Tag Archives: Mark Wiggins

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 13, 2018

The weekend is here! Catch up on this week’s education news from ATPE:


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met in Austin this week, and ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was there to cover it all. He has a series of posts up on the blog reporting on outcomes of the board’s week-long agenda. Here is a quick wrap-up, with links to the extended posts:

The board is scheduled to meet again this summer.

 


During his address to the SBOE on Wednesday, Commissioner Morath gave some potential insight into how the state will address accountability for school districts affected by Hurricane Harvey. In light of significant student displacement, delayed starts to the school year, and various other Harvey-related struggles impacting a number of school districts this year, superintendents and others in Harvey-affected districts have called on the Commissioner to offer accountability relief from the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR). While the Commissioner initially argued such a move was not likely because teachers and students needed to be held accountable for their learning (he also refused to delay test dates for Harvey-affected students, despite requests), his tune changed slightly this week. He this time told members of the board that he will consider waiving STAAR scores in Harvey-affected districts. Learn more about the Commissioner’s announcement in this piece from the Texas Tribune.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a framework for the new accountability system this week. The system was most recently revised by the 85th Texas Legislature under House Bill (HB) 22; initial adoption of an A-F accountability system was passed during the previous legislative session in 2015. The system is broken down into three domains that are focused on student achievement, school progress, and closing the gaps. Schools and districts will receive an individual A, B, C, D, or F score for each domain as well as a summative score based on a compilation of all three domains. Learn more about the framework in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 

 

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 6, 2018

Here’s a wrap-up of your education news from ATPE:


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) made several announcements this week regarding the draft plan to address special education in Texas. In addition to accepting public comments on the latest version of the draft plan, TEA has scheduled two hearings where members of the public are invited to express their input. Information on the two meetings is as follows:

  • Thursday, April 12, at ESC Region 1 – 1900 West Schunior, Edinburg, Tx.
  • Monday, April 16, at ESC Region 10 – 400 East Spring Valley Road, Richardson, TX.

Both meetings will begin at 1 pm, and those wishing to share feedback are asked to register onsite beginning at 12:30 pm (registration will end when the meeting begins). Registered participants will be called in the order they are registered and will be limited to three minutes. The hearing will end when all have testified or at 3 pm, whichever comes first. Those unable to attend either hearing can submit their written comments by email at TexasSPED@TEA.texas.gov by April 18 at noon.

To learn more about the two public hearings and the chance to submit written testimony, view TEA’s full press release, visit TEA’s special education webpage, and read ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s post from earlier this week.

 


Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath sent a letter to school administrators today regarding three recent changes to how the spring 2018 State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exams will be administered. The three changes involve offering medical exemptions for qualifying students, allowing for the transcribing of student responses that are recorded in the test booklet onto a blank answer document, and relaxing the rules around classroom displays. His letter indicates these moves are being made in response to district feedback and in an effort to “do all I can to help make this a positive experience and reduce stress for students and school district and charter school personnel.” Read Commissioner Morath’s full letter to learn more.

 


It was a busy Wednesday at the Capitol this week, and your ATPE Governmental Relations team was there to cover all the action. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the Senate State Affairs Committee meeting, where pension and healthcare issues were the topic of discussion. That meeting included conversations about the factors affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas pension fund and the TRS-Care retiree health insurance program. For more information on how the hearing unfolded, read Exter’s recap of the meeting or watch an archived webcast. You can find ATPE’s testimony, and other public testimony, at the end of the recording.

 


The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week in Austin for a discussion on property taxes and their role in the school finance system. A smaller working group of commission members met Wednesday to discuss outcomes. The highlight of Wednesday’s meeting was former Assistant U.S. Secretary of Education Tom Luce, who suggested it’s time to do “more with more, not more with less” when it comes to funding public schools in Texas. This was particularly compelling advice from Luce, considering he was a key player in the state’s last major school finance reform – all the way back in 1984.

All 13 members of the commission met Thursday to hear several panels discuss property taxes. While there was general agreement on the burden imposed by property taxes, the debate between some members over how to calculate the state’s share of public education spending continued anew. Importantly, state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) requested the state prepare a list of school revenue sources that have been cut over the last 10 years. You can read a full recap of Wednesday’s working group meeting by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here, and a rundown of Thursday’s full commission meeting here.

 


The Senate Education Committee rounded out a busy Wednesday in Austin with a hearing to discuss interim charges related to virtual schools, “high quality education opportunities,” and the federal E-rate program. ATPE offered written testimony to the committee concerning the virtual education charge, cautioning against moves to further expand the Texas Virtual School Network without carefully considering the status of virtual schools’ performance. Recent research highlights concerns regarding these schools nationwide and a look at Texas accountability measures fail to paint a drastically different picture in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was at the hearing and offers more on the discussion here.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 23, 2018

Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE lobby team:


Congress advanced the omnibus spending bill to President Trump overnight and it received his signature this afternoon. The $1.3 trillion spending plan played out in a dramatic fashion, emerging Wednesday with support from both Republican and Democratic leadership, but with some waffling from President Trump.

After a bipartisan U.S. House vote of support (256-167) on Thursday and a similar vote in the Senate (65-32) that followed early Friday morning, President Trump again expressed consternation over the deal. He tweeted that he was considering a veto based on two missing pieces: full funding for his border wall and a plan for individuals that fall under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Ultimately, President Trump signed the legislation, but not without additional expressions of concern. Before the press this afternoon, he called the bill a “ridiculous situation” and told Congress he would never vote for a bill like this again, referring to its high price tag and lack of transparency. Trump said he was only signing it because it was a matter of national security and included increased spending for the military, the largest in history. He also highlighted several things he considers wins, like some initial funding to begin work on his border wall and dollars to address the opioid epidemic.

President Trump’s signature prevents a government shutdown that loomed at midnight tonight. Learn more about the spending plan, particularly as it relates to a funding boost for education, in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on March 19, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met in Austin this week on Monday, March 19. The commission spent the day taking both invited and non-invited testimony from the public as the members consider their recommendations to the 86th Legislature for modifying the state’s school finance system. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter offered public testimony on behalf of ATPE, highlighting ways the school finance system could be overhauled to provide property tax relief. (The commission previously heard invited testimony from ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey during an earlier meeting last month.) Read a full recap of Monday’s hearing and the extensive public testimony in this week’s blog post.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, a consortium of education groups briefed the media on a new poll showing that most Texans support increasing the amount spent on public education. For more on the poll results, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

A subcommittee or working group of the school finance commission tasked with studying school expenditures also held a meeting the following morning to take additional testimony relative to their charge. The working group is chaired by Rep. Dan Huberty, who also chairs the House Public Education Committee. Read more about Tuesday’s working group session here.

The chair of the full commission sparked controversy this week after he made comments questioning whether the state should spend money on students he referred to as “slow learners.” Special education advocacy groups were quick to complain about Chairman Scott Brister’s remarks, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman in this article that also features a quote from ATPE’s Exter.

The next meeting for the Commission will be on April 5, 2018 at 9 a.m. in the William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104, located at 1701 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX. The meeting will be webcast at: http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its Draft Special Education Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Response this week to fix critical failures in the state’s special education system. The draft plan varies little from an initial draft the agency circulated in January, and the agency is seeking public comment on the latest version. You can e-mail feedback to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov.

The plan carries a $211 million price tag, which does not include a substantial cost anticipated to be incurred by local school districts. The districts will be expected to perform the bulk of the work meeting the needs of children who were wrongfully denied special education services in the past due to districts’ following a TEA directive to limit special education enrollment. Because of this funding challenge, many school administrators are warning they will need additional financial support from the state in order to properly serve qualifying children. The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) noted this in a press release this week, saying the TEA plan “is rich with school district monitoring and compliance measures, but fails to offer adequate financial and other support to districts.” Read the full TCASE press statement here.

 


Interim legislative hearings are in full swing now, and multiple committees are discussing how to address the state’s funding challenges that have a direct impact on public education.

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee met to consider “options to increase investment earnings of the Economic Stabilization Fund,” often referred to as the state’s rainy day fund. Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar warned this week that the state could face a downgrade of its credit rating if it does not look at changing the way the $11 billion fund is invested. Decisions about the fund could have future implications for how the state funds teacher pensions and other education-related endeavors. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has written more about the hearing in his blog post this week.

Another tough issue being debated by numerous committees this interim is teacher compensation. Several high-profile elected officials running for re-election have made teacher pay raises a key talking point in their campaign messaging, but few concrete plans or identified sources of funding have been proposed. On Monday, March 26, the Senate Education Committee will take its turn at debating the issue. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been invited to testify on the issue. Stay tuned to our blog next week for updates on this and other hearings.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 9, 2018

Here is this week’s wrap-up of education news from ATPE:


Tuesday was primary Election Day in Texas, and there is a lot to unpack. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has an inital analysis of the primary results here, and he highlights two major takeaways after Tuesday night: voter turnout increased and incumbents did well.

Voter turnout hit record highs in both parties. Like Exter points out in his post, a Texas Educators Vote Coalition statement praising  voter turnout in the primary election also notes that turnout increased across Texas by almost 700,000 voters compared to the most recent midterm primary election in 2014. The number of Democratic voters getting to the polls exceeded 1 million, while Republican voter totals topped off at more than 1.5 million. Both parties saw an increase in their voter turnout, with Democrats nearly doubling the total number of voters since 2014 (a number that represented a midterm primary record high for the party not hit since 1994). Republicans experienced a more modest increase in the largely red state, but the party’s turnout still represented record numbers.

As a proud member of the Texas Educators Vote Coalition, ATPE is thrilled to see the uptick in civic engagement and encourages educators and other voters to maintain that energy through November and future elections. ATPE was also excited to see a large percentage of ATPE-supported candidates prevail in their elections; Exter’s recap of the election has more on those results. While many are focused on the bigger races at the top of the ticket, it is important to consider all of the great candidates elected further down ballot. One thing is clear based on voter turnout, the energy built among educators, and the impact already felt: this movement is only beginning!

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) submitted Texas’s final state plan to satisfy the new federal education law, the Every Child Succeeds Act (ESSA), this week. The final plan has been in the making for quite some time. Here is a quick recap:

The final plan submitted this week reflects a number of revisions required by ED in their initial feedback. TEA’s press release announcing this week’s submission can be read here. To read the final plan or learn more about the Texas ESSA plan and related content, visit TEA’s ESSA web page. The plan must now receive a final review by Secretary Betsy DeVos, but she is not tied to a certain time period for revisions. On Monday, DeVos addressed members of the Council of Chief State School Officers at their annual conference, offering them “tough love” over what she considered state ESSA plans that lacked creativity and innovation.

 


ATPE submitted comments this week on new proposed Commissioner’s rules regarding certain out-of-state educators. These rules would exempt educators that are certified out of state and who meet certain qualifications from Texas required certification assessments as they work to obtain certification in Texas. The rule proposal stemmed from legislation passed last session. ATPE encouraged the commissioner to raise the standard from one to at least two years of experience in order for an out-of-state educator to benefit from the exemption. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann writes more about ATPE’s comments, the proposed rules, and context for the legislation here.

 


The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin this week, this time to discuss “efficiency” at the classroom, campus, and district levels. A panel of invited witnesses was dedicated to each category. The classroom efficiency panel focused on blended learning, while the campus efficiency panel featured partnerships with charters and higher education. The district efficiency panel largely entailed discussions regarding charter schools. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and has a full report here.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 23, 2018

Happy Student Voting Day! Here’s your update from the ATPE lobby team on what’s been happening in Texas this week:


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2018 Texas primary elections began this week and continues through Friday, March 2. Election day is March 6.

Today, Feb. 23, 2018, is Student Voting Day in Texas, as designated by Secretary of State Rolando Pablos. Pablos issued a proclamation for Student Voting Day and has encouraged Texans to urge eligible students to vote today. We applaud all of the educators and parents who have worked hard to help students learn about and exercise their right to vote.

If you know a student voter or if you are new to voting in Texas, we’ve got some helpful basic tips on voting in this primary election. Check out this blog post from ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz, newly updated with some additional guidance about the prohibition on using cell phones in the voting booth. Looking for background information about those Republican and Democratic party ballot propositions? We’ve got a list of all the non-binding party platform propositions here, along with some analysis from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter here.

Have you checked at our new series of blog posts for Teach the Vote on Why March 6 Matters? ATPE’s lobbyists are writing about some of the top legislative issues at stake in the primary elections happening now, explaining why the choices made by voters at the polls over the next week and a half will have a gigantic impact on the future success or failure of bills dealing with teacher pay, retirement benefits, private school vouchers, and more. Check out the posts we’re published so far and watch for more analysis of “Why March 6 Matters” on the Teach the Vote blog next week.

ICYMI: ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins was quoted in today’s brand new PolitiFact article about a claim made in one of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s re-election campaign ads. Patrick raised eyebrows with the radio and television ads in heavy rotation right now when he claimed to have proposed a $10,000 pay raise for teachers last session. The journalists of PolitiFact investigated and rated the claim as “mostly false” on its Truth-o-Meter, concluding that “Patrick made no proposal to direct more of the state’s education budget to teacher salaries,” instead touting a preference for an unfunded mandate on school districts that did not pass. Read the full analysis here.


ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the school finance commission on Feb. 22, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met again in Austin on Thursday, Feb. 22, and ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey was one of the witnesses invited to testify at the hearing. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided a report on the day’s discussions, which focused on the importance of the teacher pipeline and early childhood education. Godsey, joined by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter, urged the commission to consider recommendations for strengthening educator preparation, support, compensation, and retention in order to avoid the high cost of teacher turnover. Read more in Mark’s blog post here.


By now readers of our blog are probably familiar with the antics of Empower Texans, the dark money group that in addition to trying to influence elections through massive campaign spending has been at the center of efforts to intimidate educators and shut down get out the vote (GOTV) efforts within the education community. We’ve written recently on our blog about how Texas educators responded to the group’s threatening “whistleblower” letters with their own #blowingthewhistle social media campaign. Today, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus also took to social media and penned a newsletter urging educators to vote this weekend and expressing his support for our coalition efforts to create a culture of voting in school districts across the state.

This week we learned that Empower Texans is under criminal investigation for highly questionable tactics it has employed in an effort to convince Ft. Worth residents to vote against one of their state legislators, Rep. Charlie Geren. Geren is presently facing a challenge in the primary election by an Empower Texans-funded candidate, and the group has attacked the incumbent for being married to a lobbyist. As reported by the Texas Tribune, prosecutors are looking into a postcard mailed to voters in Rep. Geren’s House District 99 that was designed to look like an official state document and sent by an entity called the “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board.” The mail piece was paid for and sent by Empower Texans, which recently filed documents with the Secretary of State to use the name “Texas Ethics Disclosure Board” as an alias, giving unsuspecting voters the impression that the postcard was sent by an official government agency, which does not exist.

With Empower Texans spending so much money to try to unseat legislators that it deems to be too friendly toward public education, it’s no surprise that there has been growing interest in learning more about the sources of money being used by the group. Empower Texans is not required to disclose all of those who contribute money to the organization, but campaign finance reports for the Empower Texans PAC are publicly available, as is the case with all political action committees. One person who has spent considerable time reviewing those campaign finance reports and chasing the trail of money connected to Empower Texans is Chris Tackett, a former Granbury ISD trustee and parent who has written extensively about his findings. This week, we republished Tackett’s article entitled “Following the money in Texas politics: A citizen’s look at the influence of mega-donors in contested elections.” The piece illustrates how a small group of wealthy families have used the Empower Texans PAC and a few other PACs to steer millions of dollars in campaign contributions to certain candidates, giving the impression that they have broader support. Learn more in Tackett’s guest blog post here.

The Dallas Morning News also published an extensive article this week describing how west Texas’s Wilks family, the largest funding source for Empower Texans, has been using its wealth to influence contested races around the state in 2018. That includes nearly half a million dollars spent to help Sen. Bob Hall try to win re-election despite a serious primary challenge and targeted efforts to shape the election of a new Texas House Speaker when the 86th Legislature convenes in January 2019. The same family is profiled in a brand new website sponsored by an unidentified citizens’ group that also appeared this week called WhoOwnsTexas.com.

Voters can learn about candidates vying for their support in the primary elections happening now by checking out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include detailed voting records for incumbents, responses provided to our ATPE candidate survey on education issues, links to the candidates’ own websites and social media accounts, and additional information such as endorsements from well-known groups or major newspapers. ATPE does not endorse candidates, so you won’t find endorsements from us, but we’ll tell you which candidates have received the endorsement of Empower Texans and other groups to help you make informed decisions at the polls.

 


The State Board of Education’s steering committee for the Long-Range Plan for Public Education also met this week. The meeting focused largely on the issue of educator preparation with a goal of improving recruitment and retention. Read more about the conversations in Wednesday’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Today is the final day to submit comments to the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) on reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). As we previously shared, the committee is working to rewrite the federal law that pertains to higher education, and several programs dealing with educator recruitment, training, and retention are housed under the law. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann reports that while the Senate committee works to write its bill, its U.S. House counterpart has already advanced legislation to the full House that omits these programs. ATPE submitted comments to the Senate committee expressing our concern over the House omission and stressing the importance of programs like these. “Educator training that is held to high expectations and standards plays a vital role in ensuring every student has access to a well-prepared, productive educator. It also has a lasting impact on retaining those strong educators in the classroom.”

ATPE’s full comments encouraging the committee to maintain federal support of these programs can be read here.

 


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 9, 2018

Check out this week’s education news headlines from ATPE:


At its second meeting, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on Thursday elected a new vice-chair and heard from Commissioner of Education Mike Morath and other witnesses about the current state of public education funding. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this report for Teach the Vote. The commission’s next meeting on Feb. 22 will feature invited testimony from ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey. The commission will also meet on March 7 and will allow members of the public to testify at another meeting on March 19. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as the commission fulfills its interim charge to study and make recommendations for how Texas funds its public schools.

 


ELECTION UPDATE: We’re now less than two weeks away from the start of early voting for the March 6 primary elections. ATPE urges educators to check out our Teach the Vote candidate profiles ahead of the first day of early voting on Feb. 20. All candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, State Board of Education, Texas State Senate, and Texas State House are profiled on our website, with additional information about incumbents’ voting records, the candidates’ responses to ATPE’s survey about education issues and priorities, and links to their campaign websites and social media accounts.

As you gear up for the primaries, we’ve also got information about the nonbinding propositions that will be included on your ballot as way to shape the platforms of the state Republican and Democratic parties. Find out what will be on your ballot by checking out this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday. In addition, we’ve shared tips courtesy of our friends at the Texas Tribune on how voters can get more involved in shaping party platforms by participating in election year conventions. Read about the process for becoming a convention delegate here. We’ll have even more election resources for you on Teach the Vote next week, so stay tuned!

 


As ATPE, the Texas Educators Vote coalition, and other groups work to motivate educators to vote in the 2018 elections, those fearful of high voter turnout among the education community are getting desperate in their attempts to intimidate teachers. Today on our blog, ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday reports on the surprising and heartwarming way that educators used social media this week to respond to threatening letters they received from an anti-public education lobbying group. Check out her new post about teachers who are #blowingthewhistle here.

 


ATPE’s lobbyists were interviewed this week for multiple stories about the impact of Texas’s District of Innovation law on teacher certification. The DOI law passed by the legislature in 2015 allows certain school districts to exempt themselves from many education laws. One such law is the requirement for hiring certified teachers, which the Texas Tribune wrote about this week. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann was interviewed for the story, which highlights the fact that half of Texas’s school districts are now able to ignore the certification law by using DOI exemptions. In Waco, Taylor Durden reported for KXXV-TV about how area school districts have used the DOI law to waive certification requirements for some of their teachers, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell Canaday was interviewed for that story. Check it out here. For more about the DOI law, see the resources available from ATPE on our website here.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) today released the accreditation statuses for school districts and charter schools for the 2017-2018 school year. The accreditation status is primarily based upon the new “A through F” accountability system and the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST).

A total of 1,185 out of 1,201 districts and charters received a status of “Accredited” for the current school year, and four districts received a “Not Accredited-Revoked” status. Four districts and five charters received warnings to fix deficiencies in academic or financial performance or face probation or revocation. Two districts were placed on probation for exhibiting deficiencies over a three year period.

Districts whose accreditation has been revoked have an opportunity for review by the TEA and the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH). For the 2017-2018 school year, those districts include Buckholts ISD, Sierra Blanca ISD, Winfield ISD and Marlin ISD – the latter two of which were given an “A” in the overall state accountability ratings despite earning “improvement required” designations under the previous accountability system.

Carpe Diem Schools, Dell City ISD, Dime Box ISD, Hart ISD, Montessori For All, Natalia ISD, The Lawson Academy, Trinity Environmental Academy and Zoe Learning Academy all received warnings. Hearne ISD and Trinity ISD were placed on probation.

The full list of accreditation statuses can be found on the TEA website.

 


 

Texas teachers are #blowingthewhistle in the best possible way

With enthusiasm growing within the education community for voting in the upcoming primaries, we’ve been reporting here on Teach the Vote about the efforts of some elected officials and special interest groups to try to quell educators’ momentum by questioning the legality of our nonpartisan get out the vote (GOTV) programs. Now it appears that those efforts, which many believe are aimed at voter suppression, are backfiring as educators continue to rally their colleagues to vote later this month.

We’ve recently reported on an attorney general’s opinion issued at the request of Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) who objected to GOTV initiatives led by the Texas Educators Vote coalition of which ATPE is a proud member. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly issued a nonbinding opinion that school districts should not bus staff and students to the polls, because Paxton questioned the educational value of such an activity.

We’ve also watched as the notorious anti-public education group Empower Texans (ET) and its affiliates have used scare tactics to try to shut down GOTV initiatives in schools and political activism by education employees. Late last year, ET, whose wealthy donors have spent millions to fund the campaigns of Paxton, Bettencourt, and other officeholders like Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, bombarded school districts with open records requests demanding copies of employee emails and other documentation that they hoped would show evidence of illegal activities. When the open records requests apparently yielded no bombshells, Empower Texans resorted to the desperate measure of mailing letters to individual educators around the state inviting them to act as “whistleblowers” and report on colleagues who might be violating the attorney general’s “ruling.” Many of you educators who are readers of Teach the Vote have reported receiving one of these letters from ET’s lead attorney, general counsel Tony McDonald.

The letters that ET has spent huge sums of money to mail to teachers are misleading and unethical. First, the text of the letter mischaracterizes AG Paxton’s nonbinding opinion as a “ruling,” implying that it has the force of law when it is merely an advisory expression of Paxton’s views on the law. The letters also irresponsibly fail to mention that Texas’s whistleblower laws would not provide teachers any legal protection for reports made to an outside entity like ET. ATPE Managing Attorney Paul Tapp points out why the letter from ET’s lawyer is problematic and does not reflect how our state’s whistleblower statutes actually work.

“It’s unfortunate that Mr. McDonald has mischaracterized Texas law in a way that he apparently believes would benefit his organization at the expense of those he claims to care about,” says Tapp. “There would be no ‘whistleblower’ protection for any report to Empower Texas. As an attorney, Mr. McDonald should know that a report of suspected illegal activity is only protected if it is made to the appropriate law enforcement entity.”

It is highly unlikely that ET’s intimidation campaign will reveal any evidence of school administrators and trustees unlawfully using school district resources to campaign for specific candidates, and the Texas Educators Vote coalition has always included in its outreach materials guidance for educators on what types of political activities are and are not allowed in schools. In the meantime, educators are reacting to ET’s continuing attacks on the public school community by turning to social media.

Starting yesterday, educators took to Twitter in droves to share their support for public schools. Incorporating the hashtag #blowingthewhistle and tagging ET in many of their tweets. Teachers and other public education supporters used the social media tool not for ratting out colleagues for talking about the election as ET had hoped, but instead for praising educators who go the extra mile every single day to help students.

ATPE member Cristie Plummer, who teaches at Bastrop Middle School, was one of the educators who shared her own #blowingthewhistle tweet yesterday and was featured in this article by the Austin American-StatesmanATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins also tweeted his support for the teachers in his own family by #blowingthewhistle on them via Twitter.

The Twitter backlash from teachers was featured today in a new article from the Texas Tribune about the Texas Educators Vote coalition. Reporter Emma Platoff wrote about how our coalition’s GOTV efforts have rankled ET and Tea Party groups who are also worried about other grassroots movements igniting on social media and encouraging teachers to #blockvote in the Republican Party primary for pro-public education candidates. The #blockvote campaign mentioned in the article is being promoted by the Facebook group known as Texans for Public Education, and not by the nonpartisan Texas Educators Vote coalition. However, both groups share a desire to see higher turnout among educators at the polls this year.

The reaction this week to the ET whistleblower campaign proves, once again, that educators are rising above the baseless threats of the politicians and special interest groups that want to dismantle public education. The billionaires backing candidates and officeholders who refer to hard-working teachers as “educrats” and think that using taxpayer dollars to fund unregulated private schools should be the state’s top education priority are clearly terrified of the potential for high voter turnout in the March 6 primary.

We applaud Texas educators for their classy response to the continuing attacks on their profession. ATPE hopes that our members and their colleagues will keep highlighting the outstanding things happening in our public schools every day and will never weaken their resolve to be active and informed voters in the 2018 primaries and all other Texas elections. Kudos, educators!

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

Happy Groundhog’s Day! Here’s this week’s education news digest from ATPE:


Monday, Feb. 5, is your last chance to register to vote in the March 6 primary election. Registrations must be postmarked by Monday’s 30-day-out deadline in order to be effective for the upcoming Republican and Democratic primary elections. Visit the Texas Secretary of State’s website to verify your registration status, especially if you have moved since the last election.

ATPE urges all educators to participate in the upcoming primary election, for which the early voting period begins on Feb. 20, 2018. The outcomes of the overwhelming majority of elections in Texas are determined by the results of the primaries rather than the general election that takes place in November. This is because many district boundaries are drawn during the redistricting process to favor one political party over others. As a result, some races will only feature candidates from a single political party, meaning that party’s primary election will determine the ultimate winner of the race no matter what happens in November.

Since Texas is an open primary state where all voters can choose to participate in either the Republican or Democratic party primaries in March, we encourage educators to look at the candidates running in their area and decide which primary election will give them the best opportunity to decide who will represent their interests in the coming years as an elected official. Remember that regardless of which primary you choose in the spring, you can vote for any candidate regardless of party affiliations in the November general election. Use our “Candidates” search page here on Teach the Vote to find out which candidates are running in your area and where they stand on education issues.

Carl Garner

ICYMI: ATPE State President Carl Garner penned an editorial about why it’s important for educators to vote and promote a culture of voting. As certain politicians and wealthy special interest groups continue their efforts to intimidate educators out of voting in the upcoming primaries, ATPE’s elected leader urges his colleagues to make sure they are registered to vote, aware of the candidates’ positions on public education, and ready to make informed choices at the polls. “My fellow educators and I are fired up about voting,” wrote Garner. “We want to model what we teach, showing our students what informed and engaged citizens are supposed to do.” For more, check out Carl’s piece published yesterday by the Texas Tribune for its TribTalk website.

 


SBOE meeting in Austin, Feb. 2, 2018.

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) concluded its first meeting of 2018 today in Austin. The board approved a raft of items from its subordinate committees and delayed action on consideration of new curriculum standards for a Mexican-American studies course, as discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. More from that discussion can be found in this report by the Texas Tribune.

The board engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding the training required for local school board trustees. Training requirements were altered by legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, which necessitated updates to administrative rules. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff reminded the audience of the remaining public meetings to solicit input regarding the Long-Range Plan for Public Education:

  • Feb. 7, 9 to 11 a.m., Region 1 ESC, Edinburg
  • Feb. 8, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Region 4 ESC, Houston
  • Feb. 20, 4 to 6 p.m., TEA Headquarters, Austin
  • Feb. 28, 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., Region 16 ESC, Amarillo

An online survey regarding the plan is open at the TEA website through March 2, 2018.

Read more highlights of this week’s SBOE meetings in the following blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins:

 


 

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 26, 2018

It was a busy week in the world of public education, with your ATPE Governmental Relations team keeping tabs on various business at the state level. Here’s a rundown of this week’s developments:


ELECTION UPDATE: Are you registered to vote? There are just ten days left to register to vote in the upcoming primaries! Texans who are eligible to vote but have not yet registered to do so must sign up on or before February 5 in order to cast their ballot on March 6. Check the status of your registration here.

Also be sure to check out our candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Texas Legislature, and the State Board of Education have been invited to participate in ATPE’s candidate survey and have their views on education issues shared with voters through our website. New survey responses are being added to the site frequently as more candidates take advantage of this opportunity. If the candidates you are interested in learning about have not yet responded, please ask them to participate in our survey. Candidates or their campaign consultants may contact government@atpe.org for additional information about the survey.

Early voting for the March primaries begins Feb. 20. Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos has issued a new proclamation naming the first Friday of early voting period (Feb. 23, 2018) to be “Student Voting Day.”  Secretary Pablos is calling on communities “to urge and encourage all eligible students in Texas to make their voices heard by casting their ballots at ANY polling location in
their county of registration.” The Secretary of State’s office has been an important partner in efforts to promote voter awareness within our public schools, and we appreciate his support.

Since we last reported on Attorney General Ken Paxton’s opinion about Get Out The Vote (GOTV) activities spearheaded by ATPE and other members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, more Texans are speaking out in support of our coalition and expressing displeasure with the not-so-subtle efforts of some elected officials to try to rein in politically active educators. The Houston Chronicle‘s Lisa Falkenberg wrote an opinion piece on Saturday, Jan. 20, in support of ATPE’s and the coalitions efforts to increase voter turnout and awareness. Falkenberg wrote that voter apathy “doesn’t stop if we do nothing. Some folks in this state are trying to do something. We should let them.” Falkenberg concluded, “No opinion from the Texas AG, or from Bettencourt, has dissuaded me from believing their efforts are vital for the young voters, to the public in general, and to the future of this state we love.” Retired Superintendent Joe Smith also expressed support for Texas Educators Vote on his TexasISD.com website, and educator Danny Noyola, Sr., an ATPE member, similarly wrote an opinion piece for the Corpus Christie Caller-Times defending the coalition’s work. Noyola called AG Paxton’s opinion “an intimidating assault on teachers, administrators, and educational groups to stifle citizenship and voting learning opportunities for all students in a non-partisan, pro-education, creative hands-on way.”

ATPE is pleased that school districts are continuing to support our nonpartisan coalition efforts with additional school boards adopting the coalition’s model resolution on creating a culture of voting, even after the issuance of General Paxton’s opinion. We appreciate the support of school leaders to continue to encourage public school employees and eligible students to be informed and vote in the upcoming primaries.

 


Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting, January 23, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance held its first meeting Tuesday in Austin following its creation as part of House Bill (HB) 21, which was passed during the 85th Texas Legislature’s first special session. The first meeting quickly established the divide between members of the commission focused on improving public school performance and those solely focused on finding ways to cut taxes. House Public Education Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) correctly noted that school finance reform and property tax relief go hand-in-hand, and the Texas Senate abandoned a proposal that could have made progress on both fronts in order to pursue voucher legislation.

The meeting was restricted to invited testimony, which included a supporter of school privatization and the heads of a number of state departments, including Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. Read more about the meeting in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a formal hearing today, Jan. 26, to take public testimony on rules pertaining to school district and charter school partnerships. The regulation being considered is Proposed New Commissioners rule 19 TAC Chapter 97, Planning and Accountability, Subchapter EE, Accreditation Status, Standards, and Sanctions, Division 2, Contracting to Partner to Operate a District Campus, §97.1075, Contracting to Partner to Operate a Campus under Texas Education Code, §11.174, and §97.1079, Determining Processes and Criteria for Entity Approval under Texas Education Code, §11.174.

The bulk of the testimony was provided by educators, administrators, and parents. While there were charter advocates in attendance, none offered testimony. All testifiers opposed the rules as currently proposed. Common themes among those who testified included: agency overreach in defining “enhanced authority” that a district must give to a charter in order to enter into a partnership, despite no statutory authority or even implication in the law to do so; a lack of acknowledgment of teacher protections and pre-agreement consultation, which is required under the law; and a general lack of specificity about the approval process, including what factors TEA will consider and the timeline TEA will work under in approving the partnerships.

ATPE has turned in written comments to the proposed rules which you can read here. The text for the new rule can be found on TEA’s website.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) opened its online survey this week to solicit feedback regarding the agency’s initial draft plan to correct inadequacies in special education services. This comes in response to a directive from the U.S. Department of Education that Texas correct systemic denial of special education services due to a de facto “cap” uncovered by a Houston Chronicle investigation. The initial draft plan includes four main actions, with explanations for each.

The agency has been ordered to seek input from stakeholders, including parents and educators, which will be collected through an online survey available on the TEA website since Jan. 23. The agency will accept public comment on this draft plan through Feb. 18, 2018, after which a new Proposed Plan will be released on or around March 1. Public comments on this new plan will be accepted through March 31. The agency expects to submit a Final State Corrective Action Plan to the U.S. Department of Education on or around April 18, 2018. You can read more about the plan and find a link to the survey here.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 19, 2018

The snow and ice have melted, and here’s the latest education news from ATPE’s Governmental Relations team:


After federal officials criticized Texas for failing to meet the needs of students with disabilities, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released a draft of its plan to take corrective action to improve special education. Gov. Greg Abbott gave the state agency one week to develop the plan after findings of the federal investigation were announced last week. The proposed corrective actions by TEA include hiring additional staff to monitor the identification and evaluation of students who may need special education services and creating professional development opportunities and resources for educators.

Read more about TEA’s plans in this new blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an advisory opinion about certain get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts in public schools. The opinion was requested by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who has complained about activities promoted by the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member, to increase voter turnout among school district employees and eligible students. The senator suggested in his opinion request and related press statements that school district resources, including school buses, were being used to promote  partisan activities in support or opposition of specific candidates. The attorney general wrote in his opinion that using school buses to transport school employees to the polls might run afoul of the Texas constitution, and he also noted that school districts should not use public funds to promote websites that support particular candidates.

ATPE has pointed out in media statements following the release of the opinion that all of the coalition’s GOTV initiatives and website resources, including ATPE’s own TeachtheVote.org website, have been nonpartisan. Read more about the opinion in this week’s blog post.

 


State grants are being made available to school districts to encourage high school students to enter the teaching field and to prepare future principals for certification. TEA has announced its launch of the “Grow Your Own” and “Principal Preparation” grant programs for the 2018-19 school year. The first of the two programs is a grant that can be used to interest high school students in the teaching profession and to support student teachers, paraprofessionals and classroom aides in their pursuit of certification. The latter grant program is for educators pursuing certification as a principal.

The application deadline for both grants is March 13, and potential applicants may learn more about the grant programs through webinars to be offered by TEA on Feb. 1. For additional information, check out the information on the TEA website here.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) announced today a grace period it is offering for retirees or dependents who recently left the TRS-Care program but would like to return. From now through Feb. 28, TRS will allow former participants to re-enroll in TRS-Care if they terminated coverage or dropped a dependent due to the 2018 plan changes.

For additional information on the announcement from TRS, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.