Tag Archives: President Trump

Another round of federal stimulus inching closer to reality

Another round of federal relief money is one step closer to becoming a reality, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Monday presented their proposal two months after Democrats passed theirs out of the U.S. House of Representatives. With substantial differences between these latest two COVID-19 relief proposals, however, there is much work to be done to negotiate a plan that can pass out of both chambers.

The $1 trillion Republican proposal, dubbed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, includes $105 billion for education, $70 billion of which would go to K-12 schools specifically. However, two-thirds of that funding, roughly $47 billion, would only flow to schools that reopen for in-person instruction and would not be available to schools that only offer virtual instruction in response to high levels of local COVID-19 infections. Schools that delay in-person instruction for safety reasons could receive some of the remaining one-third of the funding that would be split among all schools, regardless of whether they open in-person or through distance methods. Similar to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, the new proposal also includes $5 billion for state governors to spend on K-12 and higher education.

Even though states would receive funds under the Republican HEALS Act proposal based proportionately on their previous school year’s Title I funding, states would have to reserve a proportional portion of the federal funding for private schools. Private schools receiving federal funds would not be subject to the same requirements under the GOP proposal as public schools. The new proposal does not include a requirement to provide “equitable services” to private schools under the new funding as was included in the CARES Act.

The Republican proposal also includes immunity from liability intended to shield school districts and businesses that reopen amid the pandemic from lawsuits by employees or customers who are exposed to the virus or become infected as a result.

Another major headline of the Senate plan includes lower monthly unemployment payments. Payments would decrease from the current $600 per week down to $200, which could be combined with state unemployment benefits for up to 70% of a person’s wages before losing their job due to the pandemic. Those unemployment payments, created by the CARES Act in March, are scheduled to expire this weekend unless extended by Congress. The GOP plan would extend the moratorium on evictions, a provision from the first CARES Act that has already lapsed, and would provide another round of stimulus checks using the same criteria as under the CARES Act. Each individual earning up to $75,000 per year would receive $1,200, and decreasing amounts would be paid to those earning up to $99,000.

The Republican plan is part of a larger package of legislation that includes a stand-alone voucher bill filed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would create a permanent program providing up to $5 billion in tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations (SGO) that transfer public school dollars to private institutions. This is a perennial proposal advocated by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in her quest to privatize education. The new voucher bill would also direct emergency education funding meant for public schools to SGOs for private use. Expansion of these voucher programs remains a top priority of the Trump administration and Secretary DeVos, as they continue using the pandemic to promote these proposals despite repeated failures to pass them through the Congress.

The House, under Democratic leadership, passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act back in May. The House bill would provide $90 billion directly to education, including $58 billion for all K-12 schools. Unlike the Senate plan, the House bill provides a separate $950 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments aimed at preventing budget shortfalls that could lead to layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

The HEROES Act would also provide another round of stimulus checks to individuals, and would additionally raise the payout for each dependent to $1,200 up from $500 under the CARES Act. The bill would extend the full $600 weekly unemployment payments into next year, extend the suspension of student loan payments, provide up to $10,000 in student debt relief, and prohibit Secretary DeVos from imposing restrictions on populations of students who receive emergency financial relief under the CARES Act.

Each of these proposals represents the opening bid in negotiations between the two chambers and the Trump administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed a desire to vote on the Senate bill before members leave for recess August 7. The Senate bill was originally expected to be unveiled last week, but was reportedly delayed amid ongoing negotiations with the White House, which supports the Senate’s proposal. House Democrats passed their bill in May, but Senate Republicans ignored it and declined to take action on another relief package until recently.

Federal relief for schools would come at a critical time as the 2020-21 school year begins. Regardless of whether instruction is being delivered virtually or in person, school buildings across Texas will once again fill with teachers and staff, necessitating costly safety protocols. Virtual instruction poses added technology costs to districts, which are already looking at potential budget shortfalls due to declining tax revenues caused by the pandemic-induced recession.

Texas is estimated to face a $4.6 billion budget shortfall by the end of 2020, and the 2021 legislative session is already expected to feature drastic cuts in state spending. Federal relief dollars would go a long way in reducing the pressure to cut education spending here in Texas. House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the president all will have to approve any additional relief package from Congress.

Texas election roundup: Senate special election

Wednesday, May 13, 2020, marked the deadline for candidates to file for the legislative seat recently vacated by former state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

The Democrats vying for the reliably blue Senate District (14) seat based in Austin include state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. The two Republicans who have filed are activist and former Austin city council member Don Zimmerman and attorney Waller Burns II, who does not appear to have a campaign website or social media presence. Libertarian Pat Dixon and physician Jeff Ridgeway, running as an independent candidate, have also filed for the seat.

The special election for the SD 14 seat is scheduled for July 14, which is the same day as the primary runoff elections. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) announced this week that early voting in these elections will be extended to June 29 from July 6. Voters are normally given only one week to vote early in the runoffs, but Abbott’s order will extend that period to two weeks. The governor’s stated reasoning is to enable greater social distancing for in-person voting.

Whether to vote in person or by mail has become a politicized and polarizing issue, unfortunately, with numerous local and state officials along with President Donald Trump weighing in on different sides of the debate. Voters who go to the polls in person may still be exposed to the risk of communicating the deadly COVID-19 infection, the number of confirmed cases of which have continued to increase in Texas at ever higher rates. While several other states, including states such as Kentucky and Alabama with Republican leadership, have expanded voting by mail options in order to protect their voters’ safety, Gov. Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton continue to resist efforts to expand voting by mail in Texas.

A state appeals court ruled Thursday that the state and counties must follow a district judge’s order allowing all Texas voters to vote by mail if they are concerned about contracting COVID-19. Paxton has fought the order and this week asked the Texas Supreme Court to consider the case. Meanwhile, Paxton faces a new criminal complaint alleging he committed election fraud by sending a letter in which he warned counties to ignore the judge’s order.

A coalition of voters and civil rights organizations filed another lawsuit in federal court this week seeking to loosen the restrictions on voting by mail. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) joined a separate federal lawsuit filed last month to expand voting by mail in Texas, arguing that the current laws discriminate against Hispanic voters.

While the political debate over voting by mail continues, polling suggests the overwhelming majority of citizens support expanding access to voting by mail. A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas poll last month found 58% of Texans support allowing any registered voter to mail in a ballot without need for an excuse, compared to 22% who opposed. A 56% majority support extending this ability to all future elections. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 67% of Americans support mail-in ballots for the November elections.

BREAKING: Abbott says schools to remain closed, offers early plan to open other Texas businesses

Today, Gov. Greg Abbott held a press conference at the Texas State Capitol in which he outlined early plans for reopening the state to commerce. While additional businesses and services will be authorized beginning next week, Texas schools will remain physically closed for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year due to safety concerns. In his press conference today, Abbott added that the commissioners of education and higher education each will provide guidance to schools on how they may conduct graduations this spring. Distance learning will continue, and educators will be allowed access to school buildings in order to facilitate this.

Gov. Abbott’s April 17 announcement and issuance of new executive order come on the heels of a consequential press briefing by President Donald Trump yesterday. Trump detailed a phased re-opening of the country and shared new federal guidelines that include three phases of progressive opening. In phase one, schools that are already closed should remain closed. In order to move from one phase to the next, states must pass “gating” criteria to prove that there has not been any rebound in viral outbreak. For instance, with adequate testing in place, states must show that confirmed cases and cases with flu-like and COVID-like symptoms have declined over a 14-day period.

Similarly, the governor announced plans today for a phased re-opening of the state, starting today. Businesses that present little to no impact on the spread of the virus are being allowed to open first, with appropriate safety measures as prescribed by the state in place, followed by a second phase on April 27 for additional businesses to open, and a third phase in May. Under the state’s plan, existing restrictions on surgeries and other medical protocols are being eased next week and additional retail businesses will be allowed to re-open next Friday as long as they operate using a “to go” or delivery-based model only, as many restaurants are already doing. Abbott announced that state parks will re-open on Monday, April 20, but six-foot distancing, limits on the size of groups, and facial covering requirements will remain in effect. During today’s press conference, the governor also named a long list of business leaders and current and former elected officials who will serve on a “strike force” to oversee the re-opening process.

Gov. Abbott said that revised guidelines for the state will be shared on April 27, 2020, including an update on the statewide stay-at-home order that is set to expire April 30. ATPE’s lobby team will provide additional updates on the new executive orders this afternoon in our Week in Review blog post here on Teach the Vote.

Are “microgrants” a new name for Devos’ same old voucher proposal?

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaking at a White House briefing, March 27, 2020

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is asking Congress to fund “microgrants” to provide money for online learning during the coronavirus outbreak. Appearing with President Donald Trump on March 27, 2020, during a White House briefing by the national coronavirus task force, DeVos said, “I’ve always believed education funding should be tied to students, not systems, and that necessity has never been more evident.” Microgrants, as envisioned by Devos, would provide funding directly to students in a manner akin to numerous voucher proposals in the past.

Here on our Teach the Vote blog, ATPE has written about efforts by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), with high-profile support from DeVos, to pass legislation that would fund a federal voucher program. Thus far, the federal voucher proposal has gained little traction in Congress. But the recent changes to learning environments compelled by the COVID-19 crisis appear to have given Secretary DeVos a new angle to pursue funding streams for private individuals and families as an alternative to providing federal dollars directly to public schools. As reported by Education Week, DeVos announced her desires for the microgrant program last week using the same talking points she has used to argue in favor of a tax credit scholarship voucher program. The microgrant program would purportedly focus on students eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and those with an individualized education program (IEP). According to a Department of Education spokesperson cited by the article:

“The grants could be used to fund materials needed for home-based learning, like computers or software, internet access, or instructional materials. They could also support educational services like therapies for students with disabilities, tuition and fees for a public or private online learning course or program, and educational services provided by a private or public school, or tutoring, spokesperson Angela Morabito said in an email.”

The federal government is asking schools to continue to educate students while they are at home as a result of school closures or stay-at-home orders related to COVID-19. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has made relief funding for school districts contingent upon their promise to continue instruction and provide distance learning.

Many voucher programs have attempted to provide funding for online learning as an alternative to  classroom settings with the intent of diverting students and funding away from the traditional public education system. The $5 billion voucher program DeVos has been promoting in Congress since long before the coronavirus outbreak overlaps with parts of her new microgrant proposal. According to Chalkbeat:

“The idea — especially the grants for students that could pay tuition — is a glimpse at how DeVos will use the upheaval to advance her ideas about education. A proponent of private-school vouchers and school choice, DeVos has long downplayed the role of the federal government and scoffed at those who see school buildings or school districts as education’s key organizing principle.”

So far, the Democratically controlled U.S. House of Representatives has served as a firewall against DeVos’s and the Trump administration’s voucher proposals. The microgrant program would need funding with the approval of Congress to move forward. With assistance from our Washington-based lobby team, ATPE has been and will continue to be communicating with the Texas congressional delegation about the need to maximize funding for public schools during this crisis without diluting those funds through an opportunistic voucher program with a catchy new name.

As a founding member of the Coalition for Public Schools, ATPE has long opposed vouchers and the privatization of public education. Due to the current crisis, many Americans across the nation are experiencing a renewed understanding of, and appreciation for, the importance of public schools and public school educators. Now is the time to bolster the nation’s system of public schools and the teachers who work in them, rather than finding ways to divert funding and dismantle our community schools.


4/30/20 UPDATE:
During her White House press conference appearance on March 27, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stated, “We will propose Congress provide microgrants to help students continue to learn.” This statement  was interpreted as an indication that DeVos believed funding for the microgrant program was not yet approved by Congress and available under existing law. Despite initially signaling that she would seek congressional action to provide for future funding of microgrants, Secretary DeVos has since announced that she intends to use existing funding provided by the CARES Act, which had already been passed at the time of the statement above, to fund at least a limited version of the microgrant voucher program. Whether or not the secretary actually has the authority to use CARES Act funding for this purpose is a developing story. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog for updates.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas’ coronavirus strategy is a patchwork of different local rules

While other states fighting coronavirus enforce widespread closures, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott goes with a patchwork system

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has employed a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the new coronavirus however they see fit. Photo credit: Miguel Gutierrez Jr./The Texas Tribune

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens, states across the country are increasingly taking a more heavy-handed approach to contain the new strain of coronavirus — shuttering schools, bars and restaurants and deploying state militaries.

Nearly 30 states have mandated temporary school closures, for example, with some orders applying even to private institutions. In Texas, though, only half of school districts have ordered students to stay home after spring break.

That’s because Gov. Greg Abbott has clung so far to a mostly decentralized approach, giving cities, counties, school districts and universities the discretion to respond to the virus however they see fit. The result has been a patchwork of local policies that differ from county to county, with leaders setting various limits on public gatherings and other putting in place other regulations meant to encourage “social distancing.”

Over the weekend, Abbott said he was confident that cities will make the best decisions for their communities. And he appeared to double down on that approach Monday at a news conference in San Antonio, where he praised Mayor Ron Nirenberg for opening the state’s first drive-through testing facility and choosing to go well beyond almost every other Texas city in banning public gatherings of more than 50 people, following recent guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Those are smart strategies that will prove effective,” he said.

To be sure, Abbott has taken notable steps to combat the spread of the virus. Last week, he declared a state of disaster — as every state has — and directed state agencies to provide flexible and remote work options to employees. He restricted visitation to high-risk facilities including nursing homes, hospitals, day cares and jails. Amid panic buying, he waived regulations on the trucking industry to streamline the flow of goods to depleted grocery stores. And on Monday, amid bipartisan pressure from state lawmakers, he waived standardized testing requirements for public schools, saying it would be impossible to administer the STAAR tests as planned given the closure of more than 560 districts and charter schools beyond spring break.

Overall, though, Abbott’s cumulative actions stop short of those taken in many other states, including neighboring Arkansas, New Mexico and Louisiana, whose governors shuttered schools across the board, mobilized their militaries and implemented travel restrictions.

According to the National Governors Association, about 20 state leaders have activated their national guards and limited travel of state employees or citizens, and about 17 have passed legislation to divert state funds to the response effort. (Abbott promised Monday that federal money is on the way.) More than a dozen have also ordered restaurants and bars to close to in-house patrons — a policy various cities and counties, including Houston and Dallas, enacted Monday.

Local decision-making

Abbott’s office, asked about the local protocols, said Monday that cities and counties “have done a very good job of doing what is right for their municipalities” and nodded to how helpful local decision-making can be in a state as large as Texas. That approach is in stark contrast to Abbott’s recent attitude toward local control. In the past few years, he has routinely sparred with mayors and backed several laws that chipped away at the power of cities and counties.

“Texas is so diverse that what is right in Houston and Harris County and Dallas and San Antonio may not be the best approach in Amarillo,” Abbott spokesman John Wittman said. “These cities and counties are following the proper protocol and guidance that they are receiving from their local health departments.”

Abbott’s push for local decision-making comes as the nation’s top infectious disease expert said the most effective way to stop spread of COVID-19 may be a 14-day nationwide shutdown.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House task force on combating the spread of the new coronavirus, said Sunday that “Americans should be prepared that they are going to have to hunker down significantly more than we as a country are doing.”

On Sunday, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath told superintendents and lawmakers that decisions on extended school closures would be left up to locals.

That means that policies may differ even among neighboring school districts.

Public-health experts said such a patchwork approach can be confusing and make it difficult to gauge the effectiveness of containment policies. They also said governors have sufficient authority to ensure such consistency during emergencies.

It “makes people feel that they don’t really know what’s going on and that the people who are in charge don’t really know what’s going on,” said Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University.

Leaders should be consistent not only in policy, said Bassett, who was New York City health commissioner during the Ebola and Zika outbreaks, but also in messaging, “otherwise people aren’t confident that they’re being given good advice.”

She noted that President Donald Trump has largely deferred to governors on COVID-19 response strategy.

Because the U.S. Constitution doesn’t mention health care, it’s an authority that largely resides with the states, and some have more decentralized approaches than others, said Claire Standley, a researcher with the Center for Global Health Science and Security and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Georgetown University.

That can be a good thing, particularly when the federal government’s response is inadequate, Standley said, noting that New York was able to expedite COVID-19 testing before federal guidelines were finalized.

But having many different response policies across a state might make it difficult to manage the crisis, too.

“I honestly think it’s more about coordination between central level and peripheral level and having that trust in place,” she said. “If people don’t trust their authorities, they’re not going to comply with regulations, which is largely what we’ve been seeing so far with a few exceptions.”

Elected officials respond

Abbott has also been in frequent contact with members of the Texas Legislature and other local officials since the spread of the virus reached a fever pitch last week. The governor’s office has organized a number of conference calls already in an attempt to get state lawmakers and local players on the same page as new information becomes available.

Many Republicans and some local officials have lauded Abbott’s decentralized strategy so far, thanking his office for his leadership approach, giving local governments the flexibility to operate as they see fit on most matters.

“I have not been one who has been bashful about criticizing Abbott in the past,” said Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley, who has previously criticized Abbott for micromanaging county spending. “But I think he’s doing a fantastic job and giving us the flexibility to do what’s right for our areas. I don’t see any politics in this deal; I see [Abbott] really trying to tackle a difficult issue and recognizing the importance of the fact that this is a huge state.”

Meanwhile, a number of Democrats have offered muted praise for Abbott’s crisis management, though some have suggested the governor could be doing more to offer guidance for local governments.

State Rep. Erin Zwiener, a freshman Democrat from Driftwood, said she thinks clearer guidance at the state and federal levels would better position local governments to respond to the virus.

“I’ve observed confusion from my local decision makers,” Zweiner told The Texas Tribune. “I see my city councils, my city administrators, my county commissioners desperate for answers on what the right thing to do is, and they’re not getting answers; they’re getting general advice.”

Another House Democrat, state Rep. Joe Moody of El Paso, told the Tribune that the best thing leaders can do is “give to the people of Texas consistency, uniformity and predictability, because that’s not coming from any other direction.”

“To the extent we can give people some normalcy … and whoever has the most authority to do that as swiftly as possible, should do it,” Moody said. “They should do it with an understanding that no one expects them to be perfect right now, but that we expect them to act quickly so that we remain ahead of the virus.”

But Republicans said Abbott has handled the situation appropriately — and that he has rightly shifted certain responsibilities to local governments.

“In terms of a crisis, we don’t need somebody to act like a dictator and push all of that information down to people,” said state Rep. Drew Springer, R-Muenster. “We need those empowered local officials to make the detailed decisions, and the governor has empowered local officials to make those judgments.”

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2020/03/17/experts-say-texas-patchwork-strategy-coronavirus-problem/.

President releases education budget proposal for 2021

On February 10, 2020, President Donald Trump released his budget proposal, which is a statement of  his administration’s spending priorities across all sectors of government. Because the president’s budget is merely a proposal, any of these funding amounts would still need to be approved by Congress in order to be enacted. Historically, Congress has largely ignored President Trump’s funding proposals for education.

The education portion of the president’s 2021 budget recommendation is focused on “education freedom.” While cutting funding for the U.S. Department of Education by $5.6 billion, the proposal requests funds to provide up to $5 billion annually in “Education Freedom Scholarships.”  Using these funds, states would be free to design their own scholarship programs, which could be used to send public dollars to private schools. This requested increase in voucher funding reflects the president’s statements during his State of the Union address last week, which my fellow ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on here and here for Teach the Vote.

Trump’s proposal also consolidates 29 federal education programs into one block grant totaled at $19.4 billion, which is $4.7 billion less than Congress approved for these programs in 2020. A list of the programs can be found here (see p. 9), which includes 21st Century Learning Centers, charter schools, school safety national activities, and the $16 billion Title I Grants. This change purportedly would cut the role of the Department of Education significantly by reducing staffing and administrative costs. Though this is labeled a “block grant,” funds would still be allocated using the Title I formulas. The proposal indicates that states and school districts could use the funds on any of the consolidated programs and would still have to follow key accountability and reporting requirements.

Consistent with the president’s affinity for career and technical education (CTE), the proposal also includes $2 billion for CTE state grants and $90 million for CTE national programs. Part of this $763 million increase would be funded by a proposal to double the fee for H1-B visas.

The president’s 2021 budget recommendation includes an increase of $100 million in funding for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Part B grant funding, for a total of $12.8 billion. This increase is relatively small considering the overall funding needs for students with disabilities. (Texas appropriated over $2 billion for this purpose during the 86th legislative session.)

As was the case in previous presidential budget requests from the Trump administration, the proposal eliminates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, citing that it “unfairly favors some career choices over others.”

Review past reporting on President Trump’s budget requests for the 2018, 2019, and 2020 fiscal years here on ATPE’s Teach the Vote blog.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 7, 2020

Check out what happened this week in education news from Texas and the nation’s capital, courtesy of the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary elections will begin in less than two weeks. Early voting starts February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day, and ends February 28. Our state’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020.

This week on our blog, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter shared information about education-related recommendations in the ballot propositions being put to voters by the Texas Republican and Democratic Parties in this primary election. The ballot propositions help each political party fine-tune its platform based on views expressed by voters in the primary election on various issues. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looked at some of the latest campaign fundraising news, takeaways from the Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and more in his election roundup blog post from yesterday.

With the primary elections inching closer, ATPE is focusing on helping educators find resources that will help them learn more about the candidates vying for their votes. Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education in 2020 by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. The profiles include candidates’ responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and additional information. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project and share information for their profiles that appear on Teach the Vote. Watch this new instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.

For additional resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com, or attend one of the “For the Future” education-themed candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details on the events.


FEDERAL UPDATE: President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union (SOTU) address on Tuesday, the third of his presidency. In the speech, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports for Teach the Vote, the president expressed his opposition to public schools and called on Congress to pass a school voucher bill proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The bill in question, S. 634, proposes to divert taxpayer dollars that may otherwise go to public education away from local schools and use those tax dollars to subsidize private and for-profit programs. The president cast public schools disparagingly as “failing government schools.” It’s worth noting the Texas Constitution guarantees a right to a free public education as being key to a healthy democratic society, and our state has a long history of independent school districts run by the communities they serve. ATPE’s Wiggins spoke to the Houston Chronicle and previewed the president’s remarks on Tuesday in this blog post.


Last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 included a Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA) intended to provide additional funding to school districts that create an incentive pay system for teachers. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reports that districts interested in creating a TIA program were asked to submit letters of intent to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) by January 24 of this year. Anecdotal reports indicate that more than 700 of the state’s over 1,000 school districts have responded to date. TEA is implementing this initiative with a series of presentations to stakeholders around the state, and the agency is expected to publish rules in March 2020.

ATPE successfully lobbied the 86th Legislature to ensure that districts would not be required to use the STAAR test to measure teacher performance as part of a TIA program, but questions remain over the degree to which these programs may rely on student test scores. We will be paying close attention during the rulemaking process to see how these programs are allowed to be structured in order to qualify for the additional state funding. You can read more about TIA programs from TEA here.


Members of the ATPE Governmental Relations team gave a presentation on advocacy at this week’s Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA) Convention and Exposition in Austin. Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell, Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, Lobbyist Mark Wiggins, and Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier spoke to attendees about the implementation of major bills passed in 2019, what’s at stake in the 2020 elections, and ways educators can get involved in advocacy efforts.

ATPE lobbyists Wiggins, Mitchell, Exter, and Chevalier at the TCEA Convention, Feb. 4, 2020

Texas election roundup: New GOP PAC in town

The big news in Texas politics this week is an announcement by a group of Republican members of the Texas House of Representatives that they have formed a new political action committee (PAC) to fill the void in fundraising created by Speaker Dennis Bonnen’s (R-Angleton) decision not to run for reelection.

Typically, the speaker coordinates fundraising efforts and doles out money to help endangered House incumbents who belong to the majority party. Democrats need just nine seats to win control of the Texas House, which places Republicans in a defensive position. Without Speaker Bonnen playing an active leadership role, Republicans are at a disadvantage. Enter Reps. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), Four Price (R-Amarillo), and Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), who filed paperwork this week to form Leading Texas Forward PAC. According to the Texas Tribune, the PAC aims to raise $5 million for GOP incumbents and lists none other than GOP strategist Karl Rove as its treasurer.

In other House news, Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee Chair Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) announced late last week he would not run for reelection after admitting to a drug-related incident. Nevarez told the Texas Tribune he intends to seek treatment.

Gov. Greg Abbott announced the special runoff elections for House District (HD) 28, HD 100, and HD 148 will be held Jan. 28, 2020. The latter two seats are expected to remain under Democratic control, while HD 28 represents a hotly-contested race over a seat most recently occupied by a Republican.

A new University of Texas-Tyler poll shows President Donald Trump’s approval rating among Texans at 43 percent, compared to 49 percent on respondents who disapprove and 8 percent who have not made up their minds. That poll shows former Vice President Joe Biden leading the pack among Texans’ favored Democratic nominees, followed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. A separate Politico analysis predicts Trump will win Texas, but lists a number of contested Republican Congressional seats as likely Democratic pickups.

Voting is the most powerful thing you can do as an educator, and ATPE thanks those of you who voted in the Nov. 5 election. Voting in the upcoming 2020 elections will be critical in order to ensure legislators provide schools and teachers with the resources they need to help students grow and achieve. Visit the website for our Texas Educators Vote coalition today and sign up to receive text updates so that you never miss an important election!

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 29, 2019

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


The Texas House of Representatives debated its budget bill, March 28, 2019.

During a late night floor session on Wednesday, the Texas House unanimously approved a $251 billion state budget billHouse Bill (HB) 1. The bill includes a $9 billion appropriation for improving the state’s school finance system and providing property relief to homeowners. The public education-related funding increases in the House budget would be implemented via HB 3, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) omnibus bill that ATPE supports. The full House is slated to debate HB 3 on the floor next Wednesday, April 3.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to approve its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, in the coming days. During a meeting yesterday, the committee decided to add money to its bill to match the House’s $9 billion funding proposal for public education. The two chambers are likely to disagree, however, on how that money should be spent.

Read more about the House’s big budget vote in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our Teach the Vote blog. We urge ATPE members to use our convenient tools on Advocacy Central to send a message to House members thanking them for their vote on the budget to increase public education funding and urging them all to similarly support HB 3 next week.


ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified before a House committee, March 26, 2019.

This week two important bills affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) advanced in both the House and Senate.

House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which increases contributions to TRS and provides retirees with a 13th check, received a hearing the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services on Tuesday. The bill was left pending in  committee but is expected to be voted out favorably in the near future. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified in favor of HB 9 during the hearing.

Also, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) was voted out of the full Senate by a unanimous vote on Monday. SB 12, which ATPE also supports, raises the contribution rates into TRS, albeit differently from the House’s bill, and provides retirees with a 13th payment, but the payment would be lower. For more information on the differences between the two bills, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), heard a number of bills focused on student discipline issues. ATPE supported bills such as Senate Bill 1451, which prohibits negative action on a teacher’s appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct, and Senate Bill 2432, which would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a student from the classroom. For more information on the bills heard, plus other pending bills that were voted on during this week’s committee hearing, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Meetings of the House Public Education Committee have been known to take on a theme and focus on bills that pertain to the same issue. The theme of this week’s meeting of the committee was school safety. Members of that committee on Tuesday heard 35 bills related to topics in school safety such as school hardening, access to mental health resources, and increased law enforcement on school campuses. ATPE registered a position in support of six bills including House Bill 2994 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would require the Commissioner of Education to develop mental health training material for school districts. A thorough breakdown of the bills heard during this committee meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


FEDERAL UPDATE: On Thursday, March 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sat before the Senate Appropriations Committee to defend President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for the Department of Education. DeVos faced questions on her support for increasing federal funding for school choice while eliminating or decreasing funding aimed at teacher effectiveness, special populations, and loan assistance. Watch more coverage of the hearing here for the full scoop.


ELECTION UPDATE: The 86th Texas Legislative session is more than halfway over, and issues like school finance, teacher pay, and school safety remain key topics. This is a direct result of the tremendous educator turnout during the 2018 elections and proof of the power of democracy – informed and engaged citizens holding their elected officials accountable. Practicing and modeling civic engagement require voting in every election. On May 4, 2019, many Texans will have the chance to vote in local elections for school boards, mayoral seats, bonds, and more. Make sure your voter registration is up to date so you will be able to participate. The last day to register to vote in the May election is April 4. Early voting runs April 22-30, 2019. Visit VoteTexas.gov to learn more about how to register and vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 15, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of education highlights from another busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).

ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.

Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.

 


Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.

 


The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.


Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyLast Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.