Tag Archives: merit pay

House Public Education Committee dives in on school finance

The House Public Education Committee held its second and third meetings of the session this week, Feb. 5 and 6, both designed to get committee members up to speed on the school finance system ahead of beginning their work attempting to improve the system.

During the first of this week’s two meetings, the committee heard invited testimony from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). The topics covered included implementation reports on previous education bills, a school finance and legal overview, and an education budget overview.

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath reported on a range of topics including the status of two bills that were passed in the 84th session back in 2015. House Bill (HB) 1842, in addition to creating districts of Innovation (DOIs), altered the school turnaround process and created the A-F accountability rating system. Senate Bill (SB) 313 was a bill that ended up being vetoed, but the State Board of Education (SBOE) still implemented its requirements of reviewing and narrowing the content and scope of each foundation curriculum subject.

Commissioner Morath testifying before the House Public Education Committee

The Commissioner also touched on the Dallas Independent School District’s “ACE” program and Achievement School District models as potential alternative options for school districts before they reach their fifth (and final) year of “improvement required” status under the accountability system.

Finally, Commissioner Morath addressed the school accountability system for the second time in as many hearings. This time, the discussion included the interplay between state and federal law and where it would be possible to trim our accountability and assessment system without running afoul of the feds.

TEA General Counsel Von Byer presented on Texas’s school finance court cases that have shaped our current system, most notably Edgewood and West-Orange Cove. The system of Recapture was created through these court cases. TEA Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez gave a high-level overview of the school finance system, including how some of the elements are outdated. For instance, the bilingual education funding weight hasn’t changed in 35 years, the special education weights haven’t changed since 1993, and the weight for low-income children hasn’t changed since 1989.

Yesterday, the House Public Education Committee met for the second of its two hearings this week to hear invited testimony from three members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance.

Todd Williams, CEO of the Commit Partnership in Dallas, presented on the changing demographics in Texas and how the investment of public education funding will help to reach our education goals. Some of Williams’s suggestions are broadly supported, such as utilizing a more nuanced approach to differentiating degrees of poverty and focusing resources on campuses with high concentrations of harder to educate students. Other suggestions, like teacher evaluation and pay systems based heavily on student performance and outcomes-based funding, are significantly more controversial.

Dr. Keven Ellis, who is also an elected member of the SBOE, testified on the commission’s findings about expenditures. He shared that the commission was recommending a $100 million appropriation for dyslexia identification and support, $50 million for dual language, transportation funding based on mileage, and reallocating the cost of education index funding, among others.

Nicole Conley Johnson, Chief Finance Officer for the Austin Independent School District, presented the commission’s findings regarding revenue. She shared that the commission had several suggestions, including using the state’s Economic Stability (or “rainy day”) Fund, allowing districts to tap into sales tax revenue, and providing more flexibility on spending rules (e.g. allowing the bilingual allotment to be used for teacher salaries).

Next week, on Feb. 12 and 13, the House Public Education Committee will hold two additional meetings to hear invited testimony from stakeholders such as ATPE, school district leaders, and teachers. We look forward to contributing to the conversation.

Governor Abbott declares emergency items, includes teacher pay

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a total of six emergency items in Tuesday’s State of the State address to a joint session of the 86th Texas Legislature. The State of the State is traditionally delivered by the governor at the beginning of each legislative session, and is the state equivalent to the national State of the Union address delivered by the president.

The governor often uses the State of the State as an opportunity to announce emergency items for the current legislature. The first 60 days of the legislative session are meant for organization and bill filing, and legislators cannot vote on bills until after 60 days have passed. Emergency items declared by the governor are the only exception.

Standing ovation for teacher pay announcement during State of the State address, Feb. 5, 2019.

Governor Abbott listed six emergency items on Tuesday: School finance reform, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, property tax relief, and disaster response.

What does this mean functionally? The legislature may vote on bills under these emergency headings immediately instead of waiting for the March 8 deadline, theoretically granting them a one-month head start ahead of other bills. Yet few of these bills have been filed, and none have begun the committee process that marks the first major step in a bill’s journey to becoming a law. For this reason, the practical impact of designation as emergency items has more to do with sending a signal to legislators and the public that these are the governor’s top priorities.

In addition, each of these items is expected to require a significant amount of state funding. The budget offered by the Texas House would provide $7.1 billion in new revenue for public education, contingent upon spending a significant portion of that money on providing property tax relief, ostensibly by rebalancing the state and local share of education funding. Increasing the state’s share will ease the burden on local property taxpayers, but will not increase overall public school funding. To increase overall school funding will require spending additional money on top of what is required to ease local tax pressure.

Increasing teacher pay will require another tranche of state funds. The Texas Senate has proposed Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would grant teachers a $5,000 annual raise. The bill’s cost is tagged at $3.7 billion for the first biennium. Gov. Abbott’s comments today on teacher pay implied that he prefers a plan under development by House leaders to provide a differentiated pay program that could create a path for select teachers to earn as much as $100,000. This would apply to far fewer teachers than the Senate’s plan and consequently carry a much smaller price tag.

School safety, mental health, and disaster response will each require further funding. Fortunately, the biennial revenue estimate delivered by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar in January projects legislators will have roughly $12 billion more than they budgeted the previous two years. It’s important to note that some of that money will be taken up by inflation and population growth. Some of the emergency items, such as disaster response, are prime targets for one-time spending from the Economic Stabilization Fund. The state’s “rainy day fund,” as it is often called, is projected to total $15.4 billion by the end of 2021.

Commissioner briefs SBOE on teacher pay issues

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) Tuesday morning, kicking off the second day of the board’s week-long January meeting.

Commissioner Mike Morath addressing SBOE, January 29, 2019.

Morath began with a high-level review of the 2018 State of the State of Public Education annual report. Members asked the agency to produce a report detailing state scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test.

The commissioner walked members through efforts by the agency to create Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) guides to help educators and parents better understand the standards and alignment, as well as resources to help understand assessments and student expectations.

Commissioner Morath briefed members on efforts to review the assessment process, including organizational restructuring to embed the STARR team within the agency’s curriculum department, which ensures that staff who participate in the TEKS review process are the same staff developing questions for the assessment.

Morath also responded to a question about the state of teacher pay legislation in the 86th Texas Legislature. The commissioner noted that a bill has already been filed to give teachers a $5,000 across-the-board raise. There is also legislation in the works to create a differentiated pay program. Morath discussed the impact of higher compensation on teacher quality, and explained that this is primarily aimed at increasing retention and attracting higher quality candidates who may otherwise be turned off by the limited salary potential of teaching.

Tuesday’s meeting included an update from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, on which Ellis sat as the board’s sole representative. The final report can be found here.

Ellis said the commission’s goals included balancing the state and local share of funding for public education, restructuring the system by reallocating outdated or otherwise inefficient weights and programs, and substantially increasing the level of equity with significantly greater investment in low-income, underperforming student groups. Goals also included reducing the growth rate of property taxes and reliance on recapture, as well as infusing significant state funds into public education.

The commission contemplated proposals to slow recapture and property tax growth, including the governor’s plan, a plan by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA), and a share recapture plan. Ellis noted that the commission decided to allow the current legislative session to take up the discussion of revenues.

Responding to questions from other board members, Ellis suggested that the commission’s findings will likely involve at least one large package, with additional pieces filed individually. New board Member Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) asked about the sustainability of Dallas ISD’s “ACE” differentiated pay program. Ellis pointed out that the district’s superintendent testified to the program’s enormous cost.

The board will spend Wednesday hosting a learning roundtable at the Austin Convention Center, and will return to the TEA building on Thursday to break up into committees and elect committee chairs.

Early budget proposals include boosts for educators, classrooms

The Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate released their initial budget recommendations this week, and each includes significant additional funding for public education.

The proposals drafted by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) represent each chamber’s opening bid in budget negotiations for the 2020-21 fiscal biennium. The budget is the only bill the legislature is constitutionally required to pass within its 140-day session. If it fails to do so, lawmakers will be called back into one or more special sessions until a budget is passed.

The 2020-21 House budget proposal includes $7.1 billion in additional general revenue funds appropriated for public education, which represents a 17.2 percent increase over the 2018-2019 biennium. Looking at all funds, public education would see a $10.1 billion, 16.7 percent increase, under the House’s proposal.

The base budget is structured around sufficient funding to maintain services at the current level, and the additional funding comes from a single budget rider that appropriates an additional $9 billion contingent upon the 86th Texas Legislature enacting legislation to increase the state’s share of Foundation School Program (FSP) funding, enhancing district entitlement, reducing recapture, and providing local property tax relief.

Details of the House proposal are spelled out under Rider 77 (page 301 of the House budget):

77. Additional Foundation School Program Funds for Increasing the State Share, Enhancing School District Entitlement, Reducing Recapture, and Providing Tax Relief. It is the intent of the Eighty-Sixth Legislature to adopt comprehensive school finance legislation and provide local property tax relief. In addition to amounts appropriated above in Strategy A.1.1., FSP – Equalized Operations, and Strategy A.1.2., FSP – Equalized Facilities, $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 is appropriated out of the Foundation School Fund No. 193 to be used for the purposes specified in this rider.

The amounts appropriated in this rider are contingent on enactment of legislation supporting school districts and charter schools by increasing the state share of the Foundation School Program, enhancing district entitlement, reducing recapture, and providing local property tax relief, while maintaining an equitable system of school finance. Options may include, but are not limited to, increasing the Basic Allotment and providing additional funding for early childhood education, special education, and teacher compensation.

A portion of the amounts appropriated in this rider shall be used to provide local property tax relief. Funds shall be used to enable the compression of local maintenance and operations (M&O) property tax collections, pursuant to the provisions of the legislation, while ensuring school districts do not receive less total state and local funding through the FSP.

The $9.0 billion in Foundation School Fund No. 193 appropriated in this rider represents new state funding for school districts and charter schools above amounts estimated to fully fund current law. The $43.6 billion in current law appropriations provided above in Rider 3 includes the amount necessary to fully fund $2.4 billion in enrollment growth and $2.2 billion in additional state aid above 2018-19 funding levels associated with the increase under current law in the Guaranteed Yield associated with the Austin Independent School District in accordance with §41.002(a)(2) and §42.302(a-1)(1) of the Texas Education Code.

The Senate’s proposal would increase public education funding by $4.3 billion or 10.3 percent from general revenue, or $7 billion all funds — an 11.6 percent increase. This proposal includes an additional $3.7 billion to provide all teachers with a $5,000 raise effective at the start of the 2019-20 school year and $2.3 billion to reduce reliance on recapture. Senate Bill (SB) 3 filed Tuesday by state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would authorize the pay raise, if passed. Lower bill numbers are generally reserved each session for high-priority bills.

The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker have each declared increasing teacher pay a high priority this session. Due to the publicity surrounding teacher pay, ATPE expects several teacher compensation bills to be filed this session. Our governmental relations team will be analyzing each one to determine how it is structured with regard to who is eligible and the extent to which it includes stable, reliable, and long-term state funding.

Providing additional money for teacher compensation and public education funding were the main topics in Tuesday’s Inauguration Day speeches at the Texas Capitol. Educators should note that this shift in focus among the state’s leaders is a direct result of educators’ increased involvement in the 2018 primary and general elections. Teachers, parents, and public education supporters sent a strong message that Texans demand better school funding and teacher pay. Even in instances where the pro-public education candidate was not elected, the strong showing by public school advocates successfully forced many elected officials to reexamine their stance on public education issues.

Make no mistake, we are only at this point because educators voted, rallied, and lobbied legislators like never before. Educators must keep a close eye on lawmakers over the next five months to ensure they follow through on their promises. ATPE will be bringing you regular updates on legislative proceedings, including changes to these early drafts of the budget and various compensation bills, and educators should remain vigilant and ready to make your voices heard at a moment’s notice. Visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central to learn more and share your own views on school funding and educator compensation with your own elected officials.

House releases public education recommendations

The House Committee on Public Education issued its interim report this month, which serves as a summary of testimony taken during the interim and includes a set of recommendations for the 86th Texas Legislature to take up.

The 88-page report addresses the response to Hurricane Harvey, teacher compensation, student assessment, students with disabilities, charter schools, implementation of legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, educator preparation programs, and school safety.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) thanked members of the committee for their work, noting, “the extraordinary events that occurred since the last session adjourned spurred members to delve deeply into what some may view as difficult topics without the time constraints of a legislative session.”

Hurricane Harvey

Recommendations include making local education agencies (LEA) whole for financial losses due to enrollment changes, property value decline, and facility damage. The report suggests the committee consider possible legislation to help schools quickly access replacement instructional materials, provide timely assistance to Chapter 42 districts that experience facility damage, and improve the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) dropout calculation methodology.

Teacher Compensation

Recommendations include creating an additional certification for teachers in leadership positions, such as “Master Teachers,” to allow for career growth without having to leave the classroom and move to administration. The committee also recommends creating new allotments through the Foundation School Program (FSP) to fund mentoring programs and to provide differentiated compensation plans. The report specifies:

TEA should create at least two compensation plan options for use by LEAs that do not have the capacity or desire to develop their own version. While LEAs should be allowed the flexibility to create programs that benefit their own particular circumstances, locally-designed programs should be required to include the following components:

1. a multiple measure evaluation system, such as the state-developed Texas Teacher
Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS);
2. incentives to encourage top performing teachers to work at campuses with the highest
need students;
3. a requirement for top performing teachers to serve as mentors and that at least first and
second year teachers are assigned a mentor; and
4. stipends for teachers or teacher candidates that participate in additional, rigorous training
such as clinical residency programs or the National Board-certification process.

Student Assessment 

Recommendations include supporting efforts by the State Board of Education (SBOE) to streamline the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), limiting STAAR to readiness standards, making individual graduation committees (IGC) for students who have difficulties with the STAAR permanently available, eliminating high stakes testing for elementary and middle school students, splitting the STAAR in early grades into subtests scheduled on separate days, and providing funding to continue the Writing Assessment Pilot Program.

Students with Disabilities

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the corrective action plan and Strategic Plan for Special Education, providing additional funding for dyslexia identification and instruction, monitoring for the potential negative impact of changes under the Student Health and Related Services (SHARS) program, and extending funding for dyslexia and autism pilot programs.

Charter Schools 

Recommendations include requiring expansion amendment requests for additional campuses or sites to be sent to TEA and notice given to districts at least a year before a new campus is openened, ensuring uniformity among which district officials receive expansion amendment notifications, reconsidering current laws that allow charters to exclude students based on disciplinary history, ensuring charters have the ability to fulfill their responsibilities towards students with disabilities before authorization, reducing funding disparities between charters and traditional school districts, and expanding the Texas Partnership program.

Implementation of Legislation 

The report focuses on the implementation of anti-cyberbullying legislation under House Bill (HB) 179, known as David’s Law, and to changes to the accountability system under HB 22. Regarding the accountability system, recommendations include monitoring the inclusion of extra- and co-curricular indicators and local accountability systems, revisiting certain college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicators, exploring options to alleviate timing issues that exist with regard to the accountability system and rulemaking, and including additional funding to cover the costs of federally-mandated SAT and ACT assessments for certain students.

Educator Preparation Programs

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the educator preparation program (EPP) data dashboard, collecting disaggregated longitudinal data on student outcomes of teachers by EPP, and incentivizing EPP partnerships that provide affordable options to gain additional credentials and certifications.

School Safety

In response to the deadly school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, and elsewhere, the committee’s report includes four pages of recommendations regarding school safety. The recommendations are broken in subcategories covering mental health and well-being, school mental health professionals, school safety planning and training, school safety infrastructure, law enforcement resources, and charter school specific issues.

These recommendations are expected to become the basis of major bills that move through the House Public Education Committee this session. Under new House rules adopted Wednesday, the committee will expand to 13 members from 11. The committee’s chair and membership for this session will be assigned by newly-elected Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). The full interim report can be accessed here.

ATPE’s Shannon Holmes facilitates teacher pay discussion

ATPE Executive Director Dr. Shannon Holmes moderated a panel discussion on teacher compensation Thursday at a conference for the Texas Association of Midsize Schools (TAMS). The discussion included state Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), who is a member of the Texas House Public Education Committee, and Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), who filed a high-profile teacher compensation bill in 2017 during the 85th Texas Legislature.

Both representatives agreed about the need to increase teacher compensation, which has become a major topic of discussion heading into the 86th Texas Legislature. Some of the most serious plans proposed thus far have featured differentiated pay, in which top-performing teachers are eligible for higher paychecks. Rep. VanDeaver noted that the major concern with these plans revolves around how top-performing teachers are identified. ATPE has consistently warned that student test scores should not be the primary metric for this purpose.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Rep. Travis Clardy at the TAMS conference on Dec. 6, 2018

Rep. Clardy acknowledged that a critical part of any raise this session will be identifying state funding for that purpose. Legislation addressing teacher pay during the 2017 special session did not include state funding and instead asked districts to pay for raises out of their own pockets, which effectively tabled the discussion.

The conference featured other panels related to public education, including one featuring state Reps. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and Ken King (R-Canadian), both members of the House Public Education Committee, as well as State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). All three serve on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which was created in part by the failure of a House-sponsored school finance reform bill last session. Rep. Bernal vowed that if the commission fails to come up with a real plan to reform the finance system before the new session begins, the House will come up with its own plan and challenge the Senate to pass it.

Thursday’s event furthered underscored the extent to which the focus will be on public education in the upcoming legislative session. Many lawmakers who have seemed uninterested in addressing school finance in the past are now championing reform efforts. Rep. King and others suggested Thursday that the results of the most recent election sent a strong message that Texas voters want legislators who will advance the interests of public education.

School finance commission discusses list of recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to hear recommendations from the working group on expenditures, which is led by House Public Education Committee chairman and state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston).

School finance commission meeting September 25, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath began the hearing by presenting the agency’s annual report, which purported to show an increase in education funding since 2007. Responding to questions from commission members, Morath conceded that the numbers were not adjusted for inflation.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked Morath to explain the dispute between the General Land Office (GLO) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) over public education funding. Morath stated that through the School Land Board (SLB), the GLO sent $750 million to public education for the last biennium. The GLO only sent $600 million for this biennium, bypassing the SBOE, and representing a roughly $150-190 million decrease in funding.

Sen. Bettencourt appeared to come down on the side of the SBOE in the dispute. SBOE Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) suggested that the dispute will require a legislative fix. The entire SBOE sent a letter asking GLO Commissioner George P. Bush to reconsider the action and increase funding, but Bush refused to do so.

Commission Chair Scott Brister suggested that on the big question, whether to increase public school funding is not up to the commission. Member Ellis rightly pointed out that while it’s true the legislature is the only body that can appropriate funds, it is certainly the commission’s duty to discern what appropriate funding levels are and to make recommendations accordingly. This point was backed up by Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley Johnson.

Brister added that the commission will require a half dozen meetings in November and December in order to finalize its report.

Rep. Huberty then walked the commission through a list of 22 recommendations from the working group on expenditures, beginning with reallocating cost of education index (CEI) funds. The recommendations are as follows:

Reallocations of existing funding:

  1. Reallocate cost of education funds. The CEI was last updated in 1991 and provides adjustment for cost of educating children in different parts of the state. Huberty argued that this formula is outdated and that funding could be rerouted to add $2.9 billion to the basic allotment.
  2. Reallocate Chapter 41 hold harmless funds worth $30 million annually.
  3. Reallocate Chapter 41 early agreement credit funds for an annual savings of $50 million.
  4. Reallocate gifted and talented allotment funds worth $165 million annually. Rep. Huberty and state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) emphasized that gifted and talented (GT) programs will not go away. Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian cautioned that districts could come to view GT programs as an unfunded mandate, and suggested weighting GT funding instead. Todd Williams also voiced concern that eliminating dedicated GT funding could lead districts to underidentify GT students as a way to cut costs.
  5. Reallocate high school allotment funds worth $400 million annually.
  6. Move from prior year to current year property values worth $1.8 billion. Huberty suggested that this would more accurately reflect the current needs of school districts. Killian cautioned that this change will cost Pflugerville, which is a fast-growth district, $22.7 million in the first year. Conley Johnson added that this could add uncertainty to the budgeting process for districts.

Increased spending on existing programs:

  1. Increase compensatory education allotment from 0.2 to a spectrum of between 0.225 and 0.275, based on the concentration of severely challenged students. This would be worth $1.1-1.2 billion. Commissioner members engaged in a lengthy discussion on identifying metrics with which to identify need other than qualification for federal free and reduced lunches.
  2. Change the transportation allotment to a mileage-based approach based on at least $0.80 cents per mile appropriated by the legislature.
  3. Provide transportation funding to Chapter 41 districts, at an annual cost of $60 million.
  4. Recreate the small- and mid-size district adjustments as a standalone allotment, at an estimated cost of $0-400 million. Rep. Huberty argued that this would create more transparency.
  5. Increase the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) to $100 million per year, which would be a direct benefit to fast-growth school districts.
  6. Expand career and technical education (CTE) funding to 6th through 8th grades, at an annual cost of $20 million.

New programs:

  1. Create a new dual language allotment at 0.15, at an annual cost of $15-50 million. This is aimed to incentivize schools to transition from bilingual to more effective dual language programs.
  2. Create a new dyslexia allotment of 0.1, at an annual cost of $100 million. Currently districts do not receive direct funding for students with dyslexia, despite the fact the number of dyslexic students in Texas is estimated to be anywhere from 2.5 to more than ten percent.
  3. Create a new early childhood support allotment of 0.1, at an annual cost of $786 million. This would benefit students from kindergarten through 3rd grade, and could be used to fund any program that seeks to improve 3rd grade math and reading, including full-day pre-K.
  4. Create a 3rd grade reading bonus of 0.4, at an annual cost of $400 million. This is a simple incentive for students to meet grade level in 3rd grade reading. Williams suggested granting students facing social or economic challenges a greater reward.
  5. Create a college, career, and military readiness bonus at an annual cost of $400 million. This would provide additional funding for each graduating senior who does not require remediation after graduation or who is able to directly enter the workforce or military. This is intended to support the state’s “60×30” goals.
  6. Create a new teacher compensation program, at an annual cost of $100 million. This is a merit-based pay program that would allow certain educators to earn more by performing well on certain evaluation systems. Teachers would also be rewarded for teaching at campuses with higher levels of disadvantaged students. This program could grow significantly in size depending upon district participation. Williams acknowledged that local development involving teachers is incredibly important, and measures other than student STAAR results should be considered. Williams suggested it would be incumbent on the commissioner to develop a set of minimum standards.
  7. Create an extended year incentive program at an annual cost of $50 million. This would be aimed to reduce summer learning losses.

Additional changes:

  1. Utilize remaining funds from reallocations to increase the basic allotment.
  2. Change the guaranteed yield on tier II copper pennies from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the basic allotment.
  3. Link the tier II golden penny yield to a set percentile of wealth per student.

Many of these recommendations were also supported by recommendations from the working group on outcomes, led by Todd Williams. Williams congratulated Huberty on his working group’s efforts to find more efficient ways to provide the support students need, and added that the system will nonetheless need more money. In a final conversation around spending, Brister continued to suggest that more funding is not necessarily the solution. Member Ellis emphasized that the commission must address the adequacy of public education funding.

The working group on revenues, led by Sen. Bettencourt, is now the only working group yet to produce recommendations. Bettencourt pushed back on warnings that time is running short for the commission to complete its work, but did not provide a timeline for his work product.

 

 

Does Gov. Abbott want to spend more on schools?

Election season is truly magical.

There’s just something about the seething mercury, the colorful proliferation of yard signs, and the specter of an existential showdown that awakens a – dare we call it – miraculous clarity in political combatants seeking votes.

When else can one witness folks who’ve spent the past 20 months fighting in bitter opposition to a particular set of constituents suddenly discover a deep love for the values they hold? The Lord works in mysterious ways.

It’s no surprise that we’re now hearing support for improving the school finance system from unexpected corners. To a certain degree, it’s positive evidence that educators are being heard, and that the powers-that-be realize that there is more to gain by working with the education community than working to dismantle it.

That doesn’t mean that efforts to dismantle it behind the scenes will stop. In politics as in statistics, things tend to revert toward the mean. The governing happens long after the polls close. Nonetheless, election season opens a brief window of opportunity to use our seat at the table to advance the conversation.

Let’s apply this lens to the latest Dallas Morning News opinion column by Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas), with the promising headline, “Texas must boost school funding.” The key passage summarizing Gov. Abbott’s message is as follows:

“We need to pay our best teachers more, reward teachers and districts for student growth, prioritize spending in the classroom and reduce the burden of skyrocketing property taxes. I’ll add up front that I believe the state will have to provide more funding.”

That last line seems to offer an acknowledgment of what we in the education committee have known for some time, but which many in the Capitol have resisted mightily.

The problem, of course, is that many of the people who have opposed investing more state dollars in public education have falsely argued that the state is already increasing education spending year over year. They point to raw dollars going back to a low-water point in 2006 in order to obscure the reality of the deliberate and steady erosion of state support for local schools. Troublingly, Gov. Abbott takes this very tack in writing that “overall education spending in Texas has increased by more than 50 percent since 2006, and the state is contributing 29 percent more education funding per student in that time period.”

Let’s look at that claim.

The numbers in the latter half of that statement come from a Texas Education Agency (TEA) presentation before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The headline of the slide below seems to confirm the governor’s assertion, but look at the orange line indicating funding adjusted for inflation. It clearly shows that in terms of purchasing power, total per-student funding has risen only slightly since 2006, and is roughly equal to per-student funding in 2008. (Click the image to view a larger version.)

Source: Texas Education Agency

What’s perhaps more telling is the blue bar indicating how much funding the state has contributed. I’ve added the red brackets and red horizontal line to make the minute changes easier to see. You can tell that the raw dollar amount the state has contributed has actually decreased slightly since 2008 – and that’s not even adjusted for inflation.

To get to the inflation-adjusted number, we look at the Legislative Budget Board’s (LBB) Fiscal Size-up for the 2016-2017 biennium. In the chart below, we can see how spending from local property tax revenue (circled in green) has increased, while state aid (circled in blue) has changed little from 2008 levels. In total constant dollars adjusted for inflation (near the red arrow), we see that total funding has in fact decreased.

Source: Legislative Budget Board

The governor also wrongly suggests that funding is not making it into classrooms. According to the TEA’s 2016-17 Pocket Edition statistics, districts only spend an average of 3.1 percent on administrative costs.

To his credit, the governor advocates that increases in funding should go to teachers. No disagreement there. His idea is to implement a system in which top-performing teachers can earn significantly higher pay by teaching in areas facing the most need – similar to the “ACE” system tested in Dallas ISD. It’s a conversation that’s worth having, provided that educators are involved in the process and that the system doesn’t rely primarily on student test results to identify those “top-performing” teachers.

Governor Abbott also suggests moving away from a per-pupil funding model and, implicitly, toward a more outcomes-based approach. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is identifying which metrics with which to measure student performance and the threat of schools faced with the most significant socioeconomic challenges receiving even less support.

Finally, the governor writes that school finance reform must be accompanied by reforms in property taxes. It’s true the two are inextricably intertwined.

Increasing the state’s share of public education funding is the surest way to provide relief in property taxes. The governor proposes forcing taxing entities to lower their rates as appraisals go up, with the state presumably stepping in to make school districts whole. That’s a lot to presume, especially to do so in perpetuity.

Districts could hardly be blamed for wanting to see the legislature commit money up front before committing to voluntarily lower their tax rates – and it will take a sizable appropriation to shift the burden back toward the state in a way that will be meaningful to local property owners. School board members are politicians too, and they don’t want to be blamed for high taxes any more than their counterparts in Austin.

So what does it all mean? Does the governor’s column signify a dramatic reversal of his stance on public education, and school finance in particular? Does it mean he’s ready to stop attacking educators through anti-teacher payroll deduction bills and focus on improving teacher pay instead?

At a minimum, the governor is now talking about public education as an important priority, and that’s a good thing. The onus is on us to engage respectfully yet forcefully, and to shape the conversation, to the extent we can, by correcting inaccuracies and providing meaningful input. At best, we hope the governor will listen to educators and incorporate our feedback, even after the elections are over.

Of course, just as election season begins in the frantic furnace of summer, it ends in darkness on a winter night. When the legislature returns in January, we’ll all be faced with cold reality.

ATPE testifies at Texas Capitol regarding teacher pay

The House Public Education Committee met Wednesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss interim charges relating to teacher compensation and charter schools. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) began by noting that this meeting concludes the committee’s interim charges, and he does not plan on calling another committee meeting this year.

House Public Education Committee meeting August 8, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath kicked off the day’s invited testimony with an update on the state’s “A through F” accountability system. The agency is expected to release the first round of ratings for districts on August 15, while campuses will still be rated under the “met standard/improvement required” system until next year. Morath explained a number of adjustments to the system that were made as a result of stakeholder feedback.

Asked by Rep. Huberty how the ratings compare to last year when measured under the current system, Morath said the state lost a total of 260 improvement required (IR) campuses, representing a historic year-over-year improvement. Asked about the impact of the TEA waiver for IR campuses affected by Hurricane Harvey, the commissioner explained that 1,200 campuses were eligible for relief under the Harvey protocols. Of those, “something like 86” campuses that were on track to receive an IR designation instead received a “not rated” designation under the waiver.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) expressed concern over the system’s dependence on high-stakes testing, and cautioned members of the committee against using tests in ways for which they are not intended. Morath indicated his belief that summative assessments such as the STAAR are perfectly suited for evaluating campus-level effectiveness.

Morath then shifted to the following interim charge designated by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio):

Review current state mechanisms for identifying and rewarding educators through state-level strategies. Examine how providing additional funding to enhance compensation in districts facing a shortage of experienced, highly rated teachers would affect retention and teacher quality, in addition to whether it would encourage teachers to provide additional services through extracurricular activities, tutoring, and mentoring.

The commissioner began by laying out the new teacher appraisal system, T-TESS, as well as currently available training and curricular resources. Morath said teachers are the TEA’s first strategic priority, but said compensation is only part of the puzzle. The commissioner highlighted research showing that only 23% of new U.S. teachers came from the top third of their graduating class. Pay is the top reason college graduates choose not to become teachers, and average pay has fallen compared to other professions. Compensation similarly does not grow at the same rate as other professions. Morath praised the performance pay program in Dallas ISD, but Rep. Huberty steered the commissioner toward focusing on how to pay for such programs.

The commissioner indicated that in order to implement strategic staffing programs like the Dallas ISD ACE program that incentivizes high-performing teachers to teach at the most at-risk campuses, the state could provide additional formula funding through the Foundation School Program (FSP) tied to levels of economically disadvantaged students. Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) suggested the state should raise the base pay, including the minimum salary schedule. Morath indicated part of the challenge of instituting a performance-based pay system is identifying top teachers, but noted that many school systems have done so successfully. The commissioner also indicated that any funding to raise teacher pay should provide administrators a guarantee that funding will continue.

Chairman Huberty asked Morath direcly what it would cost to implement Dallas ISD’s performance pay program across the state of Texas. According to Morath, the program would carry a startup cost of around $50 million and an annual cost of roughly $1 billion over a ten-year period. This would provide average raises between $4,000-5,000, with top teachers able to earn up to six-figure salaries.

Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) repeatedly questioned invited witnesses who cautioned against basing teacher evaluations on their students’ high-stakes test scores to provide an alternative metric to accurately identify top teachers. Representatives from educator organizations noted that standardized tests have not been validated for use evaluating the performance of individual teachers and pointed out there are a variety of alternatives.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee, August 8, 2018.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that the positive results from the Dallas ISD ACE system are not necessarily correlated with the district’s teacher evaluation system, which is called the Teacher Excellence Initiative (TEI). Exter clarified that designating top teachers to utilize under the ACE model could be done equally effectively by utilizing T-TESS or another alternative evaluation system. Chairman Huberty expressed frustration, and indicated any program involving additional money from the state should provide the state with policy input. Asked by Chairman Huberty to offer specific recommendations, Exter suggested that lawmakers must take a systemic approach to directing the best teachers to the campuses facing the highest challenges. Such an approach would begin with the teacher pipeline and include wraparound supports as well as the possibility of differentiated pay.

The committee next considered the following interim charge regarding charters:

Review the charter school system in Texas. Determine if changes are needed in the granting, renewal, or revocation of charter schools, including the timeline for expansions and notification of expansions to surrounding districts. Review the educational outcomes of students in charter schools compared to those in traditional schools, and to what extent schools participate in the alternative accountability system. Monitor the implementation of facilities funding for charter schools. Consider differences in state funding for charter schools compared to their surrounding districts and the impact on the state budget. Consider admissions policies for charters, including appropriate data collection to assess demand for additional charter enrollment, compliance with access by students with disabilities and the effect of exclusions of students with criminal or disciplinary histories. Consider differences in charter and district contributions to the Teacher Retirement System on behalf of their employees and make appropriate recommendations to support the retirement benefits of all public school teachers.

TEA staff opened testimony with an overview of charter school statistics and the metrics for evaluating new charter applications. Chairman Huberty noted that the number of charter school campuses has increased while the number of charter holders has held steady around the statutory cap. Members had several questions regarding the statistics, including how student discipline is handled, the higher percentage of IR campuses than traditional school districts, and types of services offered.

Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez provided information regarding TRS contributions, facilities funding, and the implementation of district partnership contracts through Senate Bill (SB) 1882. Lopez noted that charters are not required to pay teachers the minimum salary schedule. Chairman Huberty pointed out that TRS contributions are not indexed to anything other than the minimum salary schedule, which has been long outdated as a current reflection of teacher salaries. As a result, contributions have not automatically increased along with inflation.

This year, charters will be eligible for facilities funding equaling on average just over $200 per student. This funding is capped at $60 million dollars annually. Regarding the amount of funding charters receive compared to traditional school districts, Lopez contended charters receive both more and less. Lopez noted at the outset that student profiles are different for each. While charters have higher levels of economically disadvantaged students, they have fewer special education students. It is also important to note that there are significant differences even among economically disadvantaged students, and traditional districts continue to serve the most students in extreme poverty.

In last-minute meeting, revenue working group gets orders

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues met briefly Tuesday evening after the commission’s formal meeting adjourned. Unlike the other two working groups, the revenues group led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) did not post a public notice following Texas open meetings guidelines.

Texas’s open meetings law was passed to limit secret government meetings and ensure the public has access to deliberations of public interest. The law explicitly applies to the school finance commission as a whole, however its application to working groups of the commission is less clear. The only notice was posted the day of the meeting in an obscure portion of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website. Because notice was not provided according to guidelines laid out by the open meetings law, few people attended the revenues meeting and no audio or video of the meeting is available.

According to those inside the meeting, Sen. Bettencourt stated the working group will aim to score various spending and revenue proposals, including raising the state sales tax or gas tax, enacting the performance pay program proposed by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath, limiting recapture, extending the Universal Service Fund (USF) tax on land telephone lines to cell phones, and the 2.5 percent tax cap proposed by Gov. Greg Abbott during the special session. Bettencourt requested members submit their ideas for study topics before the full commission meets again July 10.

A snapshot of the proceedings was posted on social media: