Tag Archives: Mike Villarreal

Shuffling the legislative deck: An update on special elections in Texas

With the start of the legislative session merely days away, many Texans still don’t know who will represent them in the 84th Legislature. A special election was held Jan. 6 to fill vacancies in three legislative districts – Senate District 26, House District 17, and House District 123. However, since no candidate earned enough votes to win outright, all three of those races are headed to an eventual runoff on a date yet to be determined by Gov. Rick Perry. Meanwhile, yet another special election is slated for next Tuesday, Jan. 13, for a vacancy in House District 13. A shuffling of legislators seeking other opportunities following the November 2014 general election has necessitated the sudden string of special elections.

In HD 17, Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt (R-Lexington) is stepping down in order to become general counsel at the Texas Department of Agriculture, a post appointed by the new commissioner of agriculture, Sid Miller, who was elected in November. There were five candidates on the HD 17 ballot Tuesday, but Republicans John Cyrier and Brent Golemon earned a spot in the runoff, garnering 46 and 25 percent of the votes, respectively. Cyrier has already received a number of notable endorsements, including one from the pro-public education group Texas Parent PAC.

The HD 123 vacancy is the result of Rep. Mike Villarreal’s (D-San Antonio) recent decision to resign and run for mayor of San Antonio later this year. Six candidates filed to run in Tuesday’s HD 123 special election; the two advancing to the runoff include Democrat Diego Bernal, who almost avoided a runoff with 47 percent of Tuesday’s vote. Bernal has also been endorsed by Texas Parent PAC. The second-place finisher was Republican Nunzio Previtera, who received 21 percent of the vote.

After running unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2014, Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) has also decided to throw her hat in the race for mayor of San Antonio, creating a vacancy in SD 26 with her resignation from the Senate. There were five candidates on Tuesday’s SD 26 ballot, and not surprisingly, the top vote-getters were two sitting state representatives, who are also Democrats. Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, who currently represents HD 116, earned 43 percent of the vote, while Rep. Jose Mendendez of HD 124 received a quarter of the votes. Ultimately, the governor will be forced to call yet another special election to fill a vacancy left in the Texas House by either Martinez Fischer or Menendez, depending on the outcome of the HD 123 runoff, which is likely to take place in February.

Next week’s special election in HD 13 will determine a successor for former Rep. Lois Kolkhorst (R-Brenham). Kolkhorst won a special election in December to become a state senator, succeeding former senator Glenn Hegar. Hegar resigned his SD 18 seat after being elected Texas comptroller in November. There are four candidates vying for the HD 13 seat next Tuesday: Becky BergerCarolyn Cerny BilskiLeighton Schubert, and Cecil Webster, Sr. Bilski, currently serving as a county judge, has received the endorsement of Texas Parent PAC.

View profiles of the candidates on Teach the Vote, and stay tuned to our blog for announcements about runoff and future election dates.

SBOE rejects rule, sends strong message to SBEC on GPA requirements for future educators

The State Board of Education (SBOE) today took the rare step of rejecting a rule that had been previously adopted by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). In August, SBEC adopted amendments to rules that establish minimum requirements for individuals to enter an educator preparation program (EPP). A bill passed by the Texas Legislature in 2013 – House Bill (HB) 2012 –required SBEC to make certain changes to the requirements, including minimum GPAs and college credit hours required to become a teacher. SBEC decided on a rule that kept most of the entrance requirements unchanged, but state law requires the SBOE to review all rulemaking decisions made by SBEC and gives them an opportunity to effectively veto the certification board’s decisions.

Responding to testimony from ATPE in May, SBEC initially proposed raising its minimum GPA requirement from 2.5 to 2.75, but the board changed its mind in August and adopted a rule keeping the minimum GPA for EPP candidates at 2.5. SBEC’s rule allows candidates to satisfy the 2.5 GPA requirement based either on their overall GPA, or the average during their last 60 hours of college coursework. Thus, it is currently possible to enter an EPP in Texas despite having an overall GPA of less than 2.0. The state’s rule also allows EPPs to waive the GPA requirement altogether for up to 10 percent of their candidates.

A majority of SBOE members seemingly agree with ATPE and some other stakeholders who support raising the GPA floor for EPP candidates. Especially for alternative certification candidates who are employed as teachers of record almost immediately, before completing their training and passing state certification exams, a minimum GPA requirement helps ensure that new teachers have an adequate academic foundation to be successful in the high-stakes environment of teaching. Texas has been criticized in a number of reports and research studies for setting its standards for becoming a teacher too low, especially when contrasted with other states and countries that recruit their teachers more selectively. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter stated in a press release, “We owe it to prospective teachers to hold our state’s programs to higher standards, because admission criteria that are too low merely set new teachers up for failure.”

During both the SBEC and SBOE debates on the minimum GPA rule, there was disagreement as to the intent of the language in HB 2012 relating to the GPA requirement. Some believe the bill requires SBEC to set a minimum GPA no higher than 2.75, while others contend that the bill requires 2.75 to be the minimum GPA allowed by SBEC. This week, HB 2012 author Rep. Mike Villarreal wrote a letter to SBOE members explaining the legislative intent behind his bill and stating his belief that EPPs “must require an overall grade point average of 2.75 for admission.” Villarreal added, “We know that teachers have a significant impact on student learning and outcomes in the classroom. We must ensure that we are attracting the best and brightest individuals to the profession by adopting nationally recognized entrance requirements. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the National Council for Teacher Quality both recommend a 3.0 GPA for admission in an educator preparatory program.” SBOE member Donna Bahorich also told fellow board members that she received word that the Senate sponsor of HB 2012, Sen. Dan Patrick, likewise believed that the legislation would require a minimum 2.75 GPA.

Several of the state’s private alternative certification providers, operated by for-profit companies, testified before SBEC and SBOE that the state’s minimum GPA requirement should not be increased. They argued that raising EPP admission standards would keep potentially great educators from entering the profession and lead to teacher shortages. ATPE testified, and several SBOE members noted today, that the exceptions in the rule already cover those individuals who may not have had good GPAs in college but are capable of becoming highly effective educators. Even if the minimum GPA is raised from 2.5 to 2.75, those exceptions in the rule will still exist. In fact, statewide statistics proffered by the Texas Education Agency earlier this year showed that only 11 percent of recently certified teachers would have been unable to satisfy a 2.75 GPA rule, and there has been no data presented to show that raising the state’s GPA requirement would cause teacher shortages.

Today, SBOE members voted 12-3 to reject SBEC’s rule that would keep the state’s GPA rule as is at 2.5 with exceptions. The vote forces SBEC to reconsider the issue and propose another rule. In the meantime, the existing GPA rule, requiring a minimum 2.5 GPA with exceptions allowed, will remain in effect pending further action by SBEC. The next SBEC meeting is set for Oct. 24. According to Exter, today’s rule rejection by SBOE was the first since SBEC was last reorganized under state law. The SBOE is authorized by law to reject SBEC rules on educator preparation and certification but cannot rewrite them.

While the SBOE’s vote today does not change the existing rule or force SBEC to adopt a higher GPA standard, it sends a strong message that legislators, policymakers and stakeholders expect Texas to raise its standards for educator preparation. “From high-stakes testing, to graduation requirements, to school accountability ratings, our state’s leaders have expected educators and students to perform increasingly well, but our teacher recruitment efforts and educator preparation standards have not kept up,” said ATPE Governmental Relations Manager Jennifer Canaday. “Keeping our standards low in order for some alternative certification programs to maximize their profits through higher enrollment numbers is not in the best interest of teachers or students. There are a number of factors that can contribute to teacher shortages, but fears that a slightly higher GPA requirement will leave school districts with no one to hire are completely unfounded. Our goal is to increase the pool of qualified teachers, give them the tools they need to succeed before they enter the classroom and elevate the prestige of the education profession so that Texas teachers can command the compensation and respect they deserve.”

Related: Read ATPE’s press release about today’s SBOE vote.