneficial, and for many educators, it amounts to a pay cut year after year. Back In November 2014, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) released its TRS-Care Sustainability and TRS-ActiveCare Affordability Study that was commissioned by the 83rd legislature. It outlined numerous options for lawmakers to consider in dealing with the looming healthcare crisis for educators. Despite those recommendations, the legislature has failed to address exploding healthcare costs for active employees.

One reason the legislature has neglected to address healthcare costs for active employees, including during the most recent 2017 legislative sessions, is the sad fact that the state’s health insurance program for retired educators, TRS-Care, is in even worse shape. After years of inadequately funding retirees’ health insurance, the legislature has now faced back-to-back sessions in which the program was at risk of running out of money and collapsing in on itself —a prospect that would leave hundreds of thousands of retired educators with no health insurance, dramatically limiting their access to healthcare when they most need it.

Back in 2015, the 84th Texas legislature opted not to address the funding formulas that determine how our state pays for TRS-Care. Instead, they made a $700 million supplemental appropriation to keep TRS-Care afloat for one more budget cycle.

By the time the 85th legislature arrived in Austin in January 2017, the TRS-Care shortfall had ballooned to $1.2 billion. Again, lawmakers were unwilling to address the underlying funding formulas, and they similarly declined to make even a one-time appropriation to cover the full cost. Instead, the Senate under the guidance of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Sen. Joan Huffman, who chaired the Senate Committee on State Affairs that oversees TRS, pushed forward a plan that cut the cost of TRS-Care to the state by shifting more costs to retirees.

It’s worth nothing that retired educators have not seen a cost of living adjustment to increase their pensions for over a decade, during which time they’ve also had to endure dramatic reductions in their healthcare benefits as a result of restructuring of the health insurance plan. That combination of dwindling purchasing power due to the effects of inflation on stagnant pension payments and crushing new healthcare costs caused such an outcry from retired educators that by the time legislators came back to Austin in the summer of 2017 for a special session, they felt compelled to put a modest amount of one-time extra dollars into the system to temporarily soften the blow of the impending changes to TRS-Care. However, those additional one-time funds were only a short-term band-aid on a much larger problem that remains.

Even with the draconian measures taken by the 85th legislature, resulting in significant rate hikes for many plan participants, TRS-Care is projected still to have a funding shortfall that will have to be addressed by the 86th legislature. In other words, lawmakers must act in 2019 if TRS-Care is to continue to exist for retired educators

Finding real solutions to the crisis of access to affordable healthcare for the state’s active and retired educators is a complex and expensive task. It cannot and will not be achieved by legislators whose singular priority is creating the appearance of cutting state spending without solving the problems faced by our state’s more than 1 million active and retired school employees. The elections that will determine who occupies those critical legislative seats and will have the power to decide the future of healthcare funding for educators are happening right now. Active and retired public school employees who have dedicated their lives to serving and educating our 5.4 million young Texans have the power to shape the outcome of this battle simply by voting in the 2018 primaries.

Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on school finance and other public education issues. Because voting districts in Texas are politically gerrymandered, most elections are decided in the party primary instead of the November general election. That’s why it is so important to vote in the primary election. Registered voters can cast their ballot in either the Republican or Democratic primary, regardless of how you voted last time.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting in the primary and making informed choices at the polls. Keep in mind that it is illegal to use school district resources to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, but there is no prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 primaries runs Tuesday, Feb. 20, through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!