Tag Archives: Mike Morath

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 8, 2019

Here’s your chilly edition of this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


Andrea Chevalier

ATPE is excited to welcome Andrea Chevalier, the newest lobbyist to join our Governmental Relations team.

Andrea joins us most recently from the office of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), where she served as Legislative Director and oversaw a host of issues, including public education. She is also a former classroom teacher with experience working in both the traditional public school and charter school environments. Andrea attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied chemistry; earned her Masters of Education in Secondary Education at the University of North Texas; and is currently working on completing her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT.

Andrea will be lobbying and reporting on a variety of issues being debated by the legislature this session, working closely with the House Public Education Committee, and covering educator quality regulations considered by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Watch for her blog posts here on Teach the Vote and follow her on Twitter at @ATPE_AndreaC.

 


On Tuesday, Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed a joint session of the 86th Legislature, delivering his traditional “State of the State” address. He outlined his legislative priorities for the session, punctuated by the declaration of six issues as emergency items that would warrant expedited action by lawmakers. All six of the issues bear close ties to public education, including most notably school finance, school safety, and teacher pay. Abbott’s declaration of these school-related emergency issues is a testament to the impact of the 2018 election cycle in which the Texas public education community was much more noticeably vocal and active. Tuesday was also the day for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address. That speech, which had been postponed due to the recent federal government shutdown, contained far less education-related content. Read more about both the State of the State and State of the Union speeches in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee public education policy issues in Texas have begun holding regular meetings and hearing testimony. The Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the legislative session this week, receiving an overview presentation by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The committee also learned about the status of special education programs in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this detailed summary for Teach the Vote.

The House Public Education Committee, which began its work a little earlier this session, held two meetings this week, both heavily focused on the topic of school finance. The committee similarly heard from Commissioner Morath, along with members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about those hearings in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee is slated for two more meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the agenda will include testimony by stakeholders about school finance and the recommendations of the commission that studied the issue last year. ATPE has been invited to testify on Wednesday, and we’ll provide details next week here on our blog and on @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

 


On Monday of this week, the House Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittees that will work on various sections of the state budget. Committee members were also briefed by staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided an in-depth report here for our blog. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee has also been holding several meetings to review the draft budget. Next week, Senate Finance committee members turn their attention to Article III, which contains the education budget. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter will be there for those meetings starting Monday and will provide updates next week for Teach the Vote.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s House District 125 will head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new state representative. Early voting has taken place this week for the special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez, after he resigned to serve as Bexar County Commissioner. The five candidates vying for the HD 125 seat are Steve Huerta (D)Ray Lopez (D)Fred Rangel (R)Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Art Reyna (D).

There also remains a vacancy in Houston’s HD 145, where Democrats Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales have advanced to a runoff in that special election. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced, but is likely to be held in March. Read more about the two runoff candidates in this article from the Houston Chronicle.

 


 

Senate Education committee holds first meeting

Senate Education Committee meeting Feb. 7, 2019.

The Senate Committee on Education held its first meeting of the 86th Legislative Session on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, at the Texas Capitol. The committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) kicked off the meeting by welcoming members to “Season Three, Episode One” of his tenure as the committee chair, and introduced new and returning committee members.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath provided high-level testimony on the “State of the State of Public Education” report produced by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). This report focuses on demographics, challenges, and progress toward the state’s “60×30” goal of ensuring 60 percent of students graduate high school with an industry certification or post-secondary credential by the year 2030. Commissioner Morath again stressed the importance of recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers in order to achieve this goal.

The commissioner also walked members through the current “A through F” accountability system, which is largely based upon different calculations of STAAR test results. Related to that, the commissioner explained efforts to develop STAAR test questions aligned to student expectations. Morath discussed the negative impact of poverty on student learning, which prompted comments by the vice chairman, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville), on related factors such as hunger. Both have a direct impact on the cost to educate a child.

In acknowledging criticisms of the STAAR test, including the high stakes attached to it, Commissioner Morath suggested the test could be broken into multiple, shorter sessions, or move away from multiple-choice answers. The commissioner noted that either could pose problems with regard to legal requirements and the time and money necessary for development.

TEA’s State Director for Special Education Justin Porter followed up with a briefing on special education, beginning with enrollment numbers. The agency documented a sharp decline in special education enrollment around 2004. Enrollment has increased in recent years, which coincides with corrective action the agency was forced to take after an investigation revealed the agency had been illegally implementing a de facto cap on enrollment. Despite the current upward trajectory, special education enrollment remains significantly below the national average.

Under the current accountability system, special education students are performing “significantly behind” their non-special education peers. Porter suggested this potentially could be ameliorated by changes to the current college, career, and military readiness (CCM-R) indicators.

The majority of Porter’s testimony focused on the strategic plan put in place as a result of the corrective action order. Under federal pressure, the agency has increased monitoring activities and identifying areas of noncompliance and improvement. Under federal law, all students have a right to a “free and appropriate public education” (FAPE), and TEA has made efforts to inform local education agencies (LEAs) of their responsibilities. The agency is also hiring a contractor to launch a statewide media campaign to provide information about special education and parents’ rights. Sens. Royce West (D-Dallas) and Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked questions regarding the marketing program, including the total cost and whether districts and stakeholder groups had been recruited into the process.

Porter indicated there is also a shortage in evaluation personnel, which has resulted in many LEAs paying for contract personnel. The agency has responded with a $10 million grant to Education Service Center (ESC) 20 in San Antonio to provide services and reimbursements to LEAs without access to evaluators.

In addition, the agency has focused on professional development geared toward administrators and general education teachers, as well as training for school board members. The agency has also set up a call center to answer questions related to special education.

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 1, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators and SBOE members gathered for the board’s swearing-in ceremony, Jan. 28, 2019.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) held its first meetings of the new year this week in Austin. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meetings and provided updates for our blog.

Things kicked off on Monday when all members of the board, both newly elected and re-elected, were sworn in by Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). Members of the board adopted operating rules for the body, discussed the board’s authority in relation to charter schools, and also approved committee assignments and officer elections,  including naming Marty Rowley (R) of Amarillo as Vice Chair and Georgina Perez (D) of El Paso as Secretary of the board. Additional committee assignments and chair appointments can be viewed in this blog post from Wiggins.

On Tuesday, the board was briefed by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath on the “State of the State of Public Education” annual report. Morath also discussed the creation of curriculum guides by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), educator compensation, and other topics as noted in this blog post. Wednesday, the board participated in a learning roundtable at the Austin Convention Center where it discussed its Long-Range Plan for Public Education, a list of goals and recommendations to improve public schools by 2030.

Lastly, the SBOE ended its meetings by unveiling today the new logo for the Permanent School Fund, which was designed by Melissa Richardson of Dripping Springs High School as part of a contest. The board will meet again on April 2-5, 2019.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: El Paso residents turned out on Tuesday to elect a new state representative for Texas House District 79. El Paso Community College Chairman, Art Fierro, won the House seat with 53% of the votes in the special election. Fierro will be completing the term of former Rep. Joe Pickett who resigned recently due to health complications. Fierro’s term will expire in 2021. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Fierro and looks forward to working with him.

Meanwhile, some Houstonians will still have to wait in order to find out who will be replacing former Rep. Carol Alvarado, who vacated her House seat in District 145 order to run successfully for the Texas State Senate in another special election for Senate District 6. As for the new representative for House District 145, the race has been narrowed down to two Democratic candidates, Christina Morales and Melissa Noriega. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced.

Lastly, one more seat in the Texas House remains vacant, that of San Antonio Democrat Justin Rodriguez who vacated his seat to run for (and get elected) Bexar County commissioner. Early voting for the House District 125 special election begins Monday with the election being held on Feb. 12. View profiles of the special election candidates on Teach the Vote, and read more about each race in this article by The Texas Tribune.

 


Earlier today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its accreditation statuses for Texas public schools for the 2018-19 school year. The statuses based on academic accountability ratings and the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (also known as School FIRST) recognize schools and districts that meet certain academic and financial benchmarks. According to TEA, 99% of Texas schools were designated as accredited for the 2018-19 year. More information can be found in this press release from the agency.

 


House Committee on Public Education

The House Public Education Committee convened its first meeting of the regular session this week. Led by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) who is serving his third term as chair, the committee heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff about issues such as STAAR testing, educator certification, and TEA’s Special Education Strategic Plan. The committee will reconvene several times over the next two weeks to hear invited testimony from members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance and other stakeholders regarding the commission’s recommendations for school finance reform. Learn more in this blog post from ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, who attended this week’s first hearing.

 


The House Appropriations Committee also began meeting this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter attended the first few meetings and provided this update. After opening remarks from Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulshear), including some gentle ribbing about punctuality that will likely turn into a session long running joke, the committee heard from what is likely the last stop on the Comptroller’s biennial revenue estimate tour. The committee also received from the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) some high-level budget numbers, including  on public education and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). The committee is scheduled to hear more in-depth testimony on TRS, school safety, and school finance on Monday, Feb. 4. Most of the truly in-depth work on the initial House budget bill is done by subcommittees, including an Article III subcommittee that reviews the education portion of the budget. The members of those subcommittees are determined by the chairman of the Appropriations Committee and will likely be named next week.

The Senate Finance Committee also continued to meet this week but on areas other than public education. The Senate committee will turn its attention to education funding later this month, and ATPE’s lobby team will provide updates here on our Teach the Vote blog.

 


 

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 STAAR 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.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 25, 2019

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


On Wednesday, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen released his chamber’s committee assignments for the 86th legislature. Speaker Bonnen assigned chairmanships to Republicans and Democrats alike with each party having a number of chairmanships roughly proportionate to its representation in the House, which is contrast to the Senate where Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick appointed only a single Democrat to chair a committee. Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) will continue to chair the House Committee on Public Education with Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) again serving as Vice-Chair. A full list of House committee assignments can be found here. View Senate committee assignments as previously reported on Teach the Vote here.

Meanwhile, there remain three vacancies in the House pending upcoming special elections. Voters in House Districts 79 and 145 will elect a new state representative (unless there is a need for a runoff) during a special election on Tuesday, Jan. 29. ATPE encourages educators in El Paso and Houston to visit the Candidates page on Teach the Vote to view the candidates who are vying for election in those two districts. A special election will take place to fill the third vacancy in San Antonio’s House District 125 on Feb. 12, 2019.

 


Earlier this week the Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced the recipients of Cycle 2 of the agency’s Grow Your Own grant period. An initiative created as a result of Commissioner of Education Mike Morath’s 2016 Texas Rural Schools Task Force, the Grow Your Own grant program was designed to help school districts inspire high school students to pursue careers as classroom teachers, certified paraprofessionals, or teacher aides.

Research shows that 60 percent of educators in the United States teach within 20 miles of where they went to high school,” said Commissioner Morath. “Because we know our future teachers are currently in our high schools, the goal of Grow Your Own is to help increase the quality and diversity of our teaching force and to better support our paraprofessionals, teacher’s aides and educators, especially in small and rural districts.”

Thirty-six school districts and educator preparation programs were selected for Cycle 2 of the program: Bob Hope School (Port Arthur), Bridge City ISD, Brooks County ISD, Castleberry ISD, Del Valle ISD, Elgin ISD, Fort Bend ISD, Fort Hancock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Hillsboro ISD, La Vega ISD, Lancaster ISD, Laredo ISD, Longview ISD, Marble Falls ISD, Mineola ISD, Muleshoe ISD, New Caney ISD, Palestine ISD, Presidio ISD, Region 20 Education Service Center, Relay Graduate School of Education, Rosebud-Lott ISD, Sabinal ISD, Somerset ISD, Stephen F. Austin State University, Texas A&M University, Texas A&M University- Commerce, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, Texas Tech University, Texas Woman’s University, Vidor ISD, Waxahachie Faith Family Academy, West Texas A&M University, Westwood ISD, and Woodville ISD.

The full press release from TEA can be found here.


Two congressmen from Texas will be serving on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee for the 116th Congress.

Both Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX 20) and Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX 03) will be serving on the committee, which has gone several years without a Texas member among its ranks. In press releases published earlier this week, both Castro and Taylor spoke of their commitment to finding bipartisan solutions to challenges faced by America’s education system and workforce. ATPE congratulates Congressmen Castro and Taylor on their appointments and looks forward to working with them in Washington on federal education issues.

 


With the legislative session underway and committees in place, we’re beginning to see a busy calendar of upcoming hearings, which ATPE’s lobby team will be participating in and reporting on throughout the session for Teach the Vote. State agencies and boards also have upcoming meetings of interest to education stakeholders, and we’re your go-to source for updates on any developments.

Next week, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will hold its first meeting of the new year starting Monday in Austin, where new members will be officially sworn in. Matt Robinson (R-Friendswood), Pam Little (R-Fairview), and Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) are joining the board following the 2018 election cycle. The board will also elect a vice-chair and secretary and announce the chairs of its three standing committees: School Initiatives, Instruction, and School Finance/Permanent School Fund.

SBOE members will host a learning roundtable Wednesday at the Austin Convention Center that will focus on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education, which the board released at the end of 2018.

Rep. Dan Huberty

Also on Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee will hold its first meeting of the 86th legislative session. The committee, under the chairmanship of Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), is expected to consider major bills related to school finance and teacher pay this session. Wednesday’s meeting will feature invited testimony from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath.

 


The Senate Finance Committee began its work on the state budget this week with its chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) introducing Senate Bill (SB) 1, the Senate’s version of the budget. The budget is broken down into several different articles that represent different policy areas. Article III, which includes TEA, the Foundation School Program, and TRS, as well as higher education funding, is set to be discussed the week of Feb. 11.

In addition to SB 1, the Senate Finance committee also laid out SB 500, the Senate’s supplemental appropriations bill. SB 500 includes approximately $2.5 billion in proposed funding from the Economic Stabilization Fund (ESF), or Rainy Day fund. With about $1 billion of that money going to Hurricane Harvey relief, the bill includes a substantial amount for affected school districts. Another $300 million has been slated toward the TRS pension fund.

The House Committee on Appropriations was also named this week and will begin its work right away, including naming the members of the subcommittee that will oversee the portion of the budget dedicated to education for the House. Initial hearings are slated for next Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates from ATPE’s lobbyists as various budget-related proposals move through the legislative process.

 


From The Texas Tribune: Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
Dec. 19, 2018

Texas Commission on Public School Finance member Todd Williams of Dallas, left, speaks with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, on Jan. 23, 2018. | Photo by Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune

Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

After hours of discussion Wednesday, a state panel studying school finance stripped its final report of language that blamed the state for inadequate education spending — and that added urgency to a need for more money to improve student performance.

The original version of the report, unveiled last Tuesday, included stronger language that held the state accountable for the lack of education funding and urged lawmakers to immediately inject more than a billion dollars of new funding into public schools. Scott Brister, the panel’s chairman and a former Texas Supreme Court justice, led the charge to make those changes, which he said would be more palatable to lawmakers and keep Texas from being sued in the future.

“I do have a problem several places where it says our school system has failed. I do think that’s asking for trouble,” he said.

Some lawmakers and educators on the panel pushed back before agreeing to compromise.

“I think we have failed our schools and we haven’t funded them, in my view, adequately or equitably,” responded state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

Despite the conflict, the 13-member commission unanimously approved more than 30 recommendations on Wednesday aimed at boosting public education funding, improving student performance, cleaning up a messy funding distribution system — and providing property tax relief for Texans.

A final report will be sent to lawmakers, who are convening next month amid calls from state leadership to overhaul a long-embattled school finance system. Gov. Greg Abbott supported the panel’s vote in a statement Wednesday afternoon: “Today’s school finance commission report made clear that the state must reform the broken Robin Hood system and allocate more state funding to education. This session, we will do just that.”

The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of meetings and hours of testimony from school superintendents, education advocates and policy experts.

Panel members have bickered for months about basic foundational concepts, including whether the state had been underfunding public schools and whether they actually need more money in order to improve. The report takes a middle ground approach, promising more money to school districts that meet certain criteria or agree to offer specific programs such as dual language or merit pay for teachers.

Many of the debates among panel members Wednesday reflected their political divisions, with Brister — a conservative and Abbott appointee — arguing against citing a specific amount lawmakers should infuse into the public school funding system and school officials saying the panel should take an explicit stand based on its research.

An earlier version of the report said lawmakers should take the “important first step” of approving more than $1.73 billion in “new funding” for “the vast majority (if not all)” of the proposed programs.

The recommendation the commission approved Wednesday dropped that dollar figure.

Brister said he was uncomfortable sending a report to lawmakers that pressured them into making specific financial decisions.

“I am willing to say we will have to add new money to do these things. I am not willing to say, ‘And the first step is, every dime has to come from new money,” he said.

Nicole Conley-Johnson, chief financial officer of the Austin Independent School District, unsuccessfully argued to keep the paragraph in its original form.

“The spirit by which we were convened is to establish the changes and make recommendations,” she said. “I feel like we need to have the foresight to put in the estimated cost.”

Education advocacy groups criticized Brister’s decision. “There can be no real school finance reform that fails to address adequacy,” said Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Public Educators, in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “ATPE is disheartened that some members on the commission were unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the limitation of our state’s current funding levels out of fears of sparking litigation.”

The report still includes cost estimates for recommended programs and changes to how funding is divvied up among schools. But it no longer implores state lawmakers to pay for them.

Among the recommendations the commission plans to send to lawmakers are:

  • $100 million a year to school districts that want to develop their own teacher evaluation metrics and tie pay to performance. The total amount available should increase $100 million each year until it reaches $1 billion.
  • Up to $150 million to incentivize school districts to offer dual language programs, which instruct students in both English and Spanish, and to improve their dyslexia programs.
  • $800 million to incentivize school districts to improve students’ reading level in early grades and to succeed in college or a career after graduating high school.
  • $1.1 billion to improve education for low-income students, with school districts that have a higher share of needy students getting more money.
  • Create a new goal of having 60 percent of third-grade students reading on or above grade level and 60 percent of high school seniors graduating with a technical certificate, military inscription, or college enrollment without the need for remedial classes.
  • Cap local school district tax rates in order to offer property tax relief and a small amount of funding for schools —a proposal from Abbott.
  • No extra funding for special education programs until the state has completed overhauling those programs in line with a federal mandate.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/19/texas-school-finance-panel-approves-final-report/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: November 16, 2018

Here’s your weekly wrap-up of education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to discuss a variety of topics in what would be its last series of meetings before the year’s end.

On Wednesday, the board voted to increase its distribution from the Public School Fund to 2.9%.  This action takes place after a dispute earlier this year between the SBOE and the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB). Both the SBOE and the SLB manage investment portfolios that fund public education, but an unusual move by the SLB to bypass the SBOE and put funding directly into the Available School Fund (ASF) means that the SBOE will have less money to support classrooms directly.

Other topics of discussion this week included the streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, the board’s final discussion on the Long Range Plan (LRP) for public education, and the SBOE’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session in 2019.

The Board also heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner addressed concerns that the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) seeks less state funding than in previous years, telling the board the agency is simply following the funding formulas established by the legislature.

During the Board’s discussion with Commissioner Morath, members also requested updates on issues such as Senate Bill (SB) 1882, a bill passed during the 85th legislative session that allows public school districts to partner with privately-run charter schools; the recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the U.S. Department of Education’s punitive actions against Texas for underfunding special education programs; and transparency regarding the instructional materials portal launched in 2017.

 


In a press conference earlier this week, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced that the race for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives was “over,” as he had secured enough pledges for votes to make him the definitive winner. While the Speaker’s race won’t officially be over until January, when the House convenes for the 86th legislative session and formally votes for the next speaker, that hasn’t stopped Bonnen from proceeding as the presumptive speaker-elect, hiring key staff and putting in place a transition team.

Rep. Bonnen suggested that school finance will be the top priority of the Texas House in the upcoming legislative session, and he has vowed to work with his counterpart across the rotunda. Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a joint statement this week affirming their commitment to unity and working together in the upcoming session. Rep. Bonnen wrote, “The Lieutenant Governor and I share a strong commitment to doing the people’s business.”


School finance commission working group on revenues meeting, November 13, 2018.

On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues discussed the issue of wealth equalization through recapture, which is commonly referred to as “Robin Hood” under the current school finance system.

Led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the group heard testimony from a variety of stakeholders, including former state Sen. Tommy Williams, who testified on behalf of the governor’s office. Williams delivered the first public explanation of the governor’s plan to cap local tax revenue. A detailed account of the meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 

 


Commissioner: School fund management needs structural change

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath Wednesday morning to begin the second day of its November meeting.

TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

Commissioner Morath began by congratulating Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) for his work as the board’s sole representative on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, and called the recommendations put forward thus far by commission working groups “powerful.”

The commissioner praised the board for its handling of a funding dispute with the General Land Office (GLO) over the Permanent School Fund (PSF), formal oversight of which is split between the SBOE and the GLO’s School Land Board (SLB). Morath suggested legislators should address oversight of the PSF in its entirety. The commissioner pointed out that the PSF portion under the SLB’s stewardship has accumulated a $4 billion cash balance, which is creating a “significant drag” in terms of fund performance. Morath suggested legislators should consider structural changes, which could be worth an additional $150 million per year.

Commissioner Morath recapped the agency’s budget and priority initiatives, and disputed reports that the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR) calls for a reduction in state aid. The LAR is a formal budget request each agency prepares for legislators before each legislative session, and TEA’s LAR for the upcoming session seeks less state aid from general revenue (GR). The commissioner explained that this is required by the funding formulas, which have led to the burden shifting from state GR to local property tax revenues.

Member Ruben Cortez (R-San Antonio) pressed the commissioner as to whether that trend will continue. The commissioner repeated that the agency is complying with statute, and suggested this is the central question being addressed by the school finance commission.

Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse) asked the commissioner to provide agency guidance for districts participating in or considering merging with charters under Senate Bill (SB) 1882, which was passed by the 85th Texas Legislature. Perez-Diaz noted that there are questions regarding who is formally in charge of schools at the local level after a contract with a charter is executed, and pointed out it seems districts are “building the plane while it’s in the air.” The commissioner said SB 1882 contracts now include 13 districts and 609 campuses.

In response to a question by Member Ellis regarding a ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold a $33 million penalty for failing to properly fund special education, Commissioner Morath indicated that the agency is actively trying to figure out its response moving forward.

The commissioner also fielded a question from Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) regarding the instructional materials portal, which legislators in 2017 ordered the commissioner to create as an online resource for educators. Perez noted there is concern how the portal will interact with the SBOE’s statutory authority to review instructional materials and the potential for creating duplicative processes. Commissioner Morath suggested the portal will evaluate a different set of factors than the SBOE.

Member Barbara Cargill (R-Conroe) also raised concern about transparency with regard to how portal material is evaluated, and clarifying that the board’s process will continue forward unchanged. The commissioner replied the agency is engaged in stakeholder outreach. Member Cargill suggested creating a frequently asked questions (FAQ) document.

From The Texas Tribune: Federal officials tell Texas to go beyond plan for special education overhaul

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
Oct. 19, 2018

Federal officials tell Texas to go beyond plan for special education overhaul” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Jean Gearhart gives a tearful statement with her husband Troy Gearhart to the panel about her special needs child. U.S. Department of Education officials held a meeting in Edinburg on their tour of Texas to hear community members’ experiences with special education. Photo by Eddie Seal for The Texas Tribune

Federal officials said Texas should be doing even more to improve special education — and they’re planning a visit early next year to check.

In a letter Friday, officials from the U.S. Department of Education dissected Texas’ proposed plan for overhauling special education for kids with disabilities — in many cases urging state officials to do even more than they had originally planned. Earlier this year, a thorough investigation found Texas had failed to provide students with disabilities with a proper education, violating federal special education law, and demanded it undertake a long list of corrective actions to shape up.

After finalizing a plan in April, the Texas Education Agency has to date dramatically changed the structure of its departments overseeing special education, hired about 40 people to staff them (including a new special education director), and posted a long list of grants totaling more than $20 million to help school districts overhaul their policies. It anticipates spending an additional $3 billion over the next few years as more students enroll in special education.

“TEA has already completed more than half of the required activities in that Corrective Action Response,” Commissioner Mike Morath said in a statement Friday. “We continue to adhere to a commitment to transparency and engagement throughout the plan’s implementation.”

In Friday’s letter, federal officials okayed some parts of Texas’ improvement plan, which they noted outlines many “necessary steps” the state is taking to address their findings.

But they also said Texas should do more to make sure school districts understand how to comply with federal special education law. The investigation uncovered many educators who misunderstood what the law said about identifying students with disabilities and providing them with the right educational services.

The letter said TEA should take a “representative sample” of school districts and thoroughly review their policies and procedures for identifying students who may need special education. It also should specify how it will identify and hold accountable school districts that do not comply with federal law.

Parent advocates have argued school districts don’t make information available to them about how to make sure their children can access the appropriate special education services.

The Department of Education told the TEA to ensure state officials provide information to parents on their rights and responsibilities under federal special education law in their native languages, unless it’s “clearly not feasible to do so.” The TEA should also come up with a specific process for how it will make sure school districts communicate with families of students who may have been denied special education services in the past, “through means other than postings on websites.”

Federal officials plan to review the progress Texas has made and will work with the TEA to schedule an in-person monitoring visit in early 2019.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/10/19/federal-officials-tell-texas-go-beyond-plan-special-education-overhaul/.

 

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The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.