Tag Archives: legislature

ATPE commends legislators for joining the push for STAAR waivers

Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), joined by 67 of his Texas House colleagues, sent a letter to the Texas commissioner of education today calling for the cancellation of this school year’s STAAR tests.

Today’s letter from the bipartisan group of state representatives echoes a similar letter ATPE sent to Gov. Greg Abbott last week and shared with legislative leaders and the commissioner in recent days. Both letters reference the “COVID slide” and the need for educators and policymakers to focus their efforts this year on remediation of students, along with prioritizing the health and safety of students and staff.

“At most, any administration of the STAAR exam during the 2020-2021 school year should only serve as a diagnostic instrument to see where our students stand academically as opposed to an assessment instrument to determine district and campus sanctions under the current A-F accountability system,” wrote Rep. Bernal in the November 18 correspondence to Commissioner Mike Morath.

Texas laws and regulations link numerous high-stakes decisions to data derived from STAAR testing, including school accountability ratings, student promotion, and the evaluations and compensation of educators. Lawmakers who signed the letter to Morath expressed appreciation for the state’s decision to waive STAAR-related requirements for the Student Success Initiative this year, which ATPE also noted in our letter as a positive step. However, data from STAAR tests administered this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic will be unreliable and unfair measures to apply to a host of other decisions, as ATPE has repeatedly warned state officials.

The commissioner and governor have not yet signaled any intent to waive the testing requirements this year as they did in the spring. Morath previously has been quoted as saying, “Teaching without some form of testing is just talking.” As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on our blog, multiple members of the State Board of Education questioned Morath about STAAR testing during a meeting this morning. “Why do we even need the STAAR test this year?!” tweeted member Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood) during the SBOE meeting.

ATPE is hopeful that the growing pressure to waive STAAR testing requirements this year, including pleas from elected officials on both sides of the political aisle, will persuade Governor Abbott and Commissioner Morath to provide the needed relief and do their part to request federal waivers of the testing and accountability mandates, as well. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for any new developments.

Full results of the 2020 general election in Texas

The results are in for the Texas House, Texas Senate, and State Board of Education (SBOE) races on the ballot in last week’s general election. ATPE compiled the list below based on data reported publicly by the Texas Secretary of State as of November 9, 2020. These results are still considered “unofficial” at this point, however, and it is still possible that there could be requests for recounts, especially in a couple of close races where one of the candidates has not yet conceded to the apparent winner. It’s also worth noting that in Texas, as in most other states, some ballots are still being counted, including mail-in ballots from military members stationed overseas that by law are allowed to arrive after Election Day.

Remember that not all Texas Senate or SBOE seats were on the ballot this year because those officeholders serve staggered four-year terms. Additionally, while this was an election year for every seat in the Texas House of Representatives, not every incumbent legislator faced an opponent in November. We have excluded uncontested races from our list. If you aren’t sure of your own district number, click here to find out who represents you.

Quick links to election results:

For a PDF of the results, please click here.

State Board of Education

SBOE 1 Georgina C. Pérez (D) 55.37%
SBOE 1 Jennifer Ivey (R) 44.63%

SBOE 5 Rebecca Bell-Metereau (D) 48.91%
SBOE 5 Lani Popp (R) 47.19%
SBOE 5 Stephanie Berlin (L) 3.90%

SBOE 6 Will Hickman (R) 49.73%
SBOE 6 Michelle Palmer (D) 47.40%
SBOE 6 Whitney Bilyeu (L) 2.87%

SBOE 8 Audrey Young (R) 73.50%
SBOE 8 Audra Rose Berry (L) 26.50%

SBOE 9 Keven Ellis (R) 74.04%
SBOE 9 Brenda Davis (D) 25.96%

SBOE 10 Tom Maynard (R) 50.89%
SBOE 10 Marsha Burnett-Webster (D) 45.82%
SBOE 10 Trip Seibold (L) 3.29%

SBOE 14 Sue Melton-Malone (R) 67.82%
SBOE 14 Greg Alvord (D) 32.18%

SBOE 15 Jay Johnson (R) 77.82%
SBOE 15 John Betancourt (D) 22.18%

Texas Senate

SD 1 Sen. Bryan Hughes (R) 75.31%
SD 1 Audrey Spanko (D) 24.69%

SD 4 Sen. Brandon Creighton (R) 67.48%
SD 4 Jay Stittleburg (D) 30.06%
SD 4 Cameron Brock (L) 2.46%

SD 6 Sen. Carol Alvarado (D) 84.04%
SD 6 Timothy Duffield (L) 15.96%

SD 11 Sen. Larry Taylor (R) 59.47%
SD 11 Susan Criss (D) 38.08%
SD 11 Jared Wissel (L) 2.45%

SD 12 Sen. Jane Nelson (R) 62.32%
SD 12 Shadi Zitoon (D) 37.68%

SD 13 Sen. Borris Miles (D) 80.51%
SD 13 Milinda Morris (R) 19.49%

SD 18 Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R) 65.80%
SD 18 Michael Antalan (D) 34.20%

SD 19 Sen. Pete Flores (R) 46.57%
SD 19 Rep. Roland Gutierrez (D) 49.86%
SD 19 Jo-Anne Valdivia (L) 3.57%

SD 20 Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) 58.46%
SD 20 Judy Cutright (R) 41.54%

SD 21 Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) 60.10%
SD 21 Frank Pomeroy (R) 39.90%

SD 22 Sen. Brian Birdwell (R) 68.52%
SD 22 Robert Vick (D) 31.48%

SD 24 Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R) 69.64%
SD 24 Clayton Tucker (D) 30.36%

SD 26 Sen. Jose Menéndez (D) 80.03%
SD 26 Julian Villarreal (G) 19.97%

SD 27 Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D) 64.82%
SD 27 Vanessa Tijerina (R) 35.18%

SD 29 Rep. César Blanco (D) 67.00%
SD 29 Bethany Hatch (R) 33.00%

Texas House of Representatives

HD 2 Bryan Slaton (R) 81.36%
HD 2 Bill Brannon (D) 18.64%

HD 3 Rep. Cecil Bell Jr. (R) 77.38%
HD 3 Martin Shupp (D) 22.62%

HD 4 Rep. Keith Bell (R) 79.11%
HD 4 Nicole Sprabary (L) 20.89%

HD 5 Rep. Cole Hefner (R) 79.98%

HD 5 LaWyanda Prince (D) 20.02%

HD 6 Rep. Matt Schaefer (R) 68.18%
HD 6 Julie Gobble (D) 31.82%

HD 8 Rep. Cody Harris (R) 85.92%
HD 8 Edwin Adams (L) 14.08%

HD 10 Jake Ellzey (R) 75.85%
HD 10 Matt Savino (L) 24.15%

HD 11 Rep. Travis Clardy (R) 75.74%
HD 11 Alec Johnson (D) 24.26%

HD 14 Rep. John Raney (R) 57.55%

HD 14 Janet Dudding (D) 42.45%

HD 15 Rep. Steve Toth (R) 66.49%
HD 15 Lorena McGill (D) 33.51%

HD 17 Rep. John Cyrier (R) 63.70%
HD 17 Madeline Eden (D) 36.30%

HD 20 Rep. Terry Wilson (R) 71.42%
HD 20 Jessica Tiedt (D) 28.58%

HD 22 Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) 68.26%
HD 22 Jacorion Randle (R) 31.74%

HD 23 Rep. Mayes Middleton (R) 60.25%
HD 23 Jeff Anotonelli (D) 39.75%

HD 24 Rep. Greg Bonnen (R) 69.97%
HD 24 Brian Rogers (D) 27.52%
HD 24 Dick Illyes (L) 2.51%

HD 25 Cody Vasut (R) 71.60%
HD 25 Patrick Henry (D) 28.40%

HD 26 Jacey Jetton (R) 51.81%
HD 26 Sarah DeMerchant (D) 48.19%

HD 27 Rep. Ron Reynolds (D) 67.80%
HD 27 Tom Virippan (R) 32.20%

HD 28 Rep. Gary Gates (R) 55.29%
HD 28 Eliz Markowitz (D) 44.71%

HD 29 Rep. Ed Thompson (R) 56.72%
HD 29 Travis Boldt (D) 43.28%

HD 31 Rep. Ryan Guillen (D) 58.42%
HD 31 Marian Knowlton (R) 41.58%

HD 32 Rep. Todd Hunter (R) 61.14%
HD 32 Eric Holquin (D) 38.86%

HD 33 Rep. Justin Holland (R) 64.83%
HD 33 Andy Rose (D) 35.17%

HD 34 Rep. Abel Herrero (D) 59.48%
HD 34 James Hernandez (R) 40.52%

HD 41 Rep. Bobby Guerra (D) 57.86%
HD 41 John R. Guerra (R) 42.14%

HD 44 Rep. John Kuempel (R) 67.43%
HD 44 Robert Bohmfalk (D) 29.48%
HD 44 Julian Mardock (L) 3.09%

HD 45 Rep. Erin Zwiener (D) 50.54%
HD 45 Carrie Isaac (R) 49.46%

HD 47 Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D) 49.27%
HD 47 Justin Berry (R) 48.29%
HD 47 Michael Clark (L) 2.44%
** As of Nov. 9, Justin Berry has not conceded to Rep. Vikki Goodwin.

HD 48 Rep. Donna Howard (D) 70.09%
HD 48 Bill Strieber (R) 29.91%

HD 49 Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D) 78.86%
HD 49 Charles A. Meyer (R) 17.96%
HD 49 Kenneth Moore (L) 3.19%

HD 50 Rep. Celia Israel (D) 68.78%
HD 50 Larry Delarose (R) 31.22%

HD 51 Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D) 82.67%
HD 51 Robert Reynolds (R) 17.33%

HD 52 Rep. James Talarico (D) 51.44%
HD 52 Lucio Valdez (R) 48.56%

HD 53 Rep. Andrew Murr (R) 78.14%
HD 53 Joe Herrera (D) 21.86%

HD 54 Rep. Brad Buckley (R) 53.51%
HD 54 Keke Williams (D) 46.49%

HD 56 Rep. Doc Anderson (R) 67.32%

HD 56 Katherine Turner-Pearson (D) 32.68%

HD 57 Rep. Trent Ashby (R) 79.46%
HD 57 Jason Rogers (D) 20.54%

HD 58 Rep. DeWayne Burns (R) 79.05%
HD 58 Cindy Rocha (D) 20.95%

HD 61 Rep. Phil King (R) 83.04%
HD 61 Chris Cox (D) 14.05%
HD 61 J.K. Stephenson (L) 2.90%

HD 62 Rep. Reggie Smith (R) 78.77%
HD 62 Gary Thomas (D) 21.23%

HD 63 Rep. Tan Parker (R) 67.45%
HD 63 Leslie Peeler (D) 32.55%

HD 64 Rep. Lynn Stucky (R) 54.92%
HD 64 Angela Brewer (D) 45.08%

HD 65 Rep. Michelle Beckley (D) 51.50%
HD 65 Kronda Thimesch (R) 48.50%

HD 66 Rep. Matt Shaheen (R) 49.68%
HD 66 Sharon Hirsch (D) 48.47%
HD 66 Shawn Jones (L) 1.86%

HD 67 Rep. Jeff Leach (R) 51.80%
HD 67 Lorenzo Sanchez (D) 48.20%

HD 68 Rep. Drew Springer (R) 85.47%
HD 68 Patsy Ledbetter (D) 14.53%

HD 70 Rep. Scott Sanford (R) 61.95%
HD 70 Angela Bado (D) 38.05%

HD 71 Rep. Stan Lambert (R) 78.90%
HD 71 Sam Hatton (D) 21.10%

HD 73 Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R) 74.98%
HD 73 Stephanie Phillips (D) 25.02%

HD 74 Eddie Morales Jr. (D) 54.10%
HD 74 Ruben Falcon (R) 45.90%

HD 78 Rep. Joe Moody (D) 61.42%
HD 78 Jeff Lane (R) 38.58%

HD 83 Rep. Dustin Burrows (R) 79.30%
HD 83 Addy Perry-Franks (D) 20.70%

HD 84 Rep. John Frullo (R) 61.31%
HD 84 John Gibson (D) 38.69%

HD 85 Rep. Phil Stephenson (R) 56.41%

HD 85 Joey Cardenas III (D) 41.19%
HD 85 Michael Miller (L) 2.41%

HD 89 Rep. Candy Noble (R) 59.11%
HD 89 Ray Ash (D) 38.38%
HD 89 Ed Kless (L) 2.52%

HD 90 Rep. Ramon Romero Jr. (D) 72.37%
HD 90 Elva Camacho (R) 27.63%

HD 91 Rep. Stephanie Klick (R) 63.97%

HD 91 Jeromey Sims (D) 36.03%

HD 92 Jeff Cason (R) 50.94%
HD 92 Jeff Whitfield (D) 47.13%
HD 92 Brody Mulligan (G) 1.94%

HD 93 Rep. Matt Krause (R) 54.58%
HD 93 Lydia Bean (D) 45.42%

HD 94 Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R) 51.00%
HD 94 Alisa Simmons (D) 45.84%
HD 94 Jessica Pallett (L) 3.16%

HD 96 David Cook (R) 51.20%
HD 96 Joe Drago (D) 46.11%
HD 96 Nelson Range (L) 2.70%

HD 97 Rep. Craig Goldman (R) 52.62%
HD 97 Elizabeth Beck (D) 45.11%
HD 97 Rod Wingo (L) 2.26%

HD 98 Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) 68.00%
HD 98 Debra Edmondson (D) 32.00%

HD 102 Rep. Ana-Maria Ramos (D) 53.91%
HD 102 Linda Koop (R) 46.09%

HD 103 Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) 74.56%
HD 103 Jerry Fortenberry (R) 25.44%

HD 105 Rep. Terry Meza (D) 54.95%
HD 105 Gerson Hernandez (R) 42.04%
HD 105 Bret Bolton (L) 3.00%

HD 106 Rep. Jared Patterson (R) 58.51%
HD 106 Jennifer Skidonenko (D) 41.49%

HD 107 Rep. Victoria Neave (D) 56.50%
HD 107 Samuel Smith (R) 43.50%

HD 108 Rep. Morgan Meyer (R) 49.65%
HD 108 Joanna Cattanach (D) 48.03%
HD 108 Ed Rankin (L) 2.31%

HD 109 Rep. Carl Sherman Sr. (D) 83.28%
HD 109 Eugene Allen (R) 16.72%

HD 112 Rep. Angie Chen Button (R) 48.92%
HD 112 Brandy Chambers (D) 48.59%
HD 112 Shane Newsom (L) 2.49%
*Brandy Chambers conceded to Rep. Angie Chen Button on Nov. 11.

HD 113 Rep. Rhetta Bowers (D) 51.77%
HD 113 Will Douglas (R) 48.23%

HD 114 Rep. John Turner (D) 53.62%
HD 114 Luisa Del Rosal (R) 46.38%

HD 115 Rep. Julie Johnson (D) 56.90%
HD 115 Karyn Brownlee (R) 43.10%

HD 116 Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D) 69.17%
HD 116 Robert Litoff (R) 30.83%

HD 117 Rep. Philip Cortez (D) 54.90%
HD 117 Carlos Antonio Raymond (R) 41.28%
HD 117 Tony Quinones (L) 3.82%

HD 118 Rep. Leo Pacheco (D) 56.76%
HD 118 Adam Salyer (R) 39.94%
HD 118 Eric Velasquez (L) 3.30%

HD 119 Liz Campos (D) 61.81%
HD 119 George B. Garza (R) 34.63%
HD 119 Arthur Thomas IV (L) 2.21%
HD 119 Antonio Padron (G) 1.35%

HD 120 Rep. Barbara Gervin Hawkins (D) 65.92%
HD 120 Roland Payne (R) 30.90%
HD 120 Shawn Huckabay (L) 3.18%

HD 121 Rep. Steve Allison (R) 53.53%
HD 121 Celina Montoya (D) 46.47%

HD 122 Rep. Lyle Larson (R) 59.70%
HD 122 Claire Barnett (D) 40.30%

HD 125 Rep. Ray Lopez (D) 79.88%
HD 125 Tony Valdivia (L) 20.12%

HD 126 Rep. Sam Harless (R) 53.30%
HD 126 Natali Hurtado (D) 46.70%

HD 127 Rep. Dan Huberty (R) 71.13%
HD 127 Neko Antoniou (L) 28.87%

HD 128 Rep. Briscoe Cain (R) 68.40%
HD 128 Mary Williams (D) 31.60%

HD 129 Rep. Dennis Paul (R) 58.92%
HD 129 Kayla Alix (D) 41.08%

HD 130 Rep. Tom Oliverson (R) 68.99%
HD 130 Bryan Henry (D) 31.01%

HD 132 Rep. Gina Calanni (D) 48.09%
HD 132 Mike Schofield (R) 51.80%
HD 132 Titus Benton (W) 0.11%

HD 133 Rep. Jim Murphy (R) 57.12%
HD 133 Sandra Moore (D) 41.20%
HD 133 James Harren (L) 1.68%

HD 134 Rep. Sarah Davis (R) 47.70%
HD 134 Ann Johnson (D) 52.30%

HD 135 Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D) 49.08%
HD 135 Justin Ray (R) 48.65%
HD 135 Paul Bilyeu (L) 2.28%
** As of Nov. 9, Justin Ray has not conceded to Rep. Jon Rosenthal.

HD 136 Rep. John Bucy (D) 53.30%
HD 136 Mike Guevara (R) 43.09%
HD 136 Brian Elliott (L) 3.62%

HD 137 Rep. Gene Wu (D) 81.48%
HD 137 Lee Sharp (L) 18.52%

HD 138 Lacey Hull (R) 51.62%
HD 138 Akilah Bacy (D) 48.38%

HD 139 Rep. Jarvis Johnson (D) 85.88%
HD 139 Grizzle Trojacek (L) 14.12%

HD 142 Rep. Harold Dutton (D) 74.73%
HD 142 Jason Rowe (R) 25.27%

HD 144 Rep. Mary Ann Perez (D) 56.43%
HD 144 Tony Salas (R) 43.57%

HD 145 Rep. Christina Morales (D) 64.02%
HD 145 Martha Fierro (R) 33.72%
HD 145 Richard Howell (L) 2.27%

HD 146 Rep. Shawn Thierry (D) 87.03%
HD 146 J.J. Campbell (L) 12.97%

HD 148 Penny Shaw (D) 63.66%
HD 148 Luis LaRotta (R) 36.34%

HD 149 Rep. Hubert Vo (D) 59.41%
HD 149 Lily Truong (R) 40.59%

HD 150 Rep. Valoree Swanson (R) 58.11%
HD 150 Michael Walsh (D) 38.59%
HD 150 Jesse Herrera (L) 3.30%

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 6, 2020

It’s been a long week, but the election isn’t the only thing happening. Catch up with these news highlights from ATPE Governmental Relations:

ELECTION UPDATE: This week, we celebrated a long-awaited Election Day for the 2020 general election. Despite record turnout, Texas ended up seeing less of a “blue wave” than many polls had anticipated. Republicans maintained control of the Texas House and Senate, the State Board of Education and statewide offices on the ballot such as Texas Supreme Court seats.

While results are still up in the air nationally for the presidential race, we know more about what the election results mean here at home in Texas. Read this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins for a preliminary analysis of the election, including what the results mean for the election of a new House Speaker. ATPE will provide additional analysis of the election results in Texas once ballot counts are more complete.

ATPE is grateful to all who turned out to vote in this historic election!

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) made several updates to its Coronavirus Support and Guidance page this week. TEA’s public health guidance was updated to include instructions for when asymptomatic, test-positive individuals can return to school and a clarification that close contact can be 15 minutes over the course of the day rather than 15 consecutive minutes. This is a consequential change for teachers and students who are in intermittent close contact throughout the day.

TEA also updated its attendance and enrollment FAQs to allow districts to require a student to come back for in-person instruction (e.g., a remote student who is falling behind), following certain protocols. Additionally, as has been the case in TEA’s guidance on STAAR testing, students must be on-campus for STAAR testing. The agency has noted that the paper-testing window cannot be extended due to processing requirements. ATPE has been urging state and federal officials to waive testing requirements this year due to the pandemic.

ATPE also wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath this week asking the agency for more local help for schools that are struggling during the pandemic. Read more in in the next section.

Updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that for the week ending October 25, the number of positive cases increased 10.8% among students and 7.7% among staff. We are not reporting on the data for the week ending in November 1 because the most recent week’s data has consistently been incomplete, typically showing a marked increase the following week as districts input new information. Positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities. It is unclear whether these trends are reflective of upward trends in the state or an increase in students participating in on-campus instruction as the school year progresses.

Check out ATPE’s frequently updated COVID-19 FAQs and Resources for answers to common questions asked by educators. Find additional ATPE resources related to the pandemic on our professional learning portal, and don’t forget to visit Advocacy Central where ATPE members can contact their legislators and other state and federal officials to share concerns about the coronavirus response or other issues.

This week ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes wrote a letter to Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to complain about the state’s recent handling of local COVID-19 issues. “As the pandemic continues to affect all aspects of life, educators are disappointed with what they perceive as a lack of leadership shown by state officials and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) as school districts across the state grapple with very real challenges,” wrote Holmes.

The letter cites two examples of local challenges stemming from the pandemic that TEA has failed to adequately address. The first example is in El Paso, where soaring COVID-19 cases prompted local superintendents to ask the state for additional time for remote instruction. TEA released revised guidance in a Region 19 School Safe Zones plan that would allow El Paso school districts to have fewer students on their campuses. ATPE lauded the agency’s decision use objective, virus-related metrics at the local level in determining when it is safe to reopen campuses, which we have long recommended, but we also shared recommendations on making the Region 19 plan more effective and expanding it for statewide use. ATPE’s letter also criticized TEA for failing to enforce its own COVID-19 guidance when some school districts have refused to implement health and safety precautions or neglected to report COVID-19 case numbers on their campuses. TEA has declined to take any enforcement action, saying instead that local school boards should decide what to do in those cases.

Read more in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, and read ATPE’s November 2 letter to Commissioner Morath here.

With the election now (mostly) in the rear-view mirror, more attention is turning toward the upcoming 2021 legislative session and the outlook for public education funding. With a Republican-controlled Texas Legislature, the fate of funding and education policy will rest in the same hands (albeit with some new members and a new Speaker of the House) as during the 2019 legislative session.

The last legislative session saw major school finance reforms and an increase in public education funding that enabled a pay raise for many Texas teachers. But with the state facing a deficit, many have wondered if lawmakers will allocate resources to preserve the gains made last session. ATPE State Treasurer Jayne Serna and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter spoke with KXAN news this week about school funding and the anxiety many educators feel about their pay.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins also spoke to the media this week about the need for increased resources to help public schools deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Mark spoke about the anticipated need for remediation of students as a result of learning losses during the time that the pandemic has disrupted the school environment. Extra help for struggling students will necessitate additional financial resources. Watch Mark’s Thursday interview with Fox 7 Austin here.

For more on the funding needs for public education, keep reading below.

The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) held joint hearings this week regarding legislative appropriations requests (LARs) that have been submitted recently by multiple state agencies, including the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Education Commissioner Mike Morath briefly outlined his agency’s LAR on Thursday, which he said seeks to maintain current funding levels with the exception of two new “exceptional” items aimed at addressing COVID-19 issues. The first exceptional item is meant to alleviate learning loss that has disproportionately impacted students from low-income backgrounds, through targeted teacher and student-focused interventions. The second exceptional item would restore the 5% budget cuts made to the Windham School District.

Officials with the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also addressed the LBB at this week’s hearing. Executive Director Brian Guthrie testified that the TRS pension trust fund values decreased early in the pandemic, but they have since rebounded. TRS expects a 7.24% rate of return for this year. Guthrie also outlined his agency’s LAR, which includes requests for funding to hire additional TRS staff and open a regional office in El Paso.



Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 16, 2020

Here are this week’s education news highlights, brought to you by ATPE Governmental Relations:

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: In conjunction with the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM), Governor Greg Abbott announced this week that eight school systems would be included in a COVID-19 rapid testing pilot. Participating schools will receive rapid antigen tests that can produce results in 15 minutes. The tests will be administered to students, teachers, and staff who choose to participate. The state hopes eventually to expand rapid testing in schools to mitigate the spread of the virus as more students return for in-person learning. Read more about the program in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.

This week’s updates to the Texas Public Schools COVID-19 dashboard show that, compared to last week’s reported numbers, positive cases rose by 2.6% among students and 6.8% among staff. As districts are notified of positive test results, they may update their numbers, and the dashboard’s values for the prior week (ending Oct. 4) have increased beyond what was previously reported. The updated data show last week’s positive cases rose by 11.8% among students and 15.5% among staff. (The increases reported last week were significantly less than this, at 2.3% among students and 7.8% among staff.) As a reminder, positive test results are only included for students and staff who participate in on-campus instruction and activities.

ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page includes newly updated information about educators returning to school. Here are additional ATPE resources:

  • Get answers to legal questions about COVID-19 and earn CPE by watching ATPE’s webcasts on our professional learning portal.
  • Use our Parent-Teacher Toolkit, featuring our latest video on helping kids thrive in today’s world.
  • See the pandemic and ATPE’s response evolve through our interactive timeline.
  • ATPE members can send messages to their government officials through Advocacy Central.

ELECTION UPDATE: The first week of early voting is almost over, and record numbers of Texans have already cast their votes. Early voting lasts until Oct. 30! If you haven’t voted yet, check out ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on her early voting experience, which includes tips for a smooth trip to the polls.

ATPE Exec. Dir. Shannon Holmes sports his “I voted early” sticker

Court decisions continue to impact ballot drop off locations and the use of drive-thru and curbside voting. The Senate District 30 special election runoff between Shelley Luther and Rep. Drew Springer has been set for Dec. 19. For more election-related news, see this week’s election roundup post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

You may have noticed on ATPE’s Twitter and Facebook that ATPE members and staff are posting videos on why they vote. Share your own video on social media using #WhyIVoteTXEd and tag @OfficialATPE and @Teach the Vote! Find additional general election voting dates and reminders here, and don’t forget to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote.

As mentioned in this article by the Dallas Morning News, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter was invited to testify on teacher workforce issues during a Senate Education Committee interim hearing this week. Exter advocated for streamlined professional development and reduced paperwork burdens on districts and educators. The committee also heard invited testimony from adult education providers and education preparation programs. Read more about the hearing in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and see ATPE’s written testimony here.

The 2020 Census count ended this week after an October 13 Supreme Court order shortened the deadline from October 31 to October 15. The deadline has fluctuated multiple times as the Trump administration played tug-of-war with the courts. Some argue the administration wanted to cut the deadline to ensure time to manipulate the census data to exclude unauthorized immigrants living in the U.S. Read more about the development in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

TEA sent out a notice this week to Education Service Centers and district testing coordinators describing a new method for calculating the STAAR progress measure for the 2020-2021 school year. The modified measure would reach back in to 2018-19 student testing data, skipping over 2019-20 since no tests were given due to the pandemic. Questions remain as to whether the STAAR testing is appropriate at this time and how a modified progress measure might be used in the accountability system for 2020-21. Read more in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

From The Texas Tribune: How the Texas Legislature will operate next year is up in the air

It’s unclear what typical functions at the Texas Capitol will look like in January, or whether they will even exist. Credit: Austin Price for The Texas Tribune

The Texas Legislature meets in less than 100 days. Nobody knows how the session will look.

The Texas Capitol is a bustling place when the Legislature is in session — the elevators are crowded, the hallways are packed, the committee hearing rooms are overflowing and the chamber floors are covered with state lawmakers.

But with less than 100 days until the 87th regular session and the coronavirus pandemic still upending once-regular ways of life, it’s unclear what typical functions at the Capitol will look like in January, or whether they will even exist.

That uncertainty this close to the session could have ramifications for what members say will be one of the toughest legislative sessions in recent years: tackling billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget, undergoing the process of redrawing the state’s political maps, and navigating issues like health care and public education that have been a focus during the pandemic.

On top of that, the Capitol has been closed to most everyone for months, prompting questions about the access that the public will have to the legislative process.

Senate and House members spearheading logistical discussions say that while much remains up in the air, the two chambers are working together to implement session rules that are consistent for both chambers. With wildly different dynamics in the 31-person Senate and the 150-person House, though, some suggest that the two chambers may not end up on the same page.

“Our primary concern is safety, transparency and public access,” said state Rep. Donna Howard, an Austin Democrat who serves as vice chair of the House Administration Committee. “There’s so much up in the air.”

State Rep. Charlie Geren, R-Fort Worth, chair of the committee, said the House is “in conversation with the lieutenant governor’s office,” but noted that “until there’s a presumed speaker, we don’t have a lot of guidance” in the lower chamber.

To Geren’s point, there’s only so much the House can do to prepare for the next session when its speaker is retiring and control of the lower chamber could flip to Democrats in November. There aren’t any declared candidates yet in the race to replace Republican House Speaker Dennis Bonnen. However, if a member collected the votes needed to win before January, they could become the presumptive speaker and informally lay the groundwork on what protocols would be in place.

On the Senate side, rumors have lingered for weeks over what Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has told senators to expect come January. On a recent call with Senate chairs, according to several people who had knowledge of the call but weren’t authorized to speak on the record, Patrick outlined a worst-case scenario that involved limiting the legislation allowed for consideration and banning the public, press and lobbyists from entering the chamber.

A senior adviser for Patrick declined to comment for this story. And state Sen. Bryan Hughes, a Mineola Republican who chairs the Senate Administration Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.

Some decisions have already been made. Plexiglass dividers have been installed in several House committee hearing rooms, Geren said. Such barriers, he said, won’t be installed on the 150 House floor desks in the chamber after a trial run with a couple of them because they would interfere with the light used by new mobile sanitizing machines, as The Dallas Morning News first reported. House and Senate offices have also offered free webcams to offices in preparation for conducting more business virtually.

The Legislature, though, still faces a list of seemingly never-ending questions: Should temperature checks or some other form of screening be required before people enter the building? How can the House spread out 150 desks on the chamber floor — and will press and essential staff still be allowed on it? How can the public testify on legislation in committee hearing rooms, particularly on measures that generate a lot of interest?

Buoying those questions are layers of uncertainty about whether the virus will spike this winter, whether a vaccine will be available — and accessible — and, heading into the November election, whether Democrats will have control over the House, which could mean a change in leadership style to counter the GOP-controlled Legislature.

In August, Geren sent members results from a House survey over how and when the Capitol should reopen. Not every member responded, but those who answered questions about requiring temperature checks upon entering the Capitol and requiring face masks while inside committee rooms and public meeting spaces overwhelmingly supported those measures.

Howard told the Tribune that members are considering different sorts of screening protocols for how the public enters the Capitol but that no decisions have been made on what that could look like.

Since mid-March, the Capitol has been closed to the public, preventing members from holding interim committee hearings inside the building with public testimony. Those hearings are usually scheduled to help members consider or research business that could come up during the next session.

On Monday, hearing notices were posted for Senate Higher Education and Education interim committee hearings, both of which are set to happen next week. Each notice states that access to the Capitol “is limited to legislators and staff only” — and that only invited testimony will be allowed. “Invited testimony will be conducted via video-conference,” the notices say.

As a sort of workaround in the House, the speaker’s office released a memo in July detailing three options for how to conduct committee business while also adhering to lower-chamber rules, which do not allow for virtual hearings. Some committees have carried out interim business following that guidance.

Still, Democrats and Republicans have called on Gov. Greg Abbott, who oversees the Capitol, to reopen the building in recent weeks, arguing that if in-person fundraisers and public schools can resume, so can interim committee hearings. Such requests have gone unanswered publicly, and a spokesperson for the governor did not respond to a request for comment for this article. A spokesperson for the State Preservation Board also declined to comment.

“It certainly looks like we’re not going to have anything open before session starts,” Howard said. “We’ve really had no opportunity to have interim hearings, which has been extremely frustrating.”

State Rep. Phil King, a Weatherford Republican who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, said that “right now, we’re just locked out” — and added that it’s his “strong preference” that the Capitol reopen as soon as possible.

“I think it’s time now,” he said.

In the meantime, some members are already mapping out what office-specific guidelines they may issue for the 87th session. While most members say they are waiting to finalize those plans until closer to January, a number of them have already laid out protocols.

State Rep. Jon Rosenthal’s office, for example, has established a set of guidelines that staff and the lawmaker “will adhere to independent of rules and procedures the House Administration Committee provides the members for the 87th Legislative session,” according to a memo from the Houston Democrat’s office and assuming he wins reelection.

Masks will be required to enter Rosenthal’s Capitol office, which will not allow more than six people inside at a time. Rosenthal and his staff, the memo says, will also be tested for the virus “a minimum of once per week.” And interns, should they be hired, will work from home unless “dramatic changes happen” to prevent the spread of the virus.

On the other hand, state Rep. Briscoe Cain, a Republican from Deer Park and a member of the hardline conservative House Freedom Caucus, said he and his staff “absolutely will not” mandate masks — and that his “office will be open to all just as it has been since I was first elected.”

“It won’t bother me if visitors want to wear [a mask], I’m not going to make them take them off,” Cain told the Tribune. “In 2017 or 2019, if someone wanted to wear a mask, I would not have cared.”

Another Republican, state Rep. Dade Phelan of Beaumont, said his office is considering limiting staff and the number of visitors allowed in the office at one time. He said his office is also thinking about trying to move meetings online, though no decisions have been made yet. Across the rotunda, state Sen. Borris Miles’ staff members said they have already installed a plexiglass shield at the front desk in the Houston Democrat’s office.

Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats including state Reps. Joe Moody of El Paso and John Turner of Dallas have spent the past several months working on a governance platform to add to the conversation about what the session should look like.

“Keep the ‘People’s House’ accessible to all who wish to safely participate,” read a line in a one-pager that was presented at the House Democratic Caucus’ recent virtual retreat. “Institute daily COVID checks for everyone entering the Texas Capitol,” reads another. Another one: “Propose penalties to discourage anyone from flouting pandemic rules.”

The pandemic has, of course, impacted other issues tied to the Legislature and its usual timeline. In addition to addressing the billions of dollars in shortfalls to the state budget and other core issues during session, state lawmakers are also set to undergo the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing the state’s political maps.

The pandemic has already halted several hearings that both the House and Senate redistricting committees had scheduled across the state during the interim. And, on top of that, King, chair of the House Redistricting Committee, said the census data that helps lawmakers draw political maps is not expected to arrive until at least June — which could put the Legislature on track to work beyond the 140-day regular session.

“I think we’re headed for a special session on redistricting regardless,” King told the Tribune.

Others agree. At a virtual event in July, the lieutenant governor said the Legislature could be in session until at least September, citing the budget and redistricting.

“I’ve told my staff and I’ve told senators,” Patrick said, “don’t plan any vacations until maybe after Sept. 30 of next year.”

The Texas Legislature meets in less than 100 days. Nobody knows how the session will look.” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.


ATPE submits interim testimony to House committees on COVID-19, school funding, and more

As we have been reporting here on Teach the Vote, several Texas legislative committees have solicited written feedback from stakeholders this year in lieu of taking public testimony at in-person hearings this year. House and Senate committees have been tasked by Speaker Dennis Bonnen and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, respectively, with studying interim charges on a host of issues and offering recommendations to the 87th Texas Legislature that will convene in January 2021.

The House Public Education Committee recently issued formal requests for information on a handful of its interim charges. Today ATPE submitted the following responses, sharing our members’ feedback on these issues:

  • Interim Charge 1[A] asks the committee to monitor implementation of House Bill (HB) 3, the comprehensive school finance bill passed in 2019 that resulted in compensation increases for many teachers. In response to this charge, the committee is focusing specifically on “pay raises districts have provided to staff and the various approaches adopted to differentiate these salary increases according to experience.” ATPE’s submission highlights the importance of elevating educators’ pay as a means of raising the prestige of the profession. We are recommending that lawmakers ensure funding is in place to maintain educator salary increases under HB 3 and encourage districts to distribute any additional funding in the form of permanent raises. ATPE also shares our feedback on ongoing implementation of the bill’s merit pay program known as the Teacher Incentive Allotment.
  • With Interim Charge 1[B], the committee seeks feedback on school accountability, assessment, interventions, and school district-charter partnerships. ATPE’s submission includes general observations about the state’s A-F accountability rating system and various bills passed in recent years that have affected student testing and the manner in which school districts and campuses are rated. We highlight our concerns about the use of data derived from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) and other tests during the 2020-21 school year while the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the educational environment.
  • Interim Charges 1[C], 1[D], 1[E], and 1[F] all sought input on school safety and mental health initiatives spurred by legislation in recent years. ATPE submitted feedback on these charges emphasizing the heightened importance of health and safety measures being prioritized amid the pandemic, the need for continued funding of these initiatives, the vital role of school counselors and other mental health professionals employed in public schools, and the recommendation that classroom teachers be involved in task forces that are studying mental health issues for students.
  • The committee solicited information about digital learning with its Interim Charge 2. ATPE’s response answers the committee’s questions about barriers to providing a digital learning environment for all students and determining where gaps exist in internet coverage.
  • The committee also sought information for an interim study of COVID-19. ATPE’s submission for this interim charge addresses very specific question posed by the committee: “Are Texas public schools ensuring the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff during the 2020 Fall Semester? ATPE shares insights gleaned from a member survey we conducted last week through the Advocacy Central section of our website on this topic, along with concerns we have heard from educators dealing with the pandemic. Safety protocols, workload impacts, educator retention, and the difficulty of adhering to rigid high-stakes testing requirements amid the pandemic are some of the concerns highlighted in our written input.

The House Appropriations Committee similarly solicited written input from stakeholders regarding its interim charges. ATPE submitted comments today to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Article III, which oversees the state budget for public education. Our input focused on the costs of implementing HB 3 and areas where the state could save money during the COVID-19 pandemic, including halting charter expansions and pursuing a second-year waiver of federal testing and accountability requirements.

Senate District 30 special election results

Today, September 29, voters in Senate District (SD) 30 in North Texas headed to the polls for a special election. The Senate seat opened up after Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) last month announced his plans to resign. Fallon was tapped by the Republican party to replace former U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe on the ballot in the November general election for the 4th Congressional District of Texas, after Ratcliffe became the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for the Trump administration. Gov. Greg Abbott quickly called for the special election even before Fallon’s resignation was effected in the solidly Republican Senate district.

Here are the unofficial results of today’s special election:

  • Current state Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster) received 31.83% of the votes. Springer was endorsed by the outgoing Fallon along with several other members of the Texas Legislature.
  • Beauty salon owner turned Republican activist Shelley Luther earned 31.7% of the votes. Luther gained national fame after she was arrested for violating business closure orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which Gov. Abbott scaled back immediately thereafter.
  • Republican boot company owner Craig Carter brought in 5.53% of the votes.
  • Republican Chris Watts who resigned as Mayor of Denton in order to vie for this seat received 6.28% of the votes.
  • Republican consultant Andy Hopper received 3.59% of the votes.
  • The lone Democratic candidate in the race, electrician Jacob Minter, earned 21.06% of the vote in this heavily Republican-leaning district.

The top two finishers, Springer and Luther, were separated by less than one hundred votes, out of more than 68,000 cast. Since no candidate earned more than 50% of the votes needed to win today, the top two finishers will move on to a runoff. A date for the runoff election has not yet been announced.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 14, 2020

Whether you started school or not this week, nearly everyone is switching into back-to-school mode. Unwind and stay up-to-date with this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

Gov. Abbott speaks in El Paso, August 13, 2020. (Source)

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Saturday, August 8, Gov. Greg Abbott renewed the COVID-19 disaster declaration for the state of Texas. The declaration continues many of the special provisions, funding mechanisms, and waivers that have helped Texans get through the pandemic. Abbott traveled to Beaumont, Victoria, Lubbock, and El Paso this week to speak about COVID-19. He stressed remaining vigilant in best practices to avoid contracting COVID-19, said that bars were hot-spots and the state would need to meet certain metrics before they could reopen, and added that the state is investigating its high test positivity rate. With regard to schools, Abbott reiterated that it is up to school districts to provide remote, in-person, or hybrid models under the flexibilities (and limitations) offered by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

ATPE sent a letter to all Texas superintendents this week that included recommendations for how to respond to COVID-19, based on the communications ATPE has received from its membership. These recommendations include implementing a process to consider and make accommodations for staff health concerns; granting requested contract releases or refraining from filing complaints with the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) if a staff member resigns due to health concerns that cannot be accommodated; and providing paid leave for staff members who are ordered to quarantine.

ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was featured in an article by the Texas Signal this week on the confusion that has surrounded a safe school reopening. With an order to open schools but details left up to local decision-makers, educators have gotten lost in the mix of constantly changing messages and guidelines. Wiggins said, “It is a tough situation for people who have dedicated their lives to serving children. In some cases, parents will have a choice for their kids to receive remote instruction, but educators don’t get that choice. Confusion doesn’t inspire confidence.”

The ATPE COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page has frequently-updated answers to common questions from educators. Also be sure to check out ATPE’s recent legal webinar on COVID-19 with explanations of many issues facing educators during the pandemic. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues.

ELECTION UPDATE: State Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) was ceremonially sworn into office this week after formally taking the oath two weeks ago. Eckhardt will serve out the remainder of the term left vacant by former Sen. Kirk Watson through 2022. Meanwhile, a potential shakeup is brewing in Senate District (SD) 30 in North Texas. State Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) is expected to be promoted to the U.S. Congress, creating a vacancy for his Texas Senate seat that is drawing interest from many candidates, including some members of the Texas House of Representatives. This sets up a unique dilemma surrounding the mathematical majority in the chamber and the election of a new House Speaker in January.

In national news this week, Joe Biden selected his former presidential rival and U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Harris is the first African-American woman and person of Asian-American descent in U.S. history to appear on a major political party’s presidential ticket, and was among the first in the Democratic presidential primary to call for a raise for teachers.

Finally, the U.S. Census is underway and will have a significant impact on how much power Texas holds in Congress. Read more about what’s at stake, as well as the rest of this week’s election news, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

ATPE Vice President Karen Hames participated in a virtual forum hosted by CBS Austin.

ATPE members have been speaking up for their students and fellow colleagues all over Texas this week! ATPE State Vice President and veteran middle school teacher Karen Hames was featured in a statewide virtual forum hosted by CBS Austin this week. During the Wednesday evening broadcast, Hames detailed how her school is approaching in-service days and the school year. She provided advice to parents as they begin school in a completely different environment, saying that a parent’s encouragement during virtual learning is “incalculable.”

ATPE member Myra Rodriguez-Berrones took part in a Q&A panel hosted by Sen. Zaffirini.

Zapata ISD Special Services Teacher and ATPE Member Myra Rodriguez-Berrones also participated in “Back to School? Your Questions Answered,” a Q&A panel hosted by state Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) on Wednesday. Berrones has spent 20 years serving children with special needs and the hard of hearing in Zapata ISD, and shared her thoughts on serving children with special needs in the COVID environment. Berrones also shared tips for engaging children at home, as well as increasing participation for parents of English learners. The panel included representatives from the Texas Education Agency, as well as speakers representing administrators, counselors, and school nurses. You can watch the full Q&A session here.

The Texas Senate Finance Committee released its interim report to the 87th legislature last week. The report comes at a time when committees in both chambers of the Texas legislature have not been able to meet for interim hearings due to COVID-19 concerns and closures. Having just received guidance not too long ago on how to conduct interim business amid the pandemic, many Texas House committees have now posted “formal requests for information” on their websites to gain information without holding a formal public hearing in person. Read more about the Senate Finance Committee report and the House requests for information in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Communication is key in every relationship. That’s why ATPE has partnered with several other education organizations to develop a public online toolkit with tips and suggestions that parents and educators can use during the challenges of virtual instruction. Use ATPE’s open submission form to submit tips from either a parent or educator perspective for classroom engagement, parent and student communication, and more!

The Texas Education Agency updated nearly all of its COVID-19 resources this week, just as some school districts across the state opened for in-person and remote instruction. The agency answered new questions regarding full-day pre-K requirements and funding, the optional and extended transition periods in the beginning of the year, and attendance and enrollment. TEA also created a new “Education Rights and Responsibilities” document for families that outlines what options for instruction and reminds parents of attendance requirements. Districts were notified this week of free training provided by OnRamps for those who are teaching in distance or hybrid learning environments. Additionally, as in the spring, districts will be required to report “crisis codes” for students based on whether the student is receiving in-person, remote synchronous, or remote asynchronous instruction. Lastly, the agency’s resources on educator preparation remind  certification candidates that, under the Governor’s disaster declaration, TEA can reduce face-to-face requirements by 20%. Similarly, the agency is advising educator preparation programs to process probationary certificates for candidates who cannot meet testing requirements (under the Governor’s waiver) as quickly as possible.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Aug. 7, 2020

Sales Tax Free Weekend in Texas starts today and ends Sunday, August 9. Enjoy shopping online, by mail, or in-person (be safe!) as you gear up for the school year with some new clothing and supplies. Before you make your shopping list, check out this week’s wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

Abbott holds press conference on August 4, 2020. (Source)

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: With congressional negotiations over additional COVID-19 relief legislation at the federal level apparently stalled this week, schools around the country are starting the new school year with lingering concerns about the availability of resources. Here in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott made a few media appearances this week, mostly reinforcing state actions pertaining to the start of the new school year. On Monday, Abbott told KXAN that teachers should not be concerned with the safety of the school setting, claiming teachers have ther option to teach virtually for “months on end.” As ATPE has been reporting on state guidance issued and revised over the past month, school districts are limited to a maximum of eight weeks of primarily remote learning without risking state funding. Districts are adopting varied remote learning models and are not necessarily offering all teachers the option to teach remotely. ATPE Board Member Christie Smith was featured in KXAN’s story, saying that even though she is eligible for retirement, she is staying in her position to maintain health benefits and job security.

At a Tuesday press conference, Gov. Abbott stressed that local school officials are best equipped to make decisions about when and how to return to school, and he ensured PPE will be provided to districts at no cost. While Abbott stated that Texas has distributed more than 59.4 million masks, 24,000 thermometers, 568,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, and 511,000 face shields to Texas schools, many argue that this allocation will not meet the needs of students and staff for an extended period of time. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath has also said previously that schools should purchase additional PPE beyond what the state is providing. On Thursday, Gov. Abbott held another press conference to discuss considerations for flu season, mainly noting that COVID-19 preparations, precautions, and heightened hygiene and mask wearing practices should make this the tamest flu season yet. Abbott maintained that although COVID-19 vaccines will not be available this fall, flu vaccines are available and “treatments” for COVID-19 are increasingly available.

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter participated in a town hall on school reopening this week with Dr. Eliz Markowitz. Exter emphasized the need for creativity and collaboration among district leaders, parents, and educators, as well as the need for consistent and clear state leadership. Other panelists included SBOE member and physician Dr. Matt Robinson and renowned education author Dr. Diane Ravitch.

The ATPE COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page has frequently-updated answers to common questions from educators. Also be sure to check out ATPE’s recent legal webinaron COVID-19 with  explanations of many issues facing educators during the pandemic. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues.

ELECTION UPDATE: Former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt formally took office as state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) last Friday, filling the seat in Senate District (SD) 14 left open by former state Sen. Kirk Watson. Eckhardt finished the July special election with the most votes, but just under the 50% threshold needed to win the election outright. She was headed to a runoff with state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin), until Rep. Rodriguez bowed out of the race. Sen. Eckhardt will fill out the remainder of Watson’s term, which is set to expire in 2022.

John Lewis 📷 Library of Congress

As the nation mourned the passing of civil rights icon U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), we were reminded of what the congressman had to say about the power of voting to bring about positive change. “My dear friends,” he told a Charlotte, North Carolina, audience in 2012, “Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”

It’s never too early to start preparing for the next election, which falls on November 3. Gov. Abbott extended early voting by an additional week, which means the polls now open on October 13 and early voting runs through October 30. That means voting begins in just two months!

Our friends at the Texas Educators Vote coalition have put together a handy checklist to make sure you’re ready. October 5 is the deadline to register in time to vote if you haven’t already, so step one is checking to see if your registration is up to date. If you are eligible and plan to vote by mail, apply as soon as possible and return your completed ballot at the earliest possible opportunity. This will help avoid delays in the mail service like we saw during the runoff elections. Finally, don’t forget to head over to the candidates section here at Teach the Vote and research who’s running in your area. And make sure your friends do the same!

David Pore

FEDERAL UPDATE: ATPE Immediate State Past-President Tonja Gray and new State President Jimmy Lee finished a round of virtual meetings with the Texas congressional delegation last week. Along with the ATPE Governmental Relations team and our federal lobbyist, David Pore, Gray and Lee met with several members of the Texas delegation to talk about current issues of concern to educators. Read more about the meetings in this blog post written by Pore.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) recently posted the adopted Commissioner’s rules for the Local Optional Teacher Designation System under the Teacher Incentive Allotment, which was created by last year’s House Bill 3. The rules incorporated several suggestions made by ATPE during the public comment phase of the rule-making process back in May. These changes include a reference to the statutory definition of educator within the rules, a clarification of the eligible role codes for teachers to earn or receive designations, the requirement of an implementation plan in response to annual surveys about the designation system, and other clarifying language on teacher eligibility and the approval process for district plans.

School nutrition has been one of the many challenges incurred by the public education system since the COVID-19 pandemic began and schools were forced to close their doors. In the spring of 2020, school districts continued to pay nutritional services staff while taking on higher costs associated with food delivery and menu changes to make more hygienic and simple grab-and-go options for families. At the same time, and even with waivers in place, fewer students accessed school meals. This double-whammy created a financial strain for districts, which run a nearly net-zero food operation. Without more waivers or funding, districts could be looking at a tough year for food service in 2020-21, which isn’t good news for students who rely on the school for this basic necessity. Read more about nutrition and COVID-19 in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced this week that field data collection will end one month early, on September 30 rather than October 31. Census Bureau Director Steven Dillingham insisted that the remaining weeks of field work, which are crucial to an accurate count of hard-to-count communities, will be handled with diligence in order to provide apportionment counts by the statutory deadline of December 31, 2020. Texas currently ranks #39 in the nation with a self-response rate of 58%. Without a complete count, Texas risks an imbalanced and inaccurate congressional representation, non-representative redistricting, and funding cuts to programs that benefit all Texans, such as roads and public education. Encourage everyone you know to complete their census questionnaire and have their own network complete the census, too. It is easier than ever and can be completed online. Read more about this recent development in this census reporting by the Texas Tribune.

The closure of the Texas State Capitol on account of the COVID-19 pandemic has hampered the ability of state legislative committees to conduct their interim work. On July 16, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen notified House committees of their options for carrying out interim committee business during COVID-19. One of the options is to post “formal requests for information” on the House website so that committees can gather written information from the public and post it publicly in lieu of holding an in-person hearing. Several House committees posted formal requests for information this week, including the House Higher Education Committee, House Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services Committee, and House Appropriations Article III subcommittee.

The Texas Senate has not yet provided notice on planned committee proceedings options during the pandemic. However, the Senate Finance Committee has gone ahead and released its interim report this Friday afternoon. In addition to general finance discussions, the report includes some recommendations for investment strategies of state funds such as the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension fund and the Permanent School Fund. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote on Monday for a more detailed look at the interim committee report released today.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 31, 2020

State officials released information this week that sends mixed messages to educators and school leaders, yet again. Read more about this and other developments in this week’s wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: School districts around the state continue to discuss and revise plans for starting the new school year amid funding and enrollment uncertainty and with guidance from elected officials that has raised more questions than answers. As we have been reporting here on our blog, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) initially urged school districts to start the 2020-21 school year earlier to allow for extended breaks during the year. With COVID-19 cases continuing to rise, TEA walked back that position in early July, suggesting a delayed reopening and offering districts a three-week transition period to move from virtual to on-campus instruction. On July 17, as several of the state’s largest cities were adopting orders that would attempt to delay a return to campus until COVID-19 cases subsided, TEA extended the allowable virtual transition period to four to eight weeks (with school board approval) and also said districts would continue to be funded if they were forced to operate virtually under closure orders from local officials. But this week saw yet another round of guidance from TEA and statements by other elected officials calling into question the validity of such local orders.

A new, non-binding legal opinion voiced by Texas Attorney General (AG) Ken Paxton and updated public health and attendance guidance from TEA on Tuesday only added to the confusion school district leaders, their staffs, and the parents of students are trying to sort through. The AG’s letter to a Texas mayor attempts to nullify local health authorities’ previously assumed ability to issue school closure orders in a preventative fashion. TEA updated its attendance and enrollment guidance the same day to reflect Paxton’s interpretation, warning that schools districts that offer only remote instruction based on local health authority orders (outside of the approved transition window in which instruction can be fully virtual) may risk losing their funding. Read more about Tuesday’s developments in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, and read ATPE’s press statement here.

On Friday, a joint press release from Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Chairman Taylor, and Chairman Huberty defended TEA’s updated guidance, saying the agency has provided flexibility through various means and that it is up to local school boards to decide when and how to open schools. ATPE responded to the press release in a statement complaining about the unclear and often contradictory directives and stating, “ATPE reiterates that uniform, science-based metrics guiding reopening or closure decisions based on health and safety are needed right now—not shifting perspectives, platitudes, or power struggles.”

Knowing the frustrations that this back-and-forth causes for educators, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter told News 4 San Antonio this week it would be helpful to have consistent guidance from TEA. While the news about teachers and students returning to campus often takes the spotlight, support staff across Texas are also concerned, as the Texas Tribune reported this week. Cafeteria, custodial, and transportation staff face unique challenges this fall as they tend to be paid hourly, and their jobs, by their nature, cannot be performed remotely. In a recent CNN interview, ATPE’s Mitchell cited the need to add bus routes in order to reduce passenger loads as an example of steps school districts are finding it difficult to implement without additional financial resources from the state and federal government. Unfortunately, the ever-changing regulations communicated by state leadership make creating a safe plan, and sticking to it, difficult. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins sat down with Fox 7 Austin this week to talk about the issue, saying we are past due for local control guided by educators, parents, and public health officials.

This week Gov. Greg Abbott announced he has eliminated the requirement that STAAR test scores be used for fifth and eighth grade promotion decisions, a step in the right direction towards reducing the impact of testing in the 2020-21 school year. Additionally, according to TEA correspondence, only one test administration in fifth and eighth grade will occur this year. The change places educational decisions back in the hands of expert educators, who can easily determine without STAAR if a student is ready for the next grade. Yet more flexibility is needed. In an interview with NBC DFW this week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier expressed that eliminating the STAAR tests in their entirety for the 2020-21 school year would save valuable time and resources that will be needed for remediation and helping those students who need it the most. Read more about this development in this blog post by Chevalier.

ATPE held a legal webinar on COVID-19 this week that included educators’ questions answered by ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp. In case you missed the live webinar, you may view the recorded version to hear Tapp’s easy-to-understand explanations of the many issues facing educators during the pandemic.

Visit the ATPE COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page for constantly updated answers to common questions from educators. ATPE members can also use Advocacy Central to communicate with their elected officials regarding concerns about school reopening and other issues.

FEDERAL UPDATE: Republicans in the U.S. Senate revealed their new proposal for coronavirus aid and relief this week, which includes an updated education proposal directing two-thirds of $70 billion in K-12 funds to schools that physically reopen for in-person instruction. The remaining one-third would be split among all public schools. The legislative package also includes a separate bill that aims to instate U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’s longstanding wish for $5 billion in dollar-for-dollar tax credits for a private school voucher system. The GOP proposal comes months after House Democrats passed theirs. Read more about Congress’s progress in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The U.S. Department of Education this week announced winners for the “Rethink K-12 Education Models Grant” this week, which includes a nearly $20 million award for Texas. The grants were awarded based on priorities, the first of which was for states that opted to create “microgrant” voucher programs. Texas did not opt for microgrants and instead will use the federal money for its statewide learning management system and framework, announced to districts this week to include a free two-year subscription to Schoology.

ELECTION UPDATE:  President Donald Trump made headlines yesterday when he put out a tweet that suggested postponing the November 3 election. Many experts were quick to point out that the president does not have the legal authority to postpone the election; only Congress has that power. The suggestion drew unanimous criticism even among the president’s Republican supporters, who confirmed that there is no chance of the presidential election being postponed for the first time in American history. It’s also worth noting that mail-in voting is, in fact, a form of absentee voting; and while the primary elections revealed significant processing problems presented by record numbers of people taking advantage of the option to vote by mail, allegations of widespread voting fraud have not been proven.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) announced this week that early voting for the Nov. 3 election will be extended by an additional week. Early voting will now run from October 13 through October 30, 2020. That leaves three full weeks for early voting, which is intended to relieve crowding at polling locations. Gov. Abbott similarly extended the early voting period for the July runoff elections.

In the Senate District 14 special election, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) announced this week that he is withdrawing from the runoff against former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt, who finished first in the special election held this month. Rodriguez will retain his Texas House seat. Eckhardt will now fill out the remainder of former state Sen. Kirk Watson’s (D-Austin) term, which ends in 2022. Watson retired from the Texas Senate earlier this year.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held a special meeting Friday, July 31, to discuss rules relating to educator certification candidates facing challenges during the pandemic. The rules proposed for adoption will allow candidates to complete their educator preparation program (EPP) requirements for the 2020-21 school year in a virtual setting and will allow face-to-face observation requirements to be carried out in a synchronous virtual setting. After hearing testimony from EPP representatives during the past couple of months, the board voted to amend its proposal to include asychronous observations in addition to those carried out synchronously. Read more about the meeting in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.