Tag Archives: pandemic

Early voting in the 2020 general election, pandemic-style

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas for the 2020 general election. Plenty of time to make a plan and choose a time when the lines may be shorter. Here is what my voting experience was like and a five-step checklist for those who want to vote in-person. Remember, early voting lasts until October 30. Be sure to check the days and times the polls will be open in your county.

Checklist for in-person voting:

Step 1: Research candidates and propositions that will be on your ballot (see step 2 for finding your ballot). Here on Teach the Vote, you can review candidate profiles for those seeking state legislative or State Board of Education seats to learn more about their views on public education issues. The profiles include responses to ATPE’s candidate survey and voting records for incumbent legislators. Other nonpartisan resources such as the League of Women Voters of Texas Voters Guide, sponsored in part by ATPE, can provide information on other races.

Step 2: Create a sample ballot that is customized for the races in your area.

With the Vote411.org voter guide, you can make your ballot selections and have them emailed to you for easy printing. Alternately, you can visit your county website to find your FULL ballot, which will include local and municipal candidates and propositions that Vote411 may not cover. Print out or write down on paper your selections to take with you to your polling place. Remember, state law prohibits the use of cell phones within 100 feet of a polling place.

Step 3: Find your early voting and/or election day polling locations and hours here.

There are many places to case your vote, especially during early voting. Check the list of polling places in your area, and verify that your preferred polling place is open during early voting. Plan ahead with your partner on child care arrangements, picking up dinner, or whatever you need to do to ensure you have enough time to vote on the date you choose. I recommend getting to the polls earlier in the day and giving yourself plenty of time, just in case there is a line and because Texas is hot! Some counties use online tools that post live wait times at each polling location. Check your county election clerk’s website to find out if yours does.

Step 4: Get your materials ready.

Pack up your paper copy of your sample ballot with candidate selections, voter ID, stylus or pencil with eraser (optional), and a mask. If you have the appropriate voter ID, bringing your voter registration card is not necessary, as all you need to check in is your photo ID.

Step 5: VOTE!

 

Optional Pro Tips

Pro tip 1: Bring a friend to the polls. This will help both of you remember to cast your vote.

Pro tip 2: After you vote, post a selfie with your I Voted sticker. Tag @TeachTheVote and use the hashtag #TxEdVotes2020.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Oct. 2, 2020

Here is this week’s recap of the latest education news from your ATPE Governmental Relations team:


CORONAVIRUS UPDATEATPE released a response to a press statement sent out by The Texas Education Agency (TEA) this week stating that the agency would extend the “hold harmless” funding period for school districts by six weeks to help mitigate the effects of enrollment drops across public schools in Texas. However, in a move that seems contradictory to the TEA’s acknowledgement last week of COVID-19 hotspots, the agency has tied a district’s access to the additional “protected” funding to whether a district offers in-person instruction. Read more about the development in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier, or in this article, quoting ATPE, by Aliyya Swaby of the Texas Tribune.

ATPE is here for educators. Be sure to check out our COVID-19 FAQs and Resources page and other resources:


ELECTION UPDATE: Are you registered to vote in the county you live in? Has your name recently changed? Have you been purged from the voter rolls? The deadline to register to vote is October 5, this coming Monday! Be sure to check your registration and learn how to register. Early voting begins October 13 and lasts for three weeks through October 30. Find more voting dates and reminders here.

The Texas Senate District 30 special election ended this week in a runoff. The date of the face-off between salon owner Shelley Luther and current state Representative Drew Springer (R-Muenster) has not yet been set by Gov. Greg Abbott. For more on this week’s election news, including the recent straight-ticket voting court battle and Gov. Abbott’s proclamation Thursday limiting mail-in ballot drop-off locations, read this informative blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

October is Voter Education Month, so let’s get learned! To learn about who makes education decisions (and which of these positions you can vote for), check out this post by our partners at the Texas Educators Vote coalition. Also, click here to learn about candidate forums being sponsored by Raise Your Hand Texas starting next week.


Sec. DeVos at a Feb. 2020 House Approp. subcommittee hearing

FEDERAL UPDATE: Remember when U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos asked public schools to spend an unheard-of amount of their Title-I-based federal emergency dollars on all students in all private non-profit schools within their boundaries? With DeVos’s decision last Friday to not appeal a recent court case that vacated her inequitable interpretation of the CARES Act, it seems the “equitable services” saga has come to an end. Read more about the saga, from start to finish, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


After data discrepancies, this week the state adjusted numbers on the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Department of State Health Services (DSHS) dashboard that tracks COVID-19 cases in public schools. Updated every Wednesday, this week’s numbers show 1,490 new student cases and 819 new staff cases reported for the week ending in September 27. Compared to the previous week’s numbers for students and staff, both have changed slightly (2% decrease for students, 2.5% increase for staff). Read about the adjusted numbers in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


This week, ATPE responded to formal requests for information from both the House Public Education committee and the House Appropriations Article III subcommittee, which focuses on public K-12 and higher education. ATPE’s submissions covered educators’ concerns with COVID-19, STAAR testing and accountability, educator and student mental health and well-being, and ways the state can prioritize funding to maintain the public education gains made by the 86th Texas Legislature. Read more about ATPE’s submissions and our contribution to these committee’s interim work in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.


Are you retired or considering retiring? Be sure to check out these upcoming events to be in the know.

  1. The Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) has opened registration for its 2020 TRS-Care virtual information sessions. These webinars are intended to help retired public education employees, or those considering retirement, learn more about the TRS-Care Standard and TRS-Care Medicare Advantage plans for 2021. They will also introduce the new providers that will administer TRS health plans starting Jan. 1, 2021. You can register for these webinars at trs.texas.gov/trs-care-events.
  2. This week, the Texas Retired Teachers Association (TRTA) hosted a virtual townhall on teacher retirement issues with incumbent U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX). The second TRTA townhall will feature Cornyn’s challenger, retired U.S. Air Force combat veteran M.J. Hegar on October 3 at 2:15 pm. Find more details on Cornyn’s townhall and register for Hegar’s townhall here.
  3. ATPE is partnering with RBFCU and the RBFCU retirement program on a webinar on October 7 at 5 pm about retirement planning for educators. Find the sign up information here.

TEA extends funding hold harmless period, ties to in-person instruction

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released a press statement today regarding how Texas public schools will be funded during the pandemic amid unstable enrollment.

TEA’s new funding mechanism will offer full funding to districts for a full 18 weeks, an extension of six weeks over the original 12 weeks of “hold harmless” offered by the agency, but with a significant strings attached. The hold harmless creates a cushion for districts that would otherwise lose funding due to unforeseen drops in enrollment because of the pandemic. Some districts have reported significant declines, especially in their prekindergarten and kindergarten grades, which are not mandatory in Texas.

The strings? In order for districts to receive the full funding for the 18 weeks held harmless, they must offer, or continue to offer, an in-person instructional option to all parents who request it. Additionally, the TEA release says that districts, “will be required to identify students who are missing from enrollment and determine their location.” Placing an additional administrative burden on already time and cash strapped districts of not only identifying students who were previously, but are not currently, enrolled in the district, but also of tracking down the whereabouts of students who are not currently enrolled.

As for future funding, the press release states, “TEA will address whether further funding adjustments for the second semester are needed based upon information and data gathered between now and January 2021.” As the Texas Legislature convenes in January, lawmakers will surely weigh in on school funding.

ATPE released a statement in response to the development from TEA, expressing gratitude for the change but regret that the agency has decided to tie funding to in-person instruction. In the statement, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter commented on the agency’s conflict with their own recent guidance on extending remote instruction.

“Since schools have opened around the country, the percentage of new COVID-19 cases in the school-aged population has increased, according to a recent report by the American Academy of Pediatrics,” said Exter. “Just last week, TEA itself recognized that there are currently existing COVID-19 hotspots in Texas that warrant a delay in returning to in-person classes.”

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

 

U.S. Department of Education hosts webinar on school reopening

The U.S. Department of Education hosted a virtual panel presentation today, Sept. 23, on successful strategies to reopen schools this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The live webinar opened with a statement from Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos who reiterated her support for school choice by saying that parents need options more than ever during this time. DeVos also maintained her position that every school should offer an in-person option for parents who want that for their children.

Next, a panel of invited witnesses shared best practices in how they have re-opened their schools during the pandemic. Panelists included the following:

  • Sue Blakeley, founder and administrator of Lake Mead Christian Academy in Nevada, a private school
  • Shane Robbins, superintendent of Kershaw County School District in South Carolina
  • Jeremiah Newell, superintendent of MAEF Public Charter Schools in Alabama
  • Nisha Gupta, administrator and teacher at Homestead Montessori School in New York, a private school
  • Glen East, superintendent of Gulfport Schools in Mississippi
  • Frank Brogan, assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Newell shared that his charter school, a specialty charter for students age 16 and older who have dropped out or fallen behind, is offering parents the option on selecting in-person learning, synchronous/asynchronous virtual instruction, or night schooling for students who need to work to support their families. He also stressed that sitting in front of a computer is not an effective form of learning for students.

Blakeley’s private school created a task force to bolster communication between stakeholders in her school community and consulted with an infectious disease expert regularly. Her school also staggered reopening and conducted “rehearsals” by gradually opening the school’s day care and early childhood facilities.

East said his public school district opened at 30% capacity and has since increased capacity to 100%. The district also hired additional instructional support staff so that there are two adults in each classroom, in order to support students.

Gupta’s private school simplified classrooms by removing furniture and marking the floor with dots. The number of personalized materials was increased, too, including some materials that the school 3-D printed and laser-cut on their own. Spaces were organized to isolate cohorts, along with scheduling changes, and experiential learning was moved outdoors. Teachers moved classroom furniture outdoors and a local Native American leader donated additional outdoor space so that students could learn in weather-proof teepees.

Robbins said his public school district was already an e-learning district and that the transition was a little bit easier because of this fact. The district created a task force that formed subcommittees made up of healthcare professionals, parents, and teachers. Robbins said responding to the pandemic has created an expensive situation, especially with the new learning environments and need to ensure health and safety. His district has partnered with local businesses to provide internet access to students and has created a COVID-19 dashboard to show the number of cases in their schools.

Several of the panelists said they created videos in order to best communicate with their families.

A few things come to light in analyzing these comments from school leaders across our nation.

  1. The pandemic is costly to school systems and has created new costs that should continue to be reimbursed by the federal government.
  2. Teachers are rarely included in the considerations and conversations engaged in by school leaders. In this panel at least, leaders did not express a balance of concern for their educators or share best practices on how to engage educators.

ATPE has continuously advocated for the involvement of educators throughout the pandemic. For resources and support for educators, please visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources. To share your opinions on back-to-school health and safety, ATPE members can visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central to fill out a quick two-question survey open until Sept. 27, and also use the communication tools there to share input with their elected officials.

House Public Education committee posts formal requests for information

House Public Education Committee meeting, Oct. 28, 2019.

We won’t see familiar images of the Texas House Public Education Committee meeting in person anytime soon. In accordance with procedures released in July for carrying out “distanced” interim committee business during the pandemic, the committee posted five formal requests for information on Wednesday and Thursday of this week. Four of the requests reflect the interim charges assigned to the committee by House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, while the fifth request relates to COVID-19. Anyone can submit information to the committee by September 30, 2020. Here is a summary of the requests:

1: The committee seeks information related to interim charge 1, which is related to monitoring and oversight of relevant agencies, programs, and the implementation of a slew of bills passed in recent legislative sessions. These include bills and rule-making related to school finance (House Bill 3, mentor teacher allotment, teacher incentive allotment, etc.), accountability and testing (STAAR, A-F ratings, district-charter partnerships), and school safety and mental health in schools. The formal request also includes several questions that the committee seeks answers to that largely relate to school finance, including a specific emphasis on teacher pay, and the efficacy of charter schools and district-charter partnerships.

2: This request seeks information related to interim charge 2, which seeks to determine barriers to providing a digital learning environment for all children. Specific questions related to this request ask where gaps in internet coverage exist and how internet providers may fill these gaps.

3: With regard to interim charge 3, the committee is seeking information related to the Texas Education Agency’s compliance with the U.S. Department of Education in correcting their errors related to special education. This includes the implementation of TEA’s Special Education Strategic Plan and other requirements the state has come out of compliance with, such as annual maintenance of financial support.

4: This request will not likely apply to many educators and the general public, as it is related to the committee’s fourth interim charge of monitoring the State Auditor’s review of agencies and programs.

COVID-19: The committee has posted seven questions to gather information on the pandemic. These include whether public schools are ensuring the health and safety of students, what plans are in place for on-campus COVID-19 testing, what plans are being made for athletics this fall, what projected enrollment might look like for 2020-2021, whether there is a noticeable impact on staff retention, if funding has already been impacted, and how the pandemic has specifically impacted the finances of small and rural school districts.

ATPE encourages educators to participate in this information-gathering process. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more information and news on ATPE’s submissions to the committee and other House committees that have requested education-related information.

Summary of July 24 SBEC meeting

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today, July 24, 2020, to take up a lengthy agenda, including the adoption of five items related to the implementation of the Science of Teaching Reading and a proposed fix for expiring Legacy Master Teacher certificates.

Highlights:

  • SBEC approved an ATPE-backed proposal to eliminate the expiration date of Legacy Master Teacher certificates, which were barred from being newly issued or renewed by last year’s House Bill (HB) 3.
  • The board adopted rules to implement science of teaching reading requirements of HB 3, including new testing requirements and replacement certificates for PK-6.
  • Two new non-voting members joined the board: Emily Garcia, Executive Director of Urban Teachers in Dallas replaced Carlos Villagrana as the alternative certification program representative. Dr. Edward Hill is replaced by Dr. Alma Rodriguez, Dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas- Rio Grande Valley in Brownsville. Both new members were former public school teachers and administrators.
  • SBEC will meet again next Friday, July 31, to discuss special rules regarding COVID-19 and educator candidates and will likely hear from many educator preparation stakeholders who want flexibility for their programs amid an ever-changing landscape of pandemic policies and practices.

Legacy Master Teachers

Chevalier testifies at SBEC meeting, July 24, 2020.

ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified today in support of a proposal to create two new rules that would eliminate the expiration date on Legacy Master Teacher (LMT) certificates and make these certificates exempt from renewal requirements. The rules would apply to valid LMT certificates and LMT certificates that expired on or after September 1, 2019.

This transition to a lifetime certificate will solve the unintended consequences of House Bill (HB) 3, which barred the Master Teacher certificates from being issued or renewed after September 1, 2019. This change has left some teachers unable to continue in their current teaching assignments once their LMT certificate expires. ATPE pushed the board for several months to take action on this issue, even requesting a letter of legislative intent from House Public Education Committee chairman and HB 3 author Dan Huberty.

Read Chevalier’s written testimony in support of the new rules here and see video of her oral testimony at 4:00:00 here. The board approved the proposal, which will be published in the Texas Register for public comment from August 21 to September 21, 2020. The proposal will then be up for final adoption at the October SBEC meeting and then subject to review by the State Board of Education. If all approval processes are finalized, the effective date of this proposal would be December 27, 2020, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has said it will do outreach over the winter break to make sure LMTs are aware of the change.

Coronavirus Update

Gov. Greg Abbott has provided flexibility through suspensions of statutes and rules that allowed Spring 2020 certification candidates to spend less time on face-to-face requirements, allowed candidates who weren’t able to test but who had completed all preparation requirements to receive a one year probationary certificate, and allowed for those have yet to pass the content pedagogy test to obtain a one-year intern certificate (only issuable prior to October 1). Other changes have allowed extension of a one-year emergency permit for candidates who are unable to test, and the state suspended requirements that internships, practicums, and clinical teaching experiences must occur in actual school settings rather than virtual ones. Witnesses testifying today echoed public comment provided at the beginning of the SBEC meeting, expressing that school district plans are extremely varied in terms of start dates, instructional settings, learning plans, and visitor policies, which makes it difficult to place student teachers and help students meet their preparation requirements. Next Friday, July 31, the board will consider specific rulemaking related to further COVID-19 considerations for educator preparation.

Science of Teaching Reading

SBEC adopted several agenda items today that implement the new science of teaching reading (STR) requirements of HB 3. Every teacher candidate issued a standard certificate after January 1, 2021, must take a stand-alone STR certification exam if they plan to earn a certificate in Early Childhood (EC): PK-3, Core Subjects: EC-6, Core Subjects: 4-8, English Language Arts and Reading: Grades 4–8, English Language Arts and Reading/Social Studies: Grades 4–8. These certificates (except for EC: PK-3) will be replaced after December 31, 2020, with new certificates that incorporate science of teaching reading into their name, standards, and testing requirements. Replacement certification exams are also being developed so that content within the STR is not duplicatively tested. Additionally, through August 2021, the STR exam requirement implementation will be pass/fail while curriculum is refined and details are being worked out. Starting September 6, 2021, a scaled score for the STR will be implemented. See below for the operational dates of the new tests.

Today’s adopted rules implement the STR change by updating the pre-admission content test requirements, adding an approval process for educator preparation programs (EPPs) to be able to offer the replacement certificates, adding the replacement certificates to the categories of classroom teaching certificates, updating exam requirements for the replacement certificates, and reorganizing the STR standards in rule to apply to all EC-6 educators.

TEA also provided an update to SBEC members on test development and its communication strategy with the field and candidates. An STR exam preparation manual is expected to be available September 2020. A TExES in Focus: Science of Teaching Reading (293) Webinar was held July 16, and it will be posted soon on the TEA website. TEA also plans to hold a deep-dive webinar series on the changes. EPPs must attest by December 15, 2020, to their ability and readiness to prepare candidates for the STR-impacted fields.

Other Adopted Rules

SBEC adopted several changes to rules regarding educator preparation requirements, including guidance to programs that are closing or consolidating; a requirement that EPPs that are closing publish in writing a formal exit or dismissal policy; additions to curriculum to align with the mental health, abuse, and suicide requirements of House Bill 18 (86th Texas legislature); alignment to board standards of the 150 clock hours of coursework and training prior to clinical teaching or internship; clarifications on certificate deactivations; guidance about summer practicums; guidance for programs and candidates who need to finish their practicum out-of-state and out-of-country; and guidance about test approval for completers from prior years who return to their program later on to test.

The board also adopted into rule new standards for bilingual Spanish, EC-6 and EC-12 special education, and deafblind certification areas and removed the one-year expiration date on passing PACT to give candidates more time to be admitted to a program if they have a passing score on a PACT exam that is more than a year old.

Proposed Changes

The board approved the proposed mandatory four-year rule review for 19 TAC Chapter 234, which relates to preparation, testing, certification, and renewal requirements for military service members, military spouses, and military veterans.

SBEC also discussed proposals for the Accountability System for Educator Preparation Programs (ASEP), including the “Not Rated: Declared State of Disaster” accreditation status for EPPs due to Abbott’s disaster declaration. Additionally, data for 2019-20 will be reported only, and candidates who were issued a probationary certificate under Abbott’s COVID-19 waivers will be excluded from ASEP pass rates for the 2020-21 school year. TEA also proposed an ASEP index, which combines the five ASEP indicators to create an overall “index” or score for EPPs. The five indicators are PPR/non-PPR pass rates, principal surveys, student growth, observation frequency and quality, and new teacher surveys. Each of these indicators will be weighted to create the index, with the PPR/non-PPR pass rates having the greatest weight. For the 2020-21 year, EPPs’ status will be the more favorable outcome of the index versus the current system. The proposed rule also contains an updated to say that if an EPP is under a board order, they aren’t eligible for a commendation.

A model for the student growth indicator of the ASEP system was also proposed today, which will assign points to beginning teachers of record in their first three years based on their students’ growth on standardized testing. These points will be attributed to the beginning teachers’ EPPs and incorporated into those programs’ ASEP scores. Earliest is Spring 2024 before this indicator could become implemented, due to uncertainties regarding testing during the pandemic.

The board also approved proposed updates to the SBEC rule chapter that designates which certificates are appropriate for certain teaching assignments (19 TAC Chapter 231). This includes changing “Master Teacher” to “Legacy Master Teacher” and updates to incorporate assignments for new SBOE-approved courses, such as English Language Development Acquisition, African American studies, and energy cluster courses (Oil and Gas Production).

Discussion Only Items

The first year of the EdTPA pilot program included 27 EPPs — 16 institutions of higher education (IHE) and 11 alternative certification programs (ACP). Over 450 candidates have submitted portfolios. The second year of the pilot will include 35 EPPs (19 IHEs, and 16 ACPs). SBEC members discussed the fact that the state of Georgia has eliminated its EdTPA requirements, while two other state legislatures have discussed eliminating EdTPA from their state frameworks. Researchers from Sam Houston State University will provide an update on their T-TESS pilot, which aims to explore an alternative to EdTPA, at the October SBEC meeting.

The board is set to meet again next Friday, July 31. Subsequent meetings this year are set for October 9 and December 11, 2020.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 10, 2020

ATPE closed out its first virtual Summit today, which featured several discussions about COVID-19 and school safety. Read more about what happened this week from our Governmental Relations team:


The ATPE House of Delegates (HOD) approved new COVID-19 resolutions Thursday. The resolutions urge the state and federal government to delay in-person instruction this fall, suspend STAAR and TELPAS testing, require districts to include educator input in COVID-19 planning, and allocate funding for substitute teachers in light of quarantine requirements for educators. The HOD is composed of ATPE members and meets annually to vote on the organization’s policies, direction, and leadership. ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes said, “All along, ATPE has said that Texas students, parents, and educators deserve to be safe and have a firm understanding of the steps being taken to provide a safe learning environment, and this vote by our members strongly reaffirms our stance.” Read more in this Teach the Vote blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and on the ATPE blog.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its latest public health guidance this week pertaining to the return to school that has unfortunately left many educators with even less certainty about their safety than when draft guidelines were released a couple weeks ago. While the new guidelines recognize Gov. Abbott’s mask order, provide three weeks of district flexibility at the start of the year, and provide some strengthened districts requirements, they do not require the involvement of educators and parents in developing COVID-19 protocols .

ATPE issued a statement on the release of the guidance emphasizing the rights of students, parents, and educators to understand the steps being take to ensure safety. We will continue to advocate for strengthened health and safety guidelines, as outlined in our comprehensive recommendations. In an interview this week with News 4 in San Antonio, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter suggested a potential solution to the return to school could be to pair students who have chosen a virtual learning option with teachers who are least comfortable returning to school. Read more about the final guidance in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier and listen to Exter’s comments on the guidance with KURV710 radio.

Many educators are starting to learn more about their districts’ plans for a return to school. Visit ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for the latest news and answers to educators’ commonly asked questions during the pandemic.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the primary runoffs and the Texas Senate District 14 special election ends today. Election day is Tuesday, July 14, but we highly recommend you early vote today in order to avoid crowds and lines if you can.

To date, turnout has been 3.25% in the Democratic runoffs and 2.13% in the Republican runoffs for a combined 5.38% turnout statewide. This number is incredibly small, yet still higher than in previous years. Voters had an extra week to vote early during this runoff election after Gov. Greg Abbott extended the early voting period in order to spread out crowds at polling locations where COVID-19 may be spread.

The latest campaign finance reports paint a picture of some very deep pockets getting involved in runoff races. Meanwhile, candidates continue to participate in virtual public forums and face off in online debates. Get the full scoop on this week’s election news in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The recent uptick in Texas officials from both parties calling for a suspension of STAAR testing in the 2020-21 school year is a testament to the link between increasing voter engagement, politics, and the education profession. It’s become clear that the power of educator votes is recognized. Find a list of polling places here, and be sure to check out recent polling closures in Travis and Bexar counties. Review candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote and then create a personalized ballot here. Stay safe, Texas voters!


FEDERAL UPDATE: The education community buzzed over the past several days as federal officials tried to light a fire under states to reopen schools this fall. Earlier in the week, President Donald Trump tweeted that he disagreed with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to reopen schools, saying they were impractical and expensive. New CDC guidance is expected next week. Throughout the week, the president tweeted that schools must open in the fall, even suggesting that the federal government may cut off funding to schools that don’t reopen. On Tuesday, the White House hosted a summit on “Safely Reopening America’s Schools” that emphasized the American Academy of Pediatrics’ push for an in-person return to school this fall, much as TEA Commissioner Mike Morath has done.

Though U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos on Tuesday corroborated on Fox News the president’s sentiment to withhold funding, she has since appeared to change her messaging. On Thursday, DeVos conveyed to Fox News host Tucker Carlson that the federal government is not suggesting withholding funds, but instead wants to allow “families to take that money and figure out where their kids can get educated if their schools are going to refuse to open,” echoing her previous support for private school vouchers as a solution to the fears around schooling during the pandemic.

In a Wednesday Coronavirus Task Force briefing held at the Department of Education, Vice President Mike Pence said the White House will be, “looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and an encouragement to get kids back to school.” Congressional work on a spending bill that includes education is still pending, but is expected to advance this month.


In addition to the final public health guidance released by TEA this week, the agency updated its resources on the Coronavirus Support Page and sent out new correspondence regarding principal training on remote instruction and optional beginning-of-year (BOY) assessments.

TEA has released new instructional continuity information on additional school days and a district planning guidebook for fall and various academic resources (on-campus course recommendations, graduation guidance, Texas virtual school FAQ). The optional BOY assessments for the 2020-2021 school year use released STAAR questions to measure understanding of TEKS from the previous school year and will not be used for accountability purposes, according to TEA. The agency also released several flyers and resources to help with district outreach to increase the number of families participating in the P-EBT program.

TEA also updated several resources on waivers, finance, and grants this week, including a revised attendance and enrollment FAQ stating that districts, “must offer sufficient on-campus instruction in every grade so that every parent has an on-campus attendance option every day for their student.” Therefore, no district can be 100% virtual and must offer in-person options five days a week. TEA also posted a revised equitable services FAQ, following the U.S. Department of Education’s officially published interim rule last week, along with revised documents on federal funding and waivers.

 


What can you do to spread the word about the 2020 U.S. Census? In this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier, read about key considerations for educators and community stakeholders when planning census outreach. Chevalier provides helpful tools and resources for messaging, recognizing hard-to-count communities, and knowing all of the facts as you get out the count. Happy census-ing!

ATPE House of Delegates adopts resolutions on COVID-19 educational considerations

This week, over 2,000 educators convened for the 2020 ATPE Summit, held virtually for the first time. The ATPE House of Delegates (HOD) met Thursday, July 9, for the association’s annual business meeting. Delegates from every region of Texas convened to elect state officers and adopt policies and official legislative positions of the association on behalf of its 100,000 members.

The HOD adopted two new resolutions pertaining to education and safety concerns of school employees as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic:

RESOLUTION #1:

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the state to safeguard the health and safety of students and educators by delaying in-person instruction until Texas has demonstrated a flattened curve in the number of COVID-19 cases; and

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the state to require local school districts to include educators and parents in the development of plans for the safe re-entry of students and district employees; and

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the State of Texas and our U.S. federal government to allocate emergency funds for substitutes in case of mandatory quarantine requirements for district personnel.

During debate on the resolution, ATPE members cited the fears expressed by teachers who have compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions, especially in light of a recent, rapid increase in the number of cases. Delegates also spoke about the difficulty of containing viral spread, especially if teachers are placed in classrooms with students who may not be required to wear masks, and expressed doubt about the ability to carry out contact tracing in schools. With some teachers feeling that they are being asked to make unreasonable sacrifices in order to hasten a reopening of schools that is motivated by economic factors or political pressure, ATPE members are recommending a delay in returning to campuses in order to keep everyone safe. Only one delegate spoke against the resolution noting that ATPE has already been urging the state to take steps to safeguard the health and safety of educators and students.

RESOLUTION #2:

RESOLVED, that ATPE urge the State of Texas and the U.S. Department of Education to waive requirements to administer the 2020-21 STAAR and TELPAS due to the disruption of in-person instruction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The author of this resolution on standardized testing argued that students have lost critical learning time as a result of the pandemic and that teachers’ time should be devoted to fostering student learning rather than test preparation. Speakers observed educational quality varied widely as COVID-19 forced a sudden shutdown of schools. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the U.S. Department of Education both waived requirements to administer STAAR exams this spring. The ATPE resolution was amended yesterday to include the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS) as well as the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR), based on discussion about the importance of both tests and a plea to prevent English language learners who are struggling in an online learning environment from being subjected to unfair testing through the TELPAS.

Read ATPE’s statement about the newly adopted resolutions here. These resolutions will be implemented by the association over the next year and along with the ATPE Legislative Program will guide ATPE’s continuing advocacy work on numerous issues, including the response to the coronavirus pandemic.

ATPE expects more from state efforts to protect educators

Earlier this week, the Texas Education Agency released final public health guidelines for the return to in-person schooling in the fall. The guidelines were similar to the agency’s previously released “draft” public health guidance, with a few exceptions. ATPE’s statement on the guidance (see below) reflects our overall disappointment in the lack of clarity and specificity provided to educators who are concerned for their health and safety when returning to school.

TEA’s guidance prioritizes getting kids back in an in-person school setting without equal care for the educators who will stand alongside them in the classroom. Most educators would probably agree that students are experiencing setbacks due to the pandemic and that for some children, being away from the school environment means a lack of safety and stability amid a reported rise in child abuse. These are some of the reasons that would favor returning students to their campuses as soon as feasible, but it is equally important that educators and other school employees are able to work in a healthy and safe environment; otherwise the quality and effectiveness of teaching and learning may suffer.

The TEA guidance document follows the same framework as what was in the agency’s initial health and safety guidelines draft and recommends designating an individual or group responsible for dealing with COVID-19 issues. ATPE’s Recommended Health and Safety Guidelines pressed the state to require districts to develop a more robust planning committee and COVID-19 policy approval process that includes educator and community input. Instead, the agency has opted to require districts to create a plan that is only posted for parent and public review one week in advance of the the school year and is not subject to school board approval, leaving it mostly to the discretion of superintendents.

One of the main differences in the new guidance document is that districts are granted flexibility in the form of a three-week back-to-school transition. During this time period, districts can require some students to engage in virtual or distance learning, if they have the internet and devices. Another big change in the new guidance versus the draft document is that, consistent with the governor’s recent mask order, schools must comply with face covering requirements. Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order includes exceptions, such as for those under age 10, those who have disabilities that prevent them from wearing masks, and other circumstances.

TEA has strengthened some of the language in the document to require districts to practice certain health and safety protocols, while continuing merely to suggest other practices. For example, educators and staff must self-screen, visitors must be screened, and parents must ensure that they are not sending their child to school with COVID-19 symptoms. Additionally, the new guidance says school systems must provide daily on-campus instruction for students who follow TEA’s public health guidance and whose parents want them to attend school in person.

Similar to the previous guidance, schools are encouraged to provide hand sanitizer, watch students wash their hands twice a day, and consider separating desks by six feet where possible, among many other health and hygiene suggestions. The guidance also suggests that schools reduce large assemblies and in-person staff meetings where possible.

Overall, the TEA guidance falls far short of what educators expect in terms of assurances that they will be safe when returning to work with students. ATPE will continue to work with education stakeholders and state leaders to gain better specificity for educators, as outlined in our recommendations, and to press for educators’ voices to be included in the decision-making process at all levels. Educators, and especially those who are cautious to return to school due to their age, pregnancy or nursing, health conditions, or the presence of vulnerable individuals in their household, deserve peace of mind and a seat at the table as we approach the fall.

Visit ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resource page for more information related to returning to school, including answers to such questions as whether your district can require you to get tested for COVID-19 or what might happen if you disagree with your district’s plan to reopen.


ATPE Statement on TEA’s Final Public Health Guidance
State’s largest educator association frustrated by TEA plan: “Too many questions are left unanswered by TEA’s guidelines.”

ATPE has reviewed the Texas Education Agency’s “SY 20-21 Public Health Planning Guidance” document posted on the agency’s website this afternoon.

Part of TEA’s “Strong Start” plan, the nine-page document lists minimal requirements and recommendations for school districts to consider as they prepare to start the new school year. While the final guidance contains a few more requirements than a draft leaked in mid-June, the responsibility for ensuring student and educator safety has been placed squarely on school administrators. Included in the new document are references to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent executive order calling for masks to be worn in public, which will also apply to schools for as long as the statewide order remains in effect.

ATPE is frustrated that TEA has not heeded our call to provide more explicit guidance, nor is TEA requiring the involvement of educators and parents in developing COVID-19 protocols.

On July 2, ATPE released its own set of recommendations for state policies and district-level guidelines related to COVID-19. We urge school district leaders to follow ATPE’s recommendations as they work to fill in the gaps. Our recommendations would require each district to develop a COVID-19 advisory committee including non-administrative-level staff, parents, and community medical experts.

“Too many questions are left unanswered in TEA’s guidelines,” said Shannon Holmes, ATPE Executive Director. “We urge school district leaders to step in and fill this leadership vacuum to keep Texas children and educators safe, particularly as pockets of our state face rising COVID-19 outbreaks. All Texas students, parents, and educators deserve to be safe and have a firm understanding of the steps being taken to provide a safe learning environment.”

Read ATPE’s Recommendations for District-Level Guidelines.

Virtual charter school students experienced learning loss, study shows

Virtual schooling is in the spotlight right now, especially with many parents considering how to approach returning to school this fall in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. For this reason, we took note of a recent study published in the prestigious, peer-reviewed journal Educational Researcher, which found a significant decline in achievement for Indiana students who switched to a virtual charter school. The virtual setting’s impact on the students’ achievement in math and English language arts (ELA), compared to that of their traditional public school peers, was “uniformly and profoundly negative,” according to the study’s authors.

The Indiana study showed that students in grades 3-8 who switched from a traditional setting to a full-time virtual setting experienced an 11 percentile point loss in ELA and 16 percentile point loss in math on annual assessments when compared to their peers who stayed in the in-person setting, even controlling for factors such as race, sex, poverty, achievement, and teacher and classroom characteristics. Other studies outside of Indiana have found similar results. The study authors conclusion suggests that parents who choose this type of virtual option may be putting their children at a severe disadvantage when it comes to learning.

Why might this learning loss occur in students attending virtual schools? The researchers note that the virtual schools in the Indiana study had an average class size of 100 students, which is about four to five times greater than the acceptable class-size limits fought for by education advocates such as ATPE. Additionally, virtual schools often use for-profit vendors, aiming to capitalize on the need for children to learn, to deliver the school’s educational content. Unfortunately, profit-oriented behaviors never seem to play out well in the public education field because it is difficult to cut corners in an industry that thrives on human relationships. In fact, the integral nature of relationships to teaching and learning has become even more apparent during the pandemic, as both teachers and students have resorted to parades, sidewalk chats, yard signs, driveway lessons, personal mail, and other methods of interacting when virtual classrooms just won’t cut it.

In a recent blog post, the authors of the study wrote that virtual charter schools are “ill-equipped” to expand their presence and enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic. They recommend that policymakers focus on greater accountability and oversight for these schools. ATPE has also long fought for greater accountability and oversight in numerous debates over full-time virtual programs, whether such a program enrolls students through a charter school or a school district.

Here in Texas, after the pandemic began, Republican members of the Senate Education Committee asked the Texas Education Agency to consider expanding virtual school options in Texas, despite the negative data showing virtual schools do not perform as well as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. The Coalition for Public Schools, of which ATPE is a member, responded by sending a letter in early May to Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath to explain why such an expansion would not benefit Texas families. ATPE will be weighing in as developments unfold with regard to virtual schooling amid the pandemic, such as potential efforts to expand virtual or private schooling options using federal emergency dollars as touted by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Stay tuned to the Teach the Vote blog and Twitter for updates.