Tag Archives: minimum salary schedule

House committee advances major school finance reform bill

Today the House Committee on Public Education voted to move forward a comprehensive school finance reform bill. Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) offered a new committee substitute version of his House Bill (HB) 3 today, which the committee approved by a vote of 13 to zero.

The committee substitute for HB 3 reflects changes that were made in response to testimony on the original bill as filed. As we reported here on our blog, ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 at last week’s committee hearing. We supported the bill’s provision of additional funding for public schools, tax relief, and other positive measures, but ATPE opposed language in the original bill that would have allowed school districts to exempt themselves from complying with the state’s minimum salary schedule and a controversial merit pay proposal. The substitute version of the bill approved today removes those portions of HB 3, which all four of the state’s major teacher groups and several individual educators opposed in testimony last week. ATPE greatly appreciates the willingness of Chairman Huberty and the House leadership to hear our concerns, and we are happy to support the new and improved version of this important bill as it moves forward.

HB 3 does not include an across-the-board educator pay raise in the same manner as the Senate’s well-publicized Senate Bill 3, but the House bill advanced today would raise the state’s minimum salary schedule by increasing the basic allotment from $5,140 up to $6,030. Additionally, with Chairman Huberty’s striking from HB 3 a controversial merit pay plan that was tied to a $140 million educator effectiveness allotment, school districts will be able instead to use those funds for incentives and pay raises to help staff quality teachers at high needs campuses, in rural schools, and in areas experience a critical teacher shortage. Other bills proposing an across-the-board pay raise for certain educators continue to be debated this session.

View the newest version of HB 3 here, along with the author’s summary of changes made to the bill. View ATPE’s press release on today’s committee vote approving HB 3 here. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on the progress of HB 3, which is expected to be sent to the House floor for its consideration within the next couple of weeks.

ATPE testifies before school finance commission

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this morning, Feb. 22, in Austin to consider another round of testimony, this time largely focused on teacher quality. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by announcing subcommittee assignments.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting, Feb. 22, 2018.

The Revenue Committee will be led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and include state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), Nicole Conley Johnson, Elvira Reyna, and Justice Brister. The Expenditures Committee will be led by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) and include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), state Sen. Larry Taylor, State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), and Justice Brister. The Outcomes Committee will be led by Todd Williams and include state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Dr. Doug Killian, Melissa Martin, and Sen. Taylor.

The first to testify was Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez, who presented information that $28.8 billion of combined state, local, and federal funding was spent on instruction in 2016, which comprised 47.7 percent of total education spending. Rep. Huberty, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, pointed out that when factoring in instructional materials and other classroom supports, the 47.7 percent figure does not accurately capture the percentage of funding spent directly on students in the classroom.

Rep. Bernal, who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked about the cost to the state that can be attributed to teacher turnover. Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson answered that each teacher who leaves her district costs between $7,000 and $12,000, which doesn’t even address the negative impact on students. Teacher turnover has been estimated to cost the nation $2.2 billion per year.

The commission heard next from Dr. Eric Hanushek, a professional paid witness who has made a living for decades testifying in court against efforts to increase and equalize school funding, as well as advocating for private school vouchers. Hanushek laid most of the blame for poor student performance at the feet of teachers, but argued against increasing teacher pay. Member Ellis contended that there is a strong statistical relationship between total school spending and results, and that how much is being spent is at least of equal importance as the manner in which the money is spent. Several other commission members, including Conley Johnson and Rep. Bernal, pushed back on Hanushek’s attempts to minimize the importance of adequate school funding.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojisa testified regarding his district’s efforts to implement a robust performance-based pay system. The Dallas system provides teachers significant tiered pay increases based on performance. Rep. Huberty lauded the concept, but raised questions about cost and affordability. Hinojosa conceded that the program is unsustainable going forward, and as such is being “recalibrated” in order to bring costs under control. Hinojosa also pointed out that public school districts offer many “school choice” options, which include magnet schools and district transfers. According to data presented by Todd Williams, who advises Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on education policy, implementing Dallas ISD’s ACE program costs $1,295 per student, or roughly $800,000 per campus. The commission heard from several more witnesses describing various performance pay programs.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testify before the school finance commission.

ATPE executive director Gary Godsey testified before the commission, and began by stating the obvious: Texas schools need more money. Godsey informed the commission that teachers often experience low morale, difficult working conditions, and the feeling they are underappreciated. Teacher turnover costs Texas an estimated $500 million per year. Some initiatives, such as mentorship programs, could reduce turnover with a minimal impact on school budgets. Regarding pay, Godsey testified that teachers are very concerned about efforts to repeal the minimum salary schedule (MSS), which guarantees a minimum level of pay for educators that increases over time. In addition to other low-cost initiatives to reduce turnover, Godsey suggested modifying funding weights and tracking the distribution of teacher quality. Regarding performance pay programs, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that incentive pay must be complemented by adequate base pay and should not be tied solely to student test scores. Exter added that any incentive pay program must be financially viable in the long term in order to achieve buy-in from educators and administrators.

The final panel addressed prekindergarten programs, and witnesses emphasized the importance of pre-K in getting children prepared to learn and excel in elementary school. Witnesses testified that dollars invested in early education are dollars saved in remediation later on in a student’s educational career.

The commission is scheduled to meet next on March 7, followed by a March 19 meeting that will be open to comments from members of the public. Another meeting is scheduled for April 5.

Press release: ATPE weighs in on completion of 84th legislative session

Today, ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey issued the following remarks to the media about the end of the 84th regular legislative session:

“For the education community, legislative sessions in Texas–at least in recent years–are when we find ourselves defending the great work that is being done in our schools and fighting off harmful attempts to deregulate and defund the programs that help students, devalue the education profession, and detour state resources for the benefit of private entities and vendors. The 84th was no exception, with some in the legislature choosing to focus their energy on pushing forward vouchers, proposals to convert public schools to privately managed charters with little accountability to local parents and voters, bills lowering the minimum wage for teachers, and vindictive attempts to pass a payroll deduction ban with no public benefit aimed only at discouraging educators from being politically active.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at the capitol. We were able to defeat harmful legislation while making progress in areas of genuine need for public education. We helped pass bills to further reduce the emphasis on standardized tests and the high stakes those tests have imposed on our students and staff; we enhanced the funding and quality of early education; we secured additional money to help cover retired educators’ rising healthcare costs; and we prioritized students’ well-being through nutritional support programs, suicide prevention, and a host of other health and safety measures.

It was not a perfect session for public education. The legislature failed to address our broken school finance system, left billions of dollars on the table that could have been used to shore up underfunded schools, and made a few changes we hoped to avoid, such as moving to a system of labeling schools with ‘A through F’ grades. However, we believe those choices will eventually be corrected, and in the meantime, we are thankful for the lawmakers and legislative leaders who stood up for public education. In a session that had the potential to fling public education backward, the small steps forward that were taken have enormous significance.

Despite the attempts of some to use politics to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters, ATPE believes that the majority of the members of the 84th Legislature acted in the best interest of their districts’ schools, students, and school staffs. We are grateful for their dedication to our cause and the progress that was made.”

Download ATPE’s June 2 press release here.

Legislative Update: The rundown on education bills at week’s end

With 10 days remaining until the legislature adjourns sine die, it’s time to look at where major education bills stand in the 84th legislative session.


Budget, TRS, and school finance

HB 1 by Rep. John Otto (R) is the state’s appropriation bill and the one piece of legislation that must pass this month in order to avoid a special session. HB 1 was sent to a conference committee for representatives and senators to work out a compromise on what amounts the state should spend on public education and other needs. A major sticking point in the negotiations was how and how much money to provide for tax cuts, which numerous legislators made campaign promises to pursue this session. The House version of the budget contained funds for enrollment growth as well as an additional $2.2 billion aimed at increasing equity within the public education system; the proposal assumed that the legislature would pass a school finance reform bill, which is discussed below. The Senate’s version provided for an additional $1.8 billion in new revenue after their property tax cuts were factored in. The Senate’s version also assumed that the cost of enrollment growth would be covered by increases in property tax revenue. Under the HB 1 compromise announced this week and voted out by the conference committee last night, the budget funds enrollment growth and includes $1.5 billion in new funding for public education, which is far less than the amount the House had proposed in its version of the budget. The bill will go next to the House and Senate for an up-or-down vote in each chamber.

The budget deal between the House and Senate hinged on reaching an agreement on tax cuts. Differences in opinion about whether to focus on property tax reductions, lowering sales taxes, or slashing the business franchise tax held up a compromise not only on the main budget bill, but also on supplemental appropriations, including money for retired educators’ healthcare. Yesterday, May 21, the House Ways and Means Committee passed SB 1 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R) containing the Senate’s favored proposal to increase the homestead exemption for property taxes by $10,000; that bill is subject to voter approval in a November election. On Wednesday, May 20, the Senate Finance Committee voted to approve HB 32 by Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R), which permanently reduces the state’s franchise tax by 25 percent. The compromise means the House get its preferred franchise tax cut while the Senate gets some of the property tax relief it sought. The impact on typical taxpayers is likely to be minimal (less than $200 saved per year), while there are serious concerns about the potential loss of revenue for public education and other state services as a result of the cuts. As we’ve reported before, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced early in the legislative session that he would veto any budget that did not include a business tax cut. It appears that the House and Senate finally landed on a deal that will help them avoid the governor’s veto pen or a special session.

In addition to tax cuts, the 84th legislature has also been considering multiple measures to curtail state spending. For instance, the House Appropriations Committee today passed a version of SB 9 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R), which is designed to limit the state’s constitutional spending limit to population growth and inflation. It is believed that most of these bills restricting future appropriations would have a negative long-term impact on public education funding.

Much-needed funding for TRS-Care is addressed in the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, HB 2 by Rep. John Otto (R). The House passed HB 2 back on April 1.The Senate Finance Committee kept the bill on hold pending negotiations on the main budget bill, HB 1, until today. The committee voted this morning to approve HB 2 and send it to the Senate floor. The bill includes an extra $768 million for retirees’ health care.

With regard to active employees’ health insurance, HB 3453 by Rep. J.M. Lozano (R) establishes a joint interim committee to study TRS-ActiveCare, including options for allowing districts to opt out of the program and for allowing regional rates to be created. Currently, districts cannot opt out of the plan, and the TRS Board only adopts statewide premium rates, instead of differentiated, regional rates. The House passed HB 3453 as amended on May 11 by a vote of 121 to 12. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on State Affairs, but not yet scheduled for a hearing. The bill’s companion, SB 1232 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), was never heard by a Senate committee.

As for bills affecting the TRS pension fund itself, few serious legislative proposals have been offered this session after changes were made in 2013 to ensure that the fund and the benefits it provides are secure. The House Pensions Committee heard some bills a few weeks ago that would increase benefits for current retirees – either through a one-time 13th check or a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). However, all of those bills were left pending in the committee.

Finally, it appears that another session will go by without a serious school finance fix. Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R), chairman of the House Public Education Committee, filed HB 1759 in an attempt to reform the state’s school finance system, which has been ruled unconstitutional. The bill was approved by the House Public Education Committee, but failed to gain enough traction to make it all the way through this session. On May 14, the last day for the House to pass major House bills on second reading, Aycock laid out HB 1759 for floor debate but ended up withdrawing the bill from the day’s calendar as a favor to other legislators needing to pass bills before the midnight deadline. Aycock was facing the certainty of hours of debate by the House; numerous contentious amendments, including some that would try to add vouchers to the bill; and several planned points of order (technical challenges to the bill). Additionally, Aycock expressed doubt that the Senate would give the bill any real shot at passing and would therefore be a waste of the representatives’ time on such a critical day. The fact that many education advocates believed the bill would not do nearly enough to help underfunded school districts was undoubtedly another factor in the chairman’s decision.

Private school vouchers

SB 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) has been heavily promoted by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) as the Senate’s signature voucher bill, but as we were hoping, the bill has received a chilly reception in the House. SB 4 calls for creating a tax credit for businesses that contribute money to private school scholarships. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12 on April 21. All Democratic senators voted against the bill except for Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), who voted for it. All Republican senators voted for the bill except Sens. Konni Burton (R) and Robert Nichols (R), who opposed it; Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was absent on the day of the SB 4 vote. Voucher supporters pushed hard for House Speaker Joe Straus (R) and other state representatives to move the bill forward in the House. Despite the intense lobbying and paid advertising efforts, the bill has not been heard by the House Committee on Ways and Means. We appreciate all the ATPE members who’ve called their legislators to oppose this harmful bill. Click here to read more about ATPE’s opposition to SB 4.

Likewise, the House Public Education Committee has not allowed a hearing for SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R). That bill originally called for creating a private school voucher program through the use of education savings accounts that parents could tap into in order to pay their children’s private school tuition or home-schooling expenses. Facing strong opposition, SB 1178 was converted into a mechanism to simply study the idea of education savings accounts during the interim. The Senate passed SB 1178 on May 11 by a vote of 21 to 10. Even as a study proposal, the bill appears stalled.

A virtual voucher bill, SB 894 also by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), also appears doomed. It is a costly bill to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network and part of a package of controversial reform proposals favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and pushed by Texans for Education Reform (TER). ATPE opposed the bill in committee. SB 894 has bounced on an off the Senate Intent Calendar and struggled to to gain enough support for a floor hearing. Even in the conservative Senate that is friendly to voucher bills, SB 894 faced significant hurdles with legislators questioning its large fiscal note. Taylor is also carrying a charter school bill, SB 1897, that includes language allowing for expansion of virtual charter schools and was approved by the Senate, but the House Public Education Committee has not opted to hear that bill. Read more below in our section on charters.

Student testing and curriculum

There is one major student testing-related bill that has already made it through the legislative process and become law. SB 149 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) allows for individual graduation committees to decide if certain students may be graduated from high schools despite failing a required STAAR test. ATPE strongly supported the bill. Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB 149 into law on May 11, and the bill took effect immediately.

This week the Senate Education Committee heard and passed a trio of other testing-related bills that ATPE has supported this session: HB 743, HB 1164, and HB 2349. HB 743 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) attempts to reduce the amount of time spent on state-mandated testing in grades three through eight and limit the breadth of curriculum standards (TEKS) that are included on those tests. The bill also calls for auditing of the state’s contracts with test vendors. HB 743 previously passed the House on May 4 with Reps. David Simpson (R) and Jonathan Stickland (R) opposing the bill. HB 1164 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) would eliminate state-mandated STAAR writing tests and instead have school districts assess students’ writing ability using locally-approved methods. It passed the House by a vote of 142 to 6 on April 30. HB 2349 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) relates to student testing and curriculum standards; it already received a unanimous vote in the House on May 11.

The Senate Education Committee also approved a couple of House bills this week that relate to curriculum. Yesterday, the committee heard and voted out HB 2811 by Rep. Ken King (R) relating to curriculum standards and instructional materials, along with HB 1431 by Rep. Susan King (R) which calls for development of an industry-related course to train students to communicate in a language other than English for business purposes

A bill that did not make it through this session is HB 742 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), which would have eliminated the requirement for an eighth-grade social studies STAAR test. As filed, the bill called for eliminating state tests in writing, social studies, and U.S. history that are not required by federal law. The House Public Education Committee amended the bill so that it would only eliminate the eighth-grade social studies test. ATPE supported the measure, but it died on the House calendar last week for lack of a floor debate and vote.

Accountability and “A through F” ratings

ATPE has opposed legislative proposals calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. The original bill on “A-F” ratings was Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 6, which was a major component of a reform package being pursued by Texans for Education Reform (TER) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). ATPE opposed SB 6, which the Senate passed but the House left pending in committee, opting instead to add “A-F” language to HB 2804. (Two identical companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176, were not heard.)

HB 2804 is a comprehensive accountability overhaul bill by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) that now includes a requirement that school campuses be rated using “A-F” accountability grades. The A-F language was not part of Aycock’s original bill as filed, but hoping to reach a compromise with the Senate, he added it to HB 2804 in committee, despite objections from several committee members and testimony from ATPE and other groups opposing the idea. The House passed the ATPE-opposed bill late last week by a vote of 102 to 26. It’s a bill that barely survived the House’s strict calendar rules, having passed the House on second reading with only 25 minutes remaining before the midnight deadline on the last day for it to be considered.  As we reported last week, the House floor debate was robust; several amendments were considered, including bipartisan efforts to try to strip out the A-F language from the bill, resulting in very close, but ultimately unsuccessful votes. Some amendments that were added to the House version of the bill included ATPE-requested language requiring the commissioner to consult with ATPE and other education groups in developing the new campus accountability grades, and an amendment requiring school ratings to factor in the percentage of an elementary school’s students assigned for two consecutive school years to a first-year or improperly certified teacher. Unfortunately, both of those amendments have been stripped out of the Senate’s proposed new language for HB 2804. The Senate Education Committee heard and voted out its substitute version of HB 2804 yesterday. ATPE similarly testified against the bill during yesterday’s hearing. The committee’s vote was unanimous, although Sens. Royce West (D) and Sylvia Garcia (D) stated that they were “begrudgingly” voting for HB 2804. The committee also recommended that the new version of HB 2804 be placed on the Senate’s special “local” calendar for uncontested bills, a rather surprising move considering the opposition the bill has faced from many stakeholders.

HB 1842 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) deals with school accountability sanctions and interventions. The bill provides for alternative management options, as well as other school turnaround strategies, for schools considered low-performing. The House passed HB 1842 last week by a vote of 143 to 1, with Rep. Matt Rinaldi (R) casting the lone vote against the bill. The Senate Education Committee heard the bill this week and proposed a comprehensive substitute for HB 1842. The committee voted its version of the bill out unanimously today, with Chairman Larry Taylor (R) calling it “still a work in progress.” It will head next to the Senate floor for consideration, and most likely, a number of floor amendments.

SB 1200 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) is an ATPE-supported bill that calls for creation of a committee to recommend a new system for student assessment and public school accountability. It has passed the Senate unanimously on April 30, and the House Public Education Committee approved it yesterday. The bill is a rare one that is supported by a variety of stakeholders, including educator groups such as ATPE and reform groups such as TER. (Its identical companion bill, HB 4028, was never heard.)

ATPE has also supported a set of bills promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. Unfortunately, those bills appear to be hopelessly stalled. SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), was taken off the Senate Intent Calendar containing bills eligible for floor debate in the upper chamber. The House version of the bill, HB 1891 by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D), passed the lower chamber on May 14. It took the addition of a bizarre amendment by Rep. Geanie Morrison (R) stating that community schools would be prohibited from partnering with abortion providers in order for conservatives in the House to support the bill. HB 1891 was only yesterday referred to a Senate committee, leaving practically no time for it to make it through the legislative process at this stage. The community schools language had been added at one point to Chairman Aycock’s HB 1842 through a floor amendment in the House, but that amendment was later stripped out. A correlating bill also by Rep. Eddie Rodriguez to provide for grants to community schools, HB 1892, was voted down in the House 60 to 82, and the Senate version of that bill, SB 1484 by Sen. Garcia, was not heard in a committee.

Teacher salaries and evaluations

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) and his friends in the group Texans for Education Reform (TER) have aggressively pursued a pair of bills this session to try to get rid of the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. In addition to promoting performance-based compensation for teachers, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) would impose new state requirements for appraisals and personnel decisions. With any luck, these bills are dead. HB 2543 was heard but never voted out of the House Public Education Committee before its deadline. SB 893 has not been voted out of the House Public Education Committee either, which has a Saturday deadline to act on Senate bills. We appreciate all the ATPE members who helped us lobby against these bills with persistent calls and emails to their legislators. Learn more about the bills here.

By contrast, another salary-related bill was considered this session that ATPE supported. SB 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) called for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. It was heard by the Senate Education Committee on April 30, but the bill was left pending and is not expected to move. Other pay raise bills have been filed but not heard this session.

Payroll deduction

SB 1968 is Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R) bill to prohibit school districts and some other public employers from offering their employees a payroll deduction option for paying their voluntary association dues. Its co-authors are Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R), Donna Campbell (R), Bob Hall (R), and Van Taylor (R). The bill is being pushed by Lt. Governor Dan Patrick (R), conservative activists, and some business groups; ATPE and all of the state’s major teacher organizations have opposed the measure, along with state employees working in a variety of professions. A number of firefighters, police, and EMS workers have also opposed the bill, even though it specifically excludes them from the prohibition on payroll deduction – a differentiation that also renders the bill unconstitutional, in all likelihood. View the full witness list from the Senate committee hearing here to find out who openly supports or opposes the bill.

SB 1968 passed the Senate on May 7 by a party-line vote of 20 to 11. All Republican senators voted for the bill, while all Democratic senators opposed the bill. On May 15, SB 1968 was referred to the House Committee on State Affairs, which left little time for it to be considered. An initial attempt to suspend the rules in order for the committee to conduct a full public hearing on the bill this week failed, as we reported Tuesday. A motion was offered that day to suspend the House rules for notice of hearings in order for the committee to hold a public hearing and take testimony on this bill on Wednesday. That motion, which required a two-thirds vote of the House, failed, but it did not defeat the bill since the committee could still bring up SB 1968 and vote it out in a formal meeting without testimony. Accordingly, the House agreed on Wednesday to hear the motion to suspend once again, approve the motion, and allow the bill be heard with public testimony in a committee hearing on Thursday of this week.

The House State Affairs Committee’s public hearing that followed yesterday on SB 1968 was a limited one. Rep. Byron Cook (R), the committee’s chairman, allowed only a couple hours for testimony, which meant that many witnesses who signed up to speak against the bill – including ATPE’s Brock Gregg – were unable to do so. Read more about the contentious hearing in our Thursday blog post. As of now, the bill remains pending and has not been voted out by the committee. The committee only has until tomorrow, May 23, to vote out and report SB 1968 favorably in order for it to stay alive. We will be watching this one closely and will report on any developments here on Teach the Vote. Read more about the bill and our opposition to it here.

Deregulation of low-performing schools

With the endorsement of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R), Texans for Education Reform (TER) has once again pursued a bevy of bills this session that call for certain low-performing schools to be deregulated in similar manner as charter schools and even subjected to alternative management by outside entities. The legislation includes variations on parent trigger actions, converting school districts to home rule charter districts, and creating a special statewide school district with an appointed superintendent. ATPE has opposed the bills, which we consider to be ineffective strategies for turning around schools that are struggling under our standardized test-based state and federal accountability mandates. Fortunately, most of these TER-backed efforts this session have failed, although there is always the risk that school deregulation and privatization language could be added as eleventh-hour amendments to other bills.

One of the only deregulation bills still in play at this point is SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), which the House Public Education Committee approved last night. SB 1241 subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE has opposed the bill. Previously, the Senate approved SB 1241 on May 11 by a vote of 22 to 9. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Chuy Hinojosa (D), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Eddie Lucio (D), Jose Menendez (D), Jose Rodriguez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), and John Whitmire (D); Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) first opposed the bill on second reading and then voted for the bill on third reading. SB 1241 must now be placed on a House calendar for floor consideration before time runs out.

A bill that appears not to have made it through this session is Sen. Larry Taylor’s (R) SB 14 to expand and expedite the state’s parent trigger law that enables certain low-performing schools to be deregulated and managed by outside entities. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill, but Texas PTA did support it, interestingly. The Senate approved the bill in mid-April after adding several favorable amendments to it. The Senate’s floor vote was 25 to 6, with Sens. Rodney Ellis (D), Jose Menendez (D), Carlos Uresti (D), Kirk Watson (D), John Whitmire (D), and Judith Zaffirini (D) voting against it. The House Public Education Committee heard the bill Tuesday, May 19, but left it pending. (A House companion bill, HB 1727, was never heard.)

Legislators also filed several bills this session calling for the state’s lowest performing schools to be placed into a statewide, largely deregulated “Opportunity School District.” Similar bills were attempted last session, when the idea was called an “Achievement School District.” ATPE opposed these TER-backed bills based on concerns about privatizing the management of otherwise public schools and exempting them from education laws aimed at ensuring quality, such as class-size limits and requirements to hire certified teachers. The bills filed this session included HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D), SB 895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), and SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D). HB 1536 made it out of the House Public Education Committee but did not survive the House’s stringent calendar deadlines. Its companion bill, SB 895, was deliberately left pending in the Senate Education Committee, as its author and committee chair, Sen. Larry Taylor, agreed to support SB 669 instead. West’s SB 669 passed the Senate with amendments on May 7 by a vote of 20 to 11. Click here to find out how your senator voted on the measure. Ultimately, the House Public Education Committee opted not to hear SB 669.

SB 1012 by Sen. Kelly Hancock (R) and HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) were bills to modify existing state laws allowing for the creation of privately managed home rule charter districts. Dallas ISD is the only school district that has attempted to convert to a home rule charter under the existing state law. The two bills filed this session would change the name of home rule districts to “local control school districts,” a rather misleading term considering that locally elected school boards would most likely lose much of their authority to govern the district under these proposals. The bills were also troubling because they would exempt “local control school districts” from many of the quality control measures, such as elementary school class-size limits, found in the Texas Education Code. SB 1012 and HB 1798 were among bills supported by TER while opposed by ATPE and most of the education community. The Senate Education Committee heard SB 1012 on April 16, but left that bill pending. On Wednesday, May 13, the House spent three hours debating Rep. Deshotel’s HB 1798 and considering floor amendments, including some relating to class-size limits and teachers’ contract rights, before putting the bill to a vote. HB 1798 failed to pass by a vote of 59 to 76. Read our May 13 blog post to learn more about amendments that were considered and find out how your representative voted on the “local control school district” bill.

Despite a well-funded lobbying and advertising effort, TER has had little success pushing through its controversial agenda this session. The very public defeat of HB 1798, in particular, was a significant blow to reformers who have tried to strip educators of their salary protections and contract rights, exempt schools from quality control measures such as class-size limits, and remove transparency and accountability to local voters. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter expertly delivered most of our testimony against these deregulation bills in hearings that were frequently contentious with backers of the bill bringing in parents from out of state to testify for the measures. Exter noted that schools already have statutory authority to implement many of the charter-style reforms that proponents of the two bills favored, such as making elementary class sizes larger. He also cautioned against proposals often backed by corporate and charter school management interests that offer parents “false hope” and fail to recognize the larger community’s interest in how schools are operated and the need for both transparency and accountability to voters.

Home-school students participating in UIL

SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), often referred to as a “Tim Tebow bill,” would require school districts to permit area home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. ATPE opposes the bill and the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to equal academic standards as their public school student peers and competitors. The Senate passed SB 2046 on May 11 by a vote of 27 to 4. Those voting against the bill were Sens. Robert Nichols (R), Jose Rodriguez (D), Kel Seliger (R), and Kirk Watson (D). The House Public Education Committee opted not to hear the bill.

Charter schools

An ATPE-requested bill to protect charter school employees narrowly missed the House’s midnight deadline for passage on the last night for consideration of House bills on second reading. HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. It unanimously passed the House Public Education Committee on April 23, and it was only three bills away from being debated by the House when the clock ran out on May 14. ATPE sincerely appreciates Rep. Allen’s work to try to pass the bill.

SB 1897 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would authorize the commissioner of education to grant multiple charters to a charter holder in certain circumstances. In addition to providing for the expansion of charter schools, the bill waters down laws pertaining to charter school accountability measures and sanctions for low-performance. Language was added to the bill relating to expansion of the state’s virtual school network. ATPE opposed the bill, which passed the Senate on Monday, May 11, by a vote of 22 to 9. Check out our earlier blog post for a breakdown of the Senate vote. As we discussed above in our section on private school vouchers, the House Public Education Committee has opted not to hear this particular bill.

Several bills dealing with regulation of and funding for charter schools remain pending. HB 2251 by Rep. Rafael Anchia (D) to accelerate funding for charter schools experiencing enrollment growth has made it through the House and been recommended for the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) has filed HB 1170 to classify certain charter schools as local governmental entities and HB 1171 relating to immunity provisions for charter schools; both bills easily passed the House and are pending in the Senate where they’ve been recommended for the local and uncontested calendar. (Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) carried companion bills to those two measures, SB 1567 and 1569.)

HB 3347 by Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock (R) and SB 1898 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) would clean up laws passed in 2013 relating to procedures for revoking a charter. HB 3347 didn’t survive the House’s calendar deadlines, and SB 1898 is stalled in the Senate. SB 1900 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) providing for funding of charter facilities was approved by the Senate Education Committee but hasn’t seen a floor vote either and is likely dead.

Educator preparation and certification

SB 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) was originally filed as a bill to increase the rigor of educator preparation by adding a new requirement for each cohort entering an educator preparation program to maintain an overall GPA of 3.0. However, the bill was amended with language requested by representatives of for-profit alternative certification programs and now has the effect of watering down the standards for becoming a teacher. Specifically, SB 892 would lower the individual GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 to 2.5. (The legislature raised the GPA requirement in statute from 2.5 to 2.75 in 2013, but the State Board for Educator Certification that is responsible for implementing the law complained that the new statute was vague and refused to raise its own admission rules to reflect the higher GPA requirement.) The state’s largest alternative certification providers are for-profit companies that seek to maximize their profits through high enrollment numbers; they would obviously benefit from putting lower GPA standards in law, but they also want the legislature to codify current practices that enable them to delay providing their candidates with significant training before they are hired as teachers of record. ATPE believes the watered down standards and weak training requirements do a disservice to would-be educators pursuing alternative certification, since they are placed into high-stakes teaching environments before they have received adequate preparation and often without the necessary content knowledge in the subjects they are teaching. We support higher standards for educator preparation to ensure that all new teachers are well-equipped to meet the rigors of their first classrooms. SB 892 passed the Senate unanimously on April 7. It was approved by the House Public Education Committee last night. Rep. Marsha Farney (R) was the only committee member to vote against the bill, and she did so because of its lowering of the GPA standard. (A companion bill, HB 3494 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), was left pending in committee.) SB 892 must now be placed on the House calendar for debate before time runs out this session.

Another educator preparation bill is HB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R), which the Senate unanimously passed today. The ATPE-backed bill amends a law that permits educator preparation programs to exempt up to 10 percent of each cohort of candidates from the state’s minimum GPA requirement. The bill as approved requires those exempted from the GPA rule to pass a content exam prior to admission. The House passed HB 1300 last week by a vote of 141 to 2, with Reps. Jonathan Stickland (R) and James White (R) voting against it.

Yet another educator preparation bill filed this session was HB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R). The bill called for a number of changes to educator preparation rules and the accountability system for educator preparation programs, including requiring consideration of the results of a teacher satisfaction survey. HB 2566 also would require all candidates for teacher certification, including those pursuing alternative certification, to undergo training relating to the instruction of students with dyslexia (currently required only for candidates in traditional educator preparation programs). A version of HB 2566 was unanimously approved by the House Public Education Committee on April 28, but the bill was unable to survive the House’s calendar deadlines. In order to keep the measure alive in some manner, VanDeaver amended some of the language in his more comprehensive HB 2566 onto another bill, Rep. Crownover’s HB 2205. The pieces of VanDeaver’s bill that were added to HB 2205 include the administration of a new teacher survey to assess new teachers’ satisfaction with the training provided by their educator preparation programs; the requirement for alternative certification program candidates to receive training in the detection and education of students with dyslexia; and the establishment of educator preparation program approval and renewal standards, risk factors to be used in assessing the programs, and a process for submitting complaints against an educator preparation program.

HB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) changes the composition of the State Board for Educator Certification and requires one non-voting member of the board to have worked for an alternative certification program. It also makes changes to the accountability system for educator preparation programs. The bill adds two indicators to the Accountability System for Educator Preparation (ASEP), which seeks to hold educator preparation programs accountable for their quality and effectiveness at preparing candidates for certification and entering the profession. Those two new indicators are the ratio of field supervisors to candidates and the percentage of teachers employed within one year of completing the preparation program. ATPE supported HB 2205 when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee, which unanimously approved the bill on April 28. The House passed the bill last week by a vote of 126 to 5, after several floor amendments were added to HB 2205. The amendments included one by Rep. Ina Minjarez (D) to create a school turnaround specialist endorsement that may be added to a principal certificate issued by SBEC. HB 2205 was also amended to incorporate language from another bill, VanDeaver’s HB 2566, which is discussed above.

When HB 2205 was sent to the upper chamber, the Senate Education Committee proposed a substitute version of the bill, which ATPE testified against on May 20. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explained in her testimony that there are several good provisions in the bill (including Rep. VanDeaver’s language that requires a new teacher satisfaction survey, training for all certification candidates in educating students with dyslexia, and a complaint procedure for candidates to pursue against ed prep programs); however, Kuhlmann told the committee that ATPE opposes lowering the standards for entrance into the education profession. HB 2205 would decrease the state’s current statutory minimum GPA requirement for admission to an educator preparation program from 2.75 back down to 2.5, even though the law and SBEC rules already allow several exceptions to the GPA rule. ATPE supports keeping the minimum GPA requirement at 2.75 while maintaining those exceptions. The Senate Education Committee unanimously voted to approve its committee substitute for HB 2205 on Wednesday, May 20. It must now be approved by the full Senate.

Early childhood education

HB 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R) is an ATPE-supported bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. Broadly supported and also declared a priority issue by Gov. Greg Abbott, HB 4 generated controversy after a panel of advisors to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) publicly derided the bill and public schools. Both the House and Senate ultimately passed different versions of the bill. The House voted yesterday, May 21, to concur in amendments made by the Senate. That unanimous vote to accept the Senate’s language sends the bill to the desk of Gov. Abbott, who has been a strong supporter of the measure and who declared early childhood education a priority issue for consideration this legislative session.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has already signed into law SB 925 by Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (R). The ATPE-supported bill calls for the commissioner of education to create literacy achievement academies for teachers of reading in Kindergarten through third grades. In selecting educators who are eligible to participate, preference will be given to teachers at campuses where at least 50 percent of the students are educationally disadvantaged. The bill entitles a teacher who attends a literacy achievement academy to receive a stipend.

Suicide prevention

ATPE has been pursuing legislation this session to try to curtail the epidemic of youth suicide by making available additional training for educators in spotting and responding to the warning signs of suicide. At ATPE’s request, Rep. Byron Cook (R) filed HB 2186 in memory of Jonathan Childers, who committed suicide in 2013. Jonathan was the teenage son of Coach Kevin Childers, an ATPE member from Fairfield ISD. The Childers family’s story is featured in our latest issue of ATPE News. The House passed HB 2186 on May 7 by a vote of 139 to 3 with Reps. Matt Rinaldi (R), Matt Schaefer (R), and Jonathan Stickland (R) voting against it. The Senate Education Committee approved HB 2186 yesterday and recommended that it be placed on the House’s special calendar for local and uncontested bills.  A similar bill, SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R), passed the Senate last week by a vote of 29 to 1, with only Sen. Robert Nichols (R) voting against it.

Breast-feeding accommodations for school employees

The legislature is considering a couple of bills relating to accommodations for new mothers working in public schools, and ATPE has been supporting the measures.

HB 786 by Rep. Armando Walle (D) would require schools and other public employers to provide certain accommodations for employees to express breast milk and prohibit workplace discrimination against such employees. The House passed HB 786 by a vote of 90 to 47 on April 27. It passed the Senate’s Business and Commerce committee this week and is on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor consideration as early as today.

SB 1479 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) is a similar measure that applies particularly to school employees and requires school districts to provide break times and suitable locations for educators to express breast milk. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill on May 5 by a vote of 9 to 2, with Sens. Lois Kolkhorst (R) and Donna Campbell (R) voting against SB 1479. It was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for floor debate earlier this week, but was removed from the calendar and is facing some opposition.

Epi-pens

SB 66 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) deals with the use of epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as epi-pens, in school settings. Epi-pens are often used to treat anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction. SB 66 requires each school district and open-enrollment charter school to adopt a policy on epi-pen use, including training and authorizing school employees to administer an epi-pen. The bill requires districts and charters to provide parents with annual written notice of their epi-pen policies. Related to the lawful use or non-use of an epi-pen in a school setting, SB 66 also includes immunity protections against liability for school personnel and calls for a state advisory committee to review schools’ usage of epi-pens.

The Senate passed SB 66 on April 15 by a vote of 24 to 7. Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voted against the bill. The House added one floor amendment and then approved the bill unanimously last Wednesday, May 13. The Senate voted Tuesday, May 19, to accept the lower chamber’s amendments to the bill, which means SB 66 is now headed to the governor’s desk. The vote on the motion to concur was 24 to 7, again with Sens. Brian Birdwell (R), Konni Burton (R), Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Kelly Hancock (R), Don Huffines (R), and Lois Kolkhorst (R) voting against it.

Cardiac assessments for student athletes

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee listened to hours of testimony yesterday, mostly from parents and medical professionals, on HB 767 by Rep. Wayne Smith (R). The bill calls for cardiac assessments of students participating in UIL athletic activities. The House passed HB 767 in mid-April by a vote of 82 to 62.

Cameras in the classroom

The House Public Education Committee voted last night to approve SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D), a somewhat controversial bill requiring school districts to equip self-contained classrooms serving students in special education programs with video surveillance cameras. The Senate approved the bill on May 11 by a vote of 24 to 7, with Sens. Brandon Creighton (R), Bob Hall (R), Don Huffines (R), Jane Nelson (R), Robert Nichols (R), Charles Perry (R), and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the measure.

Commissioner’s subpoena power

SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) gives the commissioner of education power to subpoena documents when investigating educators accused of misconduct. Bettencourt originally accepted and then removed an ATPE-requested amendment to ensure that accused educators would have access to the same information received by TEA investigators through the subpoena process. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann submitted written testimony against SB 1222 to the House Public Education Committee, which considered the bill yesterday. While we do not necessarily oppose giving the commissioner limited power to subpoena documents, we believe educators who are targeted in an investigation should have equal access to evidence gathered by the commissioner. The committee approved the bill today and it will head next to the full House for consideration where amendments are possible. SB 1222 previously passed the Senate on May 4 by a vote of 29 to 2, with Sens. Kirk Watson (D) and Rodney Ellis (D) voting against it.

Paperwork reduction

On Tuesday, May 19, the Senate Education Committee heard HB 1706, a bill by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) to try to reduce school paperwork requirements. The bill was voted out unanimously by the committee today and recommended for placement on the Senate’s local and uncontested calendar, making it more likely to pass. ATPE supports the measure, which the House passed unanimously on May 4.


As a reminder, tomorrow (May 23) is the last day for House committees to report Senate bills. With the House still in session, impromptu meetings could still be scheduled anytime tonight or tomorrow to vote out additional bills. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest developments.

Legislative Update: Senate committee tackles teacher pay and pre-K, graduation bill heads to governor’s desk, anti-suicide bill gains support

Today the Senate Education Committee is hearing House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty, a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. ATPE supports HB 4, which Chairman Larry Taylor (R) says he expects the committee to vote on later today. The bill represents one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative priorities but has been at the center of recent tensions among state leaders after a panel advising Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) blasted the bill and referred to public schools as “Godless.” (For related content, check out this week’s op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman by Charles Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children responding to the group’s remarks about the pre-K bill and criticizing the Senate’s passage of several “bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers.”)

The Senate committee will also hear Senate Bill (SB) 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), a bill calling for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. Read ATPE’s press statement in support of SB 1303. Teacher salaries have been a hot topic for debate this session, as two high-profile bills to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers are languishing over on the House side.

Other bills on today’s Senate Education Committee agenda include SB 625 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) on prohibiting the use of tasers against public school students, SB 1004 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) regarding certain dual-credit courses offered by junior colleges in the Harris County area, and SB 1058 also by Sen. Hinojosa on superintendents’ requirement to report information about educators in their districts who engage in certain misconduct. The committee may vote out other bills that are pending and have already been heard when it reconvenes later today.


Following a motorcycle accident that necessitated surgery, Sen. Kel Seliger (R) returned to the Senate this week in time to see his SB 149 sent on its way to the governor’s desk. The bill allows for the creation of individual graduation committees to determine if certain students should graduate high school despite having failed a mandatory STAAR test. The Senate voted yesterday, April 29, to concur in amendments added to the bill by the House of Representatives. The final Senate vote on the ATPE-supported bill was 29 to 2, with Sens. Kelly Hancock (R) and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the motion. SB 149 now awaits the governor’s signature.


A bill to do away with educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations and for other conveniences remained on the Senate’s calendar, but did not get called up for a floor debate today. The bill is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R). Additionally, Sen. Larry Taylor’s virtual voucher bill, SB 894, was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar earlier this week but then removed. Senators appear to be having second thoughts about the bill’s hefty fiscal note and lack of accountability measures. ATPE has opposed both measures.


The House Public Education Committee held another nine-hour meeting on Tuesday, April 28, during which numerous bills were put to a vote. The committee heard lengthy debate on SB 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the bill calling for “A through F” accountability grades to be assigned to public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Most education groups offered testimony against the bill, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter who described SB 6 as worthless and emphasized the need to “dig down deeper than the indices” to make real changes to the accountability system before merely tinkering with labels. He added that “oversimplification in the name of transparency” would be “unproductive” for public school students. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) surprised some members of the committee by announcing that he was incorporating the “A through F” campus ratings into his accountability overhaul, HB 2804, which the committee then voted out favorably on a 7 to 4 vote. Aycock was later quoted as saying, “I’m personally willing to swallow ‘A through F’ if we get a better accountability system out of it.”

The committee also approved a duo of controversial bills that ATPE and similar education groups opposed based on concerns about privatizing the management of public schools and exempting them from state education laws. One bill is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for the establishment of a statewide Opportunity School District for low-performing schools, which passed on a vote of 9 to 2. The other bill is a substitute version of HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) relating to local control school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the existing home rule charter district law to make it easier for districts to opt out of state regulations; HB 1798 made it out of committee on a vote of 8 to 3.

Here are some of the other bills that got a nod of approval from the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday evening:

  • HB 18 by Chairman Aycock relating to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors.
  • CSHB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 1842 by Chairman Aycock relating to the assessment of intervention in and sanction of a public school that does not satisfy accreditation criteria.
  • CSHB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 3347 by Chairman Aycock relating to revocation of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school and procedures for the disposition of property owned by a charter school after revocation or surrender of a charter.
  • CSHB 3987 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to programs in public schools designed to facilitate planning and saving for higher education and facilitate personal financial literacy instruction.

The House Public Education committee also heard but left pending HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D), a bill that ATPE requested to ensure that charter school employees retain the right to participate in political activities and join educator associations, if they choose.


Childers Senate Ed 04-28-15Also on Tuesday of this week, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) relating to suicide prevention training for educators. The bill is very similar to HB 2186, which ATPE urged Rep. Byron Cook to file on behalf of our member, Coach Kevin Childers, who lost his son Jonathan to suicide two years ago. The Childers family was on hand Tuesday to testify in support of SB 1169, which the committee passed on a vote of 6 to zero.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to send to the floor SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D). The controversial bill would require schools to video-tape classrooms upon the request of a parent of a student with special needs. Video would have to be kept on file by the school district for at least a year, and the bill would cost millions to be implemented statewide. It is worth noting that school districts already have the ability to videotape classroom  interactions, and several of them already do so.


Ina_MinjarezFinally, ATPE congratulates Rep. Ina Minjarez, who was officially sworn in this afternoon as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Following a string of special elections, today’s ceremony marks the first time this session that the 84th Legislature has been full. San Antonio’s Minjarez won a special election to fill the unexpired term of former representative and now Sen. Jose Menendez, who gave up his HD 124 House seat in order to run for the Senate.

The latest on teacher salary bills: ATPE refutes claims by reform group and urges opposition

ATPE recently sent communications to all legislators to refute misleading claims made by a politically-connected reform group about bills that would eliminate the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) are both pending in the Texas House. SB 893 passed the full Senate but has not yet been heard by a House committee. HB 2543 was heard by the House Public Education Committee but has so far been left pending, thanks to growing opposition to the bill.

Texans for Education Reform (TER) has been the main entity pushing for passage of these two pieces of legislation, along with several other bills that are part of a divisive reform package favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). In addition to fighting for SB 893 and HB 2543 to change teacher pay and evaluations, TER’s legislative agenda includes other bills that ATPE has opposed calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses (SB 6 and its House companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176); expanding and speeding up parent trigger laws making public schools more susceptible to private management (SB 14 and HB 1727); amending the state’s home rule charter district laws to facilitate creation of less regulated “local control school districts” (SB 1012 and HB 1798); creating a statewide Opportunity School District subject to private alternative management for the state’s lowest performing schools (SB 895HB 1536, and SB 669); and spending state money to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network (SB 894).

With so many in the education community opposing these bills, you may wonder who is behind the effort to take away educators’ rights, eliminate quality control measures for schools, and open the door for privatization and vouchers. TER was formed by a group of wealthy business leaders previously involved in tort reform efforts, and its founders include former Sen. Florence Shapiro, who joined the group upon her retirement from the Texas Legislature and her chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee. For the current legislative session, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, TER has employed 22 lobbyists at a reported cost of between $830,000 to more than $1.6 million to help advance its controversial legislative agenda.

While TER’s legislative package has enjoyed support in Texas’s ultra-conservative Senate under Patrick’s leadership, the TER-backed bills have faced stiffer opposition in the House, leading to more aggressive lobbying efforts by the reform group. In an April 14th press release that was widely disseminated, TER claimed that SB 893 and HB 2543 would do nothing to impact the minimum salary schedule and would not lead to appraisals incorporating STAAR test results. ATPE sent a response to legislators pointing out the fallacies of the TER claims and highlighting specific sections of the bills that call for repealing teachers’ portion of the minimum salary schedule and creating a state-mandated framework for personnel decisions based in large part on student performance data.

Read ATPE’s message to legislators on “The Truth about SB 893 and HB 2543.”

ATPE urges members to keep calling their state representatives about these bills, which would facilitate district-level pay cuts for many experienced educators, remove important salary protections in state law that drive teacher retention, and do irreversible harm to teachers’ morale, leading many high-quality, veteran educators to consider retiring early from the profession. Visit our Officeholders page to find out who represents you in the Texas House, or click here to access contact information for all 150 state representatives.

Legislative Update: Budget news, House passes grad committees bill, Senate committee hears “Tim Tebow” bill, and more

Conference committees have been named for House Bill (HB) 1, the state’s budget bill. On the House side, the bill’s author and Appropriations Committee Chairman John Otto (R) will be joined by Reps. Sylvester Turner (D), Trent Ashby (R), Larry Gonzales (R), and Sarah Davis (R). Senate conferees include Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson (R) and Sens. Joan Huffman (R), Lois Kolkhorst (R), Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D), and Charles Schwertner (R).

The conference committee’s task is to work out differences between the two chambers on how to fund the state’s obligations for the next two years. There is a significant difference in how the two budget proposals approach public education and tax relief, or as ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter described it this week to Austin’s KVUE News, “a huge divide.”


The Texas House of Representatives gave its final approval to Senate Bill (SB) 149, an ATPE-supported bill that enables high school seniors who’ve failed certain STAAR tests to maintain a pathway to graduation with the appointment of individual graduation committees. The House amended and then voted yesterday to approve the grad committees bill on third reading by a vote of 125-9.

Those voting against SB 149 in the House yesterday were Reps. Greg Bonnen (R); Cindy Burkett (R); Tony Dale (R); Jodie Laubenberg (R); Debbie Riddle (R); Mike Schofield (R); Matt Shaheen (R); Tony Tinderholt (R); and Scott Turner (R). However, the official House Journal recording the day’s proceedings reflects that a number of representatives asked for their votes to be changed, as follows: Reps. Angie Chen Button (R), Doug Miller (R), and Dennis Paul (R) all stated that they intended to vote against SB 149 but were shown as voting for the bill; while Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R) stated that while he was shown as voting against the bill, he actually intended to vote for SB 149. Additionally, Reps. Geanie Morrison (R) and Elliott Naishtat (D) both were absent from the floor at the time of the vote, but noted afterward that they would have voted for SB 149; Rep. Bill Zedler (R), also absent at the time of the vote, stated that he would have voted against SB 149. Obviously, none of those changes would have impacted the final outcome of the vote.

We reported Tuesday on the House’s vote earlier this week to approve SB 149 on second reading after adding several amendments. SB 149 now is back on the Senate’s floor calendar, giving senators an opportunity to decide whether to accept the House’s amendments or appoint a conference committee to settle differences between the two versions of the bill. (Senators previously passed their own version of SB 149 by a vote of 28-2.)


The Texas Senate Education Committee met today to hear several pieces of legislation, including yet another private school voucher bill and a measure to allow home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities. SB 1178 by Sen. Don Huffines (R) as filed would set up a private school voucher program using “education savings accounts.” State funds would be placed into the savings accounts for families to access and use for private school or home school expenses. The committee is considering a substitute version of the bill calling for a study of the potential use of education savings accounts.

Another bill heard today was SB 2046 by Sen. Van Taylor (R), being advertised as a measure to provide “equal opportunity” for home-schooled students to participate in UIL. Supporters of SB 2046 have referred to the legislation as the “Tim Tebow bill,” named after the NFL quarterback who was home-schooled prior to becoming a Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Florida. Taylor’s bill requires school districts to enable local home-schooled students to participate in UIL activities at the public school. SB 2046 requires parents of the home-schooled students to attest that their children have met certain academic eligibility requirements. The bill has the support of the Texas Home School Coalition, but some home-school proponents actually testified against the bill this morning, saying they did not want home-schooled students to be forced to take standardized tests as a condition of participating in UIL activities and did not want the state government regulating their educational environment. ATPE opposed the bill based on long-standing positions in our member-written Legislative Program that oppose the selective participation of home-schooled students in public school activities, especially when they are not held to the same academic standards as their public school student peers. Taylor’s bill does not require home-schooled students to take and pass STAAR tests. SB 2046 was left pending. As ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann told Austin’s KXAN News this evening, the bill would not provide “an equal playing field” for home-schooled and public school students.

The Senate Education Committee took action on some pending bills both today and yesterday during an impromptu “desk” meeting. The bills approved by the committee include SB 894 by Chairman Larry Taylor, which is a virtual voucher bill that ATPE opposes. The vote was 6-2. Also voted out favorably by the committee was a new version of SB 669, by Sen. Royce West (D), calling for the creation of an Opportunity School District for certain low-performing schools. Chairman Larry Taylor (R), who filed similar legislation to create an OSD, announced his intent to sign on to West’s bill as a co-author. The committee approved CSSB 669 by a vote of 6-1. Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) voted against the measure, while Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D) asked to be marked as “present not voting” because she had not yet had an opportunity to review the substitute language.

Here is a list of other bills that got a nod of approval from the Senate Education Committee in votes that occurred yesterday or today:

  • SB 213 by Sen. Brian Birdwell (R), which is the UIL sunset bill.
  • SB 313 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R) calling for a review of the breadth and scope of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.
  • SB 471 by Sen. Jose Rodríguez (D) pertaining to Texas Education Agency desk audits of school districts.
  • SB 496 by Sen. Kirk Watson (D) on providing additional funding for optional flexible school day programs.
  • SB 750 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) relating to an allotment for schools buying windstorm and hail insurance.
  • SB 955 by Sen. Charles Schwertner (R) regarding permissible locations of charter schools created by universities.
  • SB 1222 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) relating to commissioner’s authority to issue subpoenas during an investigation of educator misconduct.
  • SB 1241 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) on establishing innovation zones for certain low-performing schools.
  • SB 1309 by Sen. Jose Menéndez (D) dealing with certification requirements for JROTC instructors.
  • SB 1434 by Sen. Van Taylor (R) allowing time spent in certain off-campus activities to count for purposes of a district’s Average Daily Attendance calculation.
  • SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (R) relating to community schools.
  • SB 1567 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D) regarding applicability to certain laws regarding local governments to charter schools.
  • SB 1569 also by Sen. Lucio relating to charter school immunity provisions.
  • SB 1867 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D) omitting certain adult special education students from dropout calculations.
  • SB 1771 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R) relating to the Texas High Performance Schools Consortium.
  • SB 1896 also by Sen. Larry Taylor on providing tutoring through the Virtual Schools Network.

Also today, the House Public Education Committee’s Subcommittee on Educator Quality held a brief hearing on a bill relating to teacher certification. HB 1373 by Rep. Helen Giddings (D) attempts to prohibit schools from assigning elementary school students to a first-year teacher or a teacher lacking the proper certification for two or more consecutive years. ATPE supports the bill, which Rep. Giddings has filed repeatedly over the course of several legislative sessions. HB 1373 would apply only to school districts with a student population of at least 5,000, and there is language in the bill permitting waivers to be issued in extenuating circumstances.


Next week, the House Public Education Committee is slated to hear SB 6 by Chairman Larry Taylor (R), which calls for assigning “A through F” accountability grades to school campuses. ATPE opposed the bill in the Senate, where it passed on a vote of 20-10 after being amended. SB 6 is part of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority education package this session.

Also on the House committee’s agenda next Tuesday, April 28, is HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D) relating to the extension to open-enrollment charter school employees of certain rights granted to school district employees. The bill would ensure that charter school teachers have the right to join or not join a professional association or union and the right to be politically active in the same manner as teachers at traditional public schools. ATPE requested that the bill be filed.


The House Public Education Committee still has not yet acted on a controversial bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. The bill is HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R), which has a Senate companion bill, SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), also pending on the House side. This bill may be brought up again next week to discuss possible amendments. ATPE members are urged to continue reaching out to their state representatives and asking them to oppose HB 2543 and SB 893. Download or print more information about our opposition to the salary bills here.

Another controversial bill being watched by the education community is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R). The bill, which would prohibit school districts from offering their employees the convenience of payroll deduction for education association dues and other services, could be headed for a Senate floor debate next week. The bill was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for April 22, then removed from the calendar for April 23, and then subsequently re-positioned on the calendar for Monday, April 27. Read more about how the Senate Intent Calendar works here. Also, view ATPE’s Senate floor letter opposing SB 1968. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on these bills next week.

Legislative Update: ESEA reauthorization news, idling voucher and salary bills, special election and rally reminders

Congress took a major step forward in the effort to reauthorize the long overdue Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is commonly referred to as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. Yesterday, April 16, the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) unanimously approved a bipartisan compromise bill called the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA). A total of 87 committee amendments were filed, with 29 of them adopted and incorporated into the bill. The ECAA must still pass the full Senate, which could happn as early as May. In the meantime, the rare 22-0 committee vote sends a strong signal to the U.S. House, where prior attempts to pass a reauthorization bill have faltered amid partisan disagreements. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann will have a full analysis of the bill as amended that will be posted soon here on Teach the Vote.


A high-profile bill to create a massive private school voucher program in Texas has not yet been brought up for a vote on the Senate floor, despite sitting on the Senate Intent Calendar for several days now. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) has identified the bill, Senate Bill (SB) 4, as a top education priority. SB 4 is being carried by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the Senate Education Committee. The bill sets up a  “back door” voucher by using state funds to give a franchise tax credit to businesses that donate money to private, state-sanctioned “educational assistance organizations.” The 25 non-profit organizations pre-selected to act as those educational assistance organizations would then provide scholarships for eligible students to attend private or parochial schools.

SB 4 would cause local public school districts to lose revenue, and the costs of the state program would likely swell as existing private or home-schooled students avail themselves of the state-funded scholarships. ATPE members are strongly urged to contact their legislators – especially in the Senate – to express opposition to SB 4. Visit our Officeholders page to find out who represents you in the Senate, and click here to access additional information and talking points on ATPE’s opposition to SB 4.


ATPE members are also encouraged to keep contacting their state representatives and asking them to oppose HB 2543 and SB 893, two bills that would eliminate the state’s current minimum salary schedule for teachers. These bills remain pending in the Texas House, where opposition to them is growing. Read more about the bills here.

As always, you can keep up with major education bills moving through the 84th Legislature that relate to ATPE’s priorities by visiting our Issues page. The Issues page, which is updated each legislative day, contains background information on each legislative priority with a list of major bills and their current status. Be sure also to follow @TeachtheVote and our ATPE Lobby Team on Twitter, for additional reporting of all the education news from the state capitol.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) also met this week. Its work included approving two new math courses to satisfy high school graduation requirements, agreeing on new curriculum standards for Career and Technical Education courses, discussing high-school equivalency examinations, and adopting findings of an Ad Hoc Committee on the Long-Range Plan for Public Education. The ad hoc committee is being disbanded, and SBOE’s Committee on School Initiatives will take over long-range planning responsibility going forward. Read more on the Texas Education Agency’s website.


Vote imageEducators in San Antonio’s House District 124 are reminded of the importance to go vote in the special election runoff to select their new state representative. Today is the last day of early voting, and Tuesday, April 21, is runoff election day.

The candidates vying to replace Jose Menendez, who was recently elected to the Texas Senate in another special election, are Democrats Ina Minjarez and Delicia Herrera. View their candidate profiles to learn more about their backgrounds and positions on education issues here.


The Save Texas Schools rally is taking place tomorrow at the State Capitol from 10 a.m. to noon. Educators are encouraged to attend and show their support for public schools. Click here to learn more about the event.

Updated information on bills to eliminate salary schedule for teachers

Several ATPE members have inquired about the status of bills attempting to eliminate the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. The bills are Senate Bill 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and House Bill 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown). ATPE is opposed to both bills.

SB 893 by Sen. Seliger relates to public school teacher performance appraisals, continuing education, professional development, career advancement, and compensation. The bill was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19. During that hearing, ATPE testified against the bill. Read more about that hearing here. The Senate Education Committee favorably voted out a substitute version of the bill on March 24. The committee substitute changed language in the bill pertaining to student and teacher performance and attempted to ensure that state standardized tests would not be the only measure of student performance used in a state or district developed teacher appraisal system. However, ATPE believes that the bill still overemphasizes the role of “objective” student performance measures. The full Senate amended and then passed SB 893 on April 7. The vote was 27-4, with Democratic Sens. Rodney Ellis, Eddie Lucio, Jose Menendez, and Royce West opposing the bill. The Senate rejected a floor amendment by Sen. Menendez that attempted to restore the minimum salary schedule for teachers in the bill. SB 893 has been sent to the House for consideration.

HB 2543 by Rep. Farney is the House companion bill also relating to public school teacher performance appraisals, continuing education, professional development, career advancement, and compensation. HB 2543 was identical to SB 893 at the time of filing. The House Public Education Committee heard HB 2543 on Tuesday, April 7, and ATPE testified against it. The bill was left pending while the author considers possible amendments to the bill.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates about both of these bills as developments occur. In the meantime, we encourage ATPE members to keep contacting their state representatives and urging them to oppose these bills as they move through the Texas House. Click here for additional information about SB 893 and HB 2543 to share with your legislators.

Legislative Update: Vouchers get committee approval, Senate votes to scrap salary schedule, House advances pre-K

The Texas Senate approved two major bills relating to teacher quality yesterday, including one opposed by ATPE and most other groups representing Texas educators.

First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which deals with educator preparation. ATPE supported the bill as filed when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19, since the bill called for enhancing the existing GPA requirements for admission into an educator preparation program (EPP). The bill, however, was subsequently amended to a version that ATPE does not support. In its current form, SB 892 adds language enabling alternative certification programs to take advantage of “late hire” provisions that place teachers into the classroom before they’ve had sufficient training, and it caps the minimum GPA requirement for EPP candidates at 2.5, which is lower than what is provided for in current statute. SB 892 passed the Senate on April 7 by a vote of 30 to 1, with Sen. Don Huffines (R) offering the only vote against the bill. (Huffines similarly opposed the bill when it was approved by the Senate Education Committee.)

SB 893, also by Sen. Seliger, was approved by the full Senate yesterday, too. The bill deals with teacher appraisals, employment, and compensation; most notably, it calls for elimination of the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19. Several floor amendments were added to SB 893 yesterday, including one by Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R) requiring the commissioner of education to develop a training course to help administrators implement new appraisal processes and another floor amendment by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) that modifies Advanced Placement Incentives that may be paid to teachers. The Senate rejected by a vote of 24 to 7 a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) that attempted to restore the minimum salary schedule for teachers in the bill. The Senate ultimately passed SB 893 by a vote of 27 to 4, with Sens. Menendez, Rodney Ellis (D), Eddie Lucio (D), and Royce West (D) voting against the bill on third reading.


The House Public Education Committee met April 7 to hear several high-profile bills. The hearing began with Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) providing new details on his bill to overhaul the state’s school finance system. Aycock explained that House Bill (HB) 1759 will eliminate many of the existing funding allotments for special populations and circumstances and place those funds into the basic per-student allocation instead. Watch for more details on HB 1759 coming soon from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against a controversial bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. House Bill (HB) 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) is a bill relating to teacher appraisals, professional development, salaries, and employment. The bill was identical at the time of filing to SB 893, which passed the full Senate yesterday in an amended format. Exter’s testimony highlighted ATPE’s concerns about eliminating the minimum salary schedule for teachers and the potential for school districts to rely heavily on students’ standardized test scores and value-added measures of student performance in evaluating and making employment decisions about teachers. The bill was left pending in the committee yesterday. ATPE appreciates those members who have contacted their legislators asking them to oppose HB 2543 and SB 893, and we encourage you to keep letting members of the House of Representatives know how these bills would negatively impact teachers. Visit our Officeholders page to find contact information for your state representative.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also testified yesterday in support of SB 149, by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), a measure that would give some high school students a chance to graduate despite failing a STAAR exam. SB 149, sponsored on the House side by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), has broad support from the education community and parents, and the bill already passed the Senate by a vote of 28-2 last month. Exter asked the committee to consider amending the bill to provide similar options for students who were high school seniors during the previous two school years and were denied an opportunity to graduate based on failing a STAAR test that was required. The House Public Education Committee approved SB 149 unanimously during yesterday’s hearing.


The Senate Education Committee also met April 7 to hear bills relating to interventions for low-performing schools and to vote out pending bills. The committee considered SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), along with two bills by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the committee: SB 895 and SB 1241. The first two bills would place certain low-performing schools into a statewide “Opportunity School District.” Read more about the legislation in our blog post from yesterday. Chairman Taylor’s SB 1241 also subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the aforementioned bills based on concerns about enabling private entities to manage public schools, the potential impact on educators’ contract rights, and the likelihood that parents and local voters would lose their ability to have input on school governance decisions. All three bills were left pending, but the committee did vote out a related piece of “parent trigger” legislation. A committee substitute version of SB 14 by Chairman Larry Taylor was approved by the committee on a vote of 7 to 1, with one committee member present not voting.

Also in yesterday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, Gregg testified in support of SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a bill promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. The bill was left pending.

The Senate Education Committee also approved Chairman Larry Taylor’s private school voucher bill, SB 4, which ATPE opposes. The bill was amended and substituted, and its new text has not yet been made available, but the new version incorporates elements of another privatization bill, SB 642 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R). ATPE testified against the voucher bills during their March 26 hearing, and you can read more about them on our Issues page. The committee’s vote yesterday on SB 4, though not yet officially reported, was 7 to 3.


On the House floor today, state representatives debated House Bill (HB) 4, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), a bill relating to a hig- quality pre-kindergarten program provided by public school districts. The bill, which ATPE supported when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee on March 10, is aimed at flowing additional money to school districts that agree to implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Several floor amendments were considered during today’s lively debate. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Eric Johnson (D) to prohibit state standardized testing of pre-K students and rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) attempting to impose an 18:1 pre-K class-size limit. A small group of legislators who oppose the bill raised points of order (procedural objections) against the bill and offered amendments attempting to reduce the state’s pre-K plan to a limited pilot program with reduced funding. Those attempts were unsuccessful, and the House ultimately voted 129 to 18 to advance the bill to third reading.


Tomorrow, April 9, the Senate Education Committee will meet again to consider a number of bills. The agenda includes a bill that would prevent school districts from hiring employees with certain criminal histories, bills relating to the procedures by which school districts adopt textbooks, a measure to give the commissioner of education the ability to issue subpoenas when investigating educator misconduct allegations, and even a bill pertaining to the use of sunscreen in schools. Visit Teach the Vote for updates after the hearing.


In national news, U.S. senators leading an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), are making progress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced yesterday that they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a rewrite that they believe will fix many of the problems of the ESEA. A committee hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 14. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional details from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann later this week.