Tag Archives: PSF

SBOE holds abbreviated virtual meeting this week

SBOE virtual meeting, Sept. 1, 2020

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, the State Board of Education (SBOE) met for the first of two virtual meetings this week in order to clear a handful of less controversial items from the board’s agenda before all 15 members meet in person next week. The board discussed the next round of requirements for instructional materials and held separate meetings in their various committees.

The board’s Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) received a report on management of the PSF by investment consulting firm RVK. The report is a result of House Bill (HB) 4388 which required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a study regarding PSF distributions.

The PSF provides the state’s share of funding for public schools in Texas. The majority of the PSF is managed by the SBOE, but a portion of the fund consisting of real estate investments is managed by the School Land Board (SLB) under the General Land Office (GLO). The 86th Texas Legislature in 2019 examined the split management structure of the fund after a dispute arose between the SBOE and SLB over changes the SLB made to the way it has typically distributed funds.

The consultants determined that the sustainable distribution rate from the total PSF is between 3.26% and 3.46% based on current market conditions, current capital markets forecasts, current investment strategies, and a review of other key variables. That breaks down into 3.2% from the portion of the fund managed by the SBOE and between 5.28% and 5.70% from the portion of the fund managed by the SLB.

Since 2003, the PSF has grown at an annual rate of 3.1% on average, while assets per student have increased by 1.3%. Distributions per student on a real basis have fallen 1.4% since 2003 but have grown 3.8% over last 10 years. Total distributions from both the SBOE and SLB have remained largely constant over the last 10 years, at around 3.3%.

The PSF’s stated goal is to achieve intergenerational equity, but the consultants noted, “There is a distinct lack of clarity in precisely how intergenerational equity is to be defined.” The report also concluded that distributions will likely vary year to year because of the unpredictability of distributions from the SLB’s portion of the fund, and suggested the state consider a rules-based methodology for distributing funds, which is common practice in other states.

Agency staff in charge of overseeing the PSF said the fund is recovering from the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. BNY Mellon Asset Servicing presented members a with the fund’s second quarter report, which concurred that markets are improving. That said, the fund underperformed against the PSF benchmark and ranked in the 43rd percentile among peer funds greater than $1 billion for the quarter.

After TEA staff assured members that the fund has met the performance requirements established in law in order to protect the fund’s long-term health, the committee voted to make a distribution of $1.1 billion that will be available to schools for fiscal year 2021.

The board will meet again on Wednesday to discuss and approve items considered in today’s committee meetings. Members are scheduled to meet in person for a more extensive agenda next week.

Senate Finance releases first interim report as the House ramps up its committee work

On Friday, the Senate Finance committee released its interim report containing recommendations for the 87th Texas Legislature set to convene in Jan. 2021. The report touched on proposed reforms to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas and the Permanent School Fund (PSF), which helps fund public schools in Texas.

Each committee in the Texas Legislature spends the time between legislative sessions — the “interim” — writing a report to hand off to that committee’s future self when the next session begins. The subject matter of the interim report is determined by interim committee charges handed out by the lieutenant governor in the Senate and the speaker in the House. The charges generally include monitoring major legislation passed in the prior legislative session, committee recommendations on how to address notable developments since session that fall under the committee’s jurisdiction, and proposals for additional legislation to consider in the upcoming legislative session.

Typically a committee’s interim report is preceded by one or more interim hearings on the committee’s assigned charges, but due the realities of COVID-19 have kept committees from holding regular hearings this year. On July 16, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen informed House committee chairs of three COVID-compliant options for conducting interim business. In keeping with those options, house committees have recently put out calls to the public for written comments, which the committee will consider prior to releasing its report. However, seeking public input is not a prerequisite to producing an interim report, and some committees may not request any such feedback.

The Senate Finance Committee was first out of the gate this cycle to release its interim report. In it, the committee studied the management, structure, and investments of the state’s major trust funds. At a combined nearly $200 billion, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas’ (TRS) pension fund and the Permanent School Fund (PSF) are among the state’s largest trust funds, and the report touched on each. The report also highlighted the impact the economic recession driven by COVID-19 has made on the state’s investment funds across the board.

Legislators passed Senate Bill (SB) 12 last session, a significant reform bill aimed at increasing contributions to the TRS pension fund in order to reduce its funding period from 87 years to 29 years and qualify for a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). The Senate Finance committee’s interim report mentions that the need to serve 1.6 million retirees necessitates a significant staff size, which in turn requires substantial office space for TRS. The agency is currently seeking a long-term solution for its space needs.

The committee report also noted that the 15-member State Board of Education (SBOE) and the 5-member School Land Board (SLB) each control a portion of the PSF. The SBOE manages $34 billion in the fund’s investment portfolio, while the SLB manages $7.1 billion in real estate owned by the PSF. Each entity has the authority to transfer money to the Available School Fund (ASF), which provides money to local districts, but the SLB has usually routed its portion through the SBOE. This separation became a political issue last session. Legislators unsuccessfully attempted to pass a bill that would have created a combined management structure, settling instead on a bill that required the SLB and SBOE to hold formal meetings in order to work together.

The recommendations in the Senate Finance report relevant to TRS and the PSF include the following:

  • Consider reforms to statutory limits on TRS investments in real estate to increase transparency in any future real estate investments by the TRS Pension Trust Fund.
  • Evaluate the efficiency of the current governance and investment structure of the PSF and consider alternative structures to reduce costs and streamline transfers to the ASF.
  • Continue to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on markets and major state investment funds. Look for ways to further insulate the state from future global pandemics or similar events.

Despite Pre-K through 12th grade public education funding representing over one-third of the total Texas budget, public education is not significantly addressed, outside of the limited areas mentioned above, in the Senate Finance Committee’s report.

The following other legislative committees have posted notice for formal requests for information directly related to public education:

The House Pensions/Investments/Financial Services committee is requesting information due by August 28, 2020, related to a few of that committee’s interim charges. Interim Charge 2 is to monitor TRS actions in implementing high-deductible regional healthcare plans for certain school districts interested in providing alternatives to the current TRS-ActiveCare options. Interim Charge 4, which is a joint charge with the House Appropriations committee, is to review and evaluate the actuarial soundness of the Employees Retirement System and TRS pension funds; examine the cost of and potential strategies for achieving and maintaining the actuarial soundness of the funds; examine the effect the unfunded liabilities could have on the state’s credit; and examine the state’s investment policies and practices, including investment objectives, targets, disclosure policies, and transparency. Interim Charge 5 is to monitor the State Auditor’s review of agencies and programs under the Committee’s jurisdiction.

The House Higher Education committee is also requesting information, due by September 1, 2020, on five interim charges, which cover a variety of topics including online coursework and degrees, reviewing progress towards 60x30TX goals, and higher education infrastructure.

The House Appropriations subcommittee on Article III has issued a formal request for information, due by September 30, 2020. The subcommittee will address one interim charge specifically related to K-12 education, which is to evaluate the ongoing costs associated with implementing the provisions of last year’s school finance and reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3. In addition to this charge, the committee will also seek information related to oversight of the implementation of education-related legislation and spending, as well as higher-education funding equity and efficiency.

The House Ways and Means committee is requesting information due by September 14, 2020, on a variety of charges, one of which is to study and consider possible methods of providing tax relief, including potential sources of revenue that may be used to reduce or eliminate school district maintenance and operations property tax rates.

The House Elections committee has requested information due by September 18, 2020, on its interim charges, which include oversight of elections bills passed by the 86th legislature last year, making recommendations for best practices for conducting an election during a declared disaster, and evaluating election laws with the purpose of strengthening voter integrity and fair elections. The charges also include a review of the state’s curbside voting protocols, which are increasingly being utilized due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Senate has not released ways for other committees to conduct interim business. As of now, the Senate Health and Human Services committee has a hearing scheduled for September 9, 2020, at 9:00 a.m.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on additional interim committee work between now and the end of the year.

SBOE formally approves African American studies course

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met today to conclude its April meeting, which was conducted virtually over Zoom and covered a pared-down agenda.

The 15 members spent the majority of their time Friday morning adopting final amendments to the state’s first African American studies ethnic studies course. Members approved the new course by a unanimous vote and shared their excitement after completing months of work by the board and stakeholders. Freshman Member Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) was singled out by her colleagues for her role in shepherding the course to completion.

“It’s so rich and it’s something I wish I could have taken when I was young,” said Davis, who thanked Chairman Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) and former Chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) for getting the ball rolling, as well as the rest of the board members for each taking an active interest in the course. Davis reserved her most heartfelt thanks for her mother and for Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso), who has served as a mentor.

“Y’all have made me a stronger woman,” said Davis. “I just want more kids to have that strength and that empowerment, and I think that’s what this course will do.”

The course will award a half credit for completion, although some board members expressed their wish for a full credit course. Member Pat Hardy (R-Fort Worth) explained that a half credit course would allow more students to enroll.

In other actions, the board assessed liquidated damages worth $113,494 against Origo Education for persistent failure to comply with the rules of a contract to provide math instructional materials. Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff said the noncompliance issue, which involved a failure to provide matching large print and braille materials, did not result in a cost to districts. Staff indicated this is the first time the board has assessed damages against a publisher in this manner.

The company is operating under a six-year contract worth about $10.7 million. The board debated whether to assess the fine from the date the company was originally notified of noncompliance in 2016, which at the $1,000 contractual daily rate for liquidated damages would have increased the fine to $1.3 million. Staff voiced concern over defending the larger fine in court and argued that the more lenient fine would reduce the potential for a court to deem the fine unreasonable.

Member Sue Melton-Malone (R-Waco), who chairs the Committee on Instruction, said the company’s president promised members in Thursday’s committee meeting that the company would pay the $113,494 fine immediately upon receiving an invoice from TEA. The board set a payment deadline of June 1, 2020.

Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) Chair Tom Maynard (R-Florence) updated the board on the impact of market volatility due to COVID-19. The fund went from $35.9 billion at the beginning of the year to $31 billion in March. Maynard said 29% of the fund is in a defensive allocation and the portion of the PSF managed by the SBOE is not reliant on energy to the same degree as funds controlled by the School Land Board (SLB). Both of these factors insulated the PSF from some of the shock of the combined market and oil crashes recently. Maynard noted that reporting for real estate and private equity is delayed, so the picture will continue to take shape as more recent data becomes available.

Members ended the meeting by praising educators across the state who continue to work hard to educate Texas students while at home caring for their own families. Member Sue Melton-Malone said she was “blown away” by the job teachers have been doing. Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) noted that many districts, including her own, lack access to the internet. Perez noted the limitations of virtual learning and asked members to remember the needs of homeless and incarcerated students.

The board is expected to convene again in May to take up items that were originally on this week’s agenda but were postponed. No dates for that meeting have been set, but Chairman Ellis said a timeline could be hammered out by next week. ATPE will keep you updated here on Teach the Vote as soon as that information is announced.

SBOE hosts April meeting via videoconference

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met virtually Thursday for its scheduled April meeting. In compliance with the governor’s social distancing executive order, the 15 members of the board met via Zoom videoconference to consider an abbreviated agenda spread over Thursday and Friday of this week.

The SBOE’s April 16, 2020, Zoom meeting was livestreamed to the public.

The board began Thursday by consolidating career and technology education courses as required by the legislature, which includes aligning graduation requirements and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) standards.

Members then turned their attention to second reading and final adoption of TEKS for a new African American studies ethnic studies course. The board has been working on this course over the last few meetings and has expressed great interest in this project. Several witnesses offered written and video testimony with suggestions for this course, such as including authors James Baldwin and Toni Morrison as additional examples of important figures. This led to a debate over the appropriate balance of providing enough examples versus being overly prescriptive, as well as the process through which the currently proposed standards were developed. After spending several hours debating and amending the TEKS, the board voted to tentatively approve the course with an effective date of August 1, 2020.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff updated the board on federal Perkins funding, which the U.S. Department of Education has allowed the state to extend during the COVID-19 outbreak. The state’s application will be submitted by April 29.

SBOE Chair Keven Ellis speaks during the April 16, 2020, Zoom meeting

Members concluded the morning session with an update on current TEKS standards under review. The brunt of testimony focused on health education standards. The board’s discussion of health and physical education TEKS scheduled for this week has been postponed to May due to logistical hurdles presented by COVID-19 social distancing requirements. Board Chairman Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) said the agency is tentatively targeting the end of the second full week of May (May 14-15) or the beginning of the third week (May 18-19) for discussion, but acknowledged that it’s difficult to predict when the agency will have the educator feedback necessary to present to the board. The review of high school biology, chemistry, IPC, and physics TEKS scheduled for March and April has also been postponed. This will in turn delay the review of the remaining high school science courses, as well as K-5 and CTE courses for science credit. Agency staff acknowledged that the transition to having TEKS review work groups meet virtually has posed a significant challenge and further delayed the process.

The board separated into its three standing committees for the remainder of the day. The Committee on School Initiatives discussed updates on the Generation 25 application for charter schools. A total of 96 entities showed up for this year’s initial informational meetings. Of those, 22 submitted applications by the January 21 deadline, which is 11 fewer than the previous year. TEA advanced 16 applications to the review stage. The commissioner will propose applications to the SBOE in August for the board to either approve to disapprove in September.

Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) questioned the need for creating additional charter schools — which are funded 100% by the state and reduce the money available to local independent school districts — at a time when the state faces significant funding challenges as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. Cortez asked TEA staff if the commissioner had yet to respond to a letter from education organizations including ATPE calling for a moratorium on new charter schools. TEA staff indicated they would follow up and share the commissioner’s response with the board.

The committee also reviewed board rules determining the criteria for the board’s veto of new applications and its ability to revoke a charter or place it on probation. Members discussed whether to amend its rules to place additional requirements on new charter applications, and whether it could do so without handcuffing its authority.

Members of the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF) discussed the health of the PSF in the wake of market disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSF is the state’s investment account that helps fund public education and is managed by TEA under the oversight of the SBOE. The fund lost $2.7 billion in March, dropping to $31.7 billion from $34.4 billion. Despite this loss, agency staff reassured the board that the fund will be able to recover due to the long-term nature of its investment strategy. The agency said it will likely be another month before numbers will be available to compare the performance of the PSF to that of other peer funds.

The full board will gather virtually at 9:00 a.m. Friday to conclude its April agenda.

Senate interim charges include investigating educators’ political activity

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R-Texas) released interim charges for state senators late Wednesday. The Senate interim charges for the 86th Texas Legislature include language mirroring that used to justify a pair of bills this past session that were aimed at discouraging educators from being politically active.

After every legislative session, the Senate and House each release their own set of interim charges. Individual charges are assigned to each legislative committee and represent those legislators’ “homework” before returning to Austin for the next session. The idea is that members of each committee will study those charges, conduct hearings during the interim, and return the following legislative session prepared to file bills on those topics. The charges also typically include directions to monitor the implementation of bills recently passed into law and recommend any adjustments that may need to be made during the next legislative session.

The 2019 Senate interim charges include studying educator recruitment, preparation, and retention; a review of disciplinary alternative education programs (DAEP); studying the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) corrective action plan for special education; a review of how investments are made by the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and the Permanent School Fund (PSF); monitoring school districts’ implementation of the increases to teacher compensation ordered under House Bill (HB) 3; and investigating advocacy by local communities and public schools misleadingly characterized as “taxpayer lobbying.”

Of particular note is a charge directing the Senate State Affairs Committee to “ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.” While ATPE fully agrees that public funds should not be used for electioneering, unfounded accusations targeting educators were used during the 2019 legislative session to justify a pair of bills aimed at chilling educators’ political speech. It is particularly worth noting that these accusations were leveled by officials who have taken positions opposed to public education in the past and were made following a 2018 election cycle in which the public education community was acknowledged to have played a major role in electing pro-public education candidates.

Senate Bill (SB) 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would have dramatically expanded the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators. It would have subjected educators to criminal penalties for violating “political advertising” laws if they engage in the act of discussing anything of a political nature on school property, regardless of whether that conversation occurred in private, between friends, or off the clock. A similar bill, SB 904 by state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) would have imposed cumbersome restrictions on e-mail signups and public WiFi systems. You can read more about those bills here and here. Notably, Sen. Hughes has recently been appointed by Lt. Gov. Patrick as the new chairman of the State Affairs Committee that will conduct this investigation during the interim and would likely hear any such bills filed next session.

The following list includes excerpts from the 2019 Senate interim charges that may be of interest to educators. The charges are broken up by committee, each of which is listed in bold. You can read the full list of all interim charges released on Wednesday here.

Senate Committee on Criminal Justice

Crimes Against Students with Disabilities: Examine whether current laws are effectively protecting students with disabilities. Make recommendations to improve student safety, while also protecting educators’ abilities to maintain order and safety for everyone in the classroom.

Senate Education Committee

Teacher Workforce: Examine best practice models to recruit, prepare, and retain highly effective teachers. Review teacher professional development, continuing education, and training for teachers, and recommend improved training methods to improve student academic outcomes.

Alternative Education Students: Study current local, state, and national policies and programs for alternative education student populations. Make recommendations to strengthen existing programs and encourage the development of new innovative models.

Adult Education: Identify and evaluate current innovative programs that assist non-traditional students (first-time adult learners, re-enrolling students, working adults, and educationally disadvantaged students) in completing a high school diploma, GED, post-secondary degree, or workforce credential, including a review of adult education charter schools and their performance framework. Make recommendations to help successful expansion with partnered business and education entities.

Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs: Review disciplinary alternative education programs, including lengths of placement, quality of instruction, and the physical conditions of these facilities. Make recommendations to support and promote the academic success of these programs and enhance the ability of public schools to meet the needs of these students through innovative school models.

Digital Learning: Assess the Texas Virtual School Network and recommend model legislation that improves digital learning for students, families, and educators in a 21st Century classroom.

Special Education Services: Evaluate ongoing strategies to continuously improve special education services for students in public schools including, but not limited, to the Texas Education Agency’s corrective action plan.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Education passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 11, relating to policies, procedures, and measures for school safety and mental health promotion in public schools and the creation of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium; House Bill 3, relating to public school finance and public education; and House Bill 3906, relating to the assessment of public school students, including the development and administration of assessment instruments, and technology permitted for use by students.

Senate Finance Committee

Investment of State Funds: Review the investment strategies and performance of funds invested through the Teacher Retirement System, the Permanent School Fund, and university funds. Make recommendations to better coordinate and leverage Texas’ purchasing power to maximize investment income to the state.

Monitoring: Monitor the implementation of legislation addressed by the Senate Committee on Finance passed by the 86th Legislature, as well as relevant agencies and programs under the committee’s jurisdiction. Specifically, make recommendations for any legislation needed to improve, enhance, or complete implementation of the following: Senate Bill 12, relating to the contributions to and benefits under the Teacher Retirement System; …House Bill 4388, relating to the management of the permanent school fund by the School Land Board and the State Board of Education and a study regarding distributions from the permanent school fund to the available school fund; House Bill 4611, relating to certain distributions to the available school fund; …District implementation of increases in teacher compensation provided by the 86th Legislature; and Efficiencies in state-funded health care programs that reduce or contain costs and improve quality of care. Assess the quality and performance of health plans that contract with the state, including contract compliance, financial performance and stability, quality metrics, and consumer surveys, among other indicators. Monitor the implementation of Health and Human Services Commission Rider 19 and Article IX, Section 10.06.

Senate State Affairs Committee

Elections: Study the integrity and security of voter registration rolls, voting machines, and voter qualification procedures to reduce election fraud in Texas. Specifically, study and make recommendations to: 1) ensure counties are accurately verifying voter eligibility after voter registration; 2) improve training requirements for mail-in ballot signature verification committees; 3) ensure every voter has access to a polling station, particularly in counties that have adopted countywide polling; 4) allow the voter registrar, county clerk, and Secretary of State to suspend an unqualified voter’s registration or remove an ineligible voter from a list of registered voters; and 5) ensure compliance with laws that prohibit school trustees and employees from improperly using public funds to advocate for or against any candidate, measure, or political party.

Taxpayer Lobbying: Study how governmental entities use public funds for political lobbying purposes. Examine what types of governmental entities use public funds for lobbying purposes. Make recommendations to protect taxpayers from paying for lobbyists who may not represent the taxpayers’ interests.

SBOE in Austin for September meeting

Texas SBOE meeting September 11, 2019.

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) met Wednesday in Austin for its three-day September meeting. Although her term as board chair concluded with the board’s June meeting, Member Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) presided over the board Wednesday as Gov. Greg Abbott has yet to announce her successor.

The board began with a discussion of a new process for Instructional Materials Quality Evaluation (IMQE), including recommendations for a commissioner rule from an ad hoc committee on the subject. The process is now called Texas Resource Review (TRR). Member Georgina Perez (D-El Paso) suggested that the process is still subjective, and Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff indicated that the process was the result of feedback from 30 pilot districts. Member Marty Rowley (R-Amarillo) posed a number of questions to TEA staff clarifying the potential legal ramifications of changes to the current process. Member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) expressed a desire to prevent the TRR from competing with or interfering with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) review process. After lengthy discussion, the board adopted a new board operating procedure barring an individual board member from nominating instructional materials to the TRR without a majority vote of the board endorsing the nomination.

The board also discussed the procedure for nominating members to serve on the School Land Board (SLB), which oversees a portion of the Permanent School Fund (PSF) overseen by the General Land Office (GLO). Legislation passed by the 86th Texas Legislature expanded the SLB to five members from three and allowed the SBOE to nominate candidates to serve in two of the five places. The governor will select the two members from among six candidates the SBOE nominates. The board’s Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund will recommend the six nominees from a list of 30, comprised of two nominees provided by each of the board’s 15 members. The full board will vote to approve the final six.

The SBOE and SLB must also meet jointly once per year as a result of legislation passed in 2019. Members voted to hold the first joint meeting during the SBOE’s scheduled meeting in April 2020. All following meetings will be held during the SBOE’s scheduled November meeting.

 

 

November 2019 ballot propositions and other election news

This week saw a steady trickle of election-related news. Some of it had to do with the upcoming constitutional election this November, and some of it had to do with races on the primary election ballot next March 2020.

First up, the Texas Secretary of State announced the ballot order for 10 proposed constitutional amendments that will go before Texas voters this November 5, 2019. Proposition 7 is the measure with the greatest direct impact on public education. House Joint Resolution (HJR) 151 passed by the 86th Texas Legislature describes the measure as “The constitutional amendment allowing increased distributions to the available school fund.”

Proposition 7 would increase the maximum annual distribution of revenue derived from public land by the General Land Office (GLO) or other agency to the available school fund (ASF) for public schools. If approved by voters, that maximum amount would increase from $300 million to $600 million per year. According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Legislative Budget Board was unable to predict whether this would provide enough additional permanent school fund (PSF) revenue to significantly offset state spending from general revenue.

Next up, a couple of familiar names in Texas politics surfaced in relation to federal races on the November 2020 ballot. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) announced Monday he plans to enter the Democratic primary to challenge U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). West joins a crowded Democratic primary field that includes M.J. Hegar, who narrowly lost a general election race against Republican U.S. Rep. John Carter in Congressional District (CD) 31. Also on Monday, former state Sen. Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) announced plans to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy in CD 21. Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson announced late Thursday he will not run for reelection in CD 22, which is expected to be a hotly contested race next November. Expect campaign announcements to continue throughout the summer and fall.

As our friends at Texas Educators Vote (TEV) point out, now is a good time to review your voter registration status. Have you moved since the last election? Click here to find out if you’re registered to vote. If you need to update your registration, click here. The deadline to register to vote in this November’s constitutional election is October 7.

Senate committee advances bills expanding virtual schools

The Senate Education Committee approved two bills Tuesday afternoon that expand full-time virtual schools in Texas. The committee voted unanimously to advance Senate Bill (SB) 2244, which would remove certain barriers to enrolling in full-time virtual schools and repeal the ability of school districts to charge fees for virtual classes. Members also unanimously advanced SB 1455, which would dramatically expand full-time virtual schools in a number of ways.

ATPE opposed both bills when they were heard the previous week and submitted testimony pointing out the research indicating full-time virtual schools offer a poor quality of education compared to brick-and-mortar classrooms, as well as years of performance data indicating chronic failure among virtual schools already operating in Texas.

The committee also approved the following bills by a unanimous vote:

  • SB 668, which contains recommendations from a working group on school district mandate relief.
  • SB 820, which would require districts to develop cybersecurity networks.
  • SB 1256, which contains cleanup language for the educator misconduct legislation passed as SB 7 in 2017 by the 85th Texas Legislature. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 1376, which contains recommendations from a working group on district mandate relief. ATPE supports this bill.
  • SB 2018, which would eliminate the committee formed to dissolve Dallas County Schools, now that its task has been completed.
  • SB 2180, which would establish a computer science strategic advisory committee to develop Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) related to cybersecurity.
  • SB 2431, which would create a commission on digital learning that is structured similar to the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. The commission would meet during the interim to recommend a framework to incorporate digital teaching and learning in public schools.

Senate Education Committee meeting April 9, 2019.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) began the day by laying out SB 1895, which provides educators with professional development for blended learning. ATPE supports this bill.

Members next heard testimony regarding SB 608 by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin). This is the sunset bill for the School Land Board (SLB), which oversees real estate investments within the General Land Office (GLO) that fund education. Typically, the SLB has sent disbursements to the State Board of Education (SBOE), which oversees the broader permanent school fund (PSF) portfolio. This oversight power is the board’s sole constitutional duty. Among other things, the sunset bill would expand the SLB to five members from three and allow the SBOE to have a voice in selection of some of the SLB members. SB 1659 by Watson would require the SLB to transfer revenue from real estate to the SBOE for PSF investment and divest and transfer most non-real estate investment assets to the SBOE.

SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., enumerates prohibited disciplinary actions against a student. This includes interventions intended to cause pain, peppery spray, food and water denial, verbal abuse, the immobilization of all four extremities, and similar actions.

SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) would allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan, which includes paying high performing teachers a premium to work at the struggling campus. The bill includes ongoing support and a three-year commitment from participating teachers, 80 percent of which would be required to come from the top quartile in terms of demonstrating student growth. ATPE submitted neutral testimony that focused on eliminating a vendor contracting requirement and clarifying that districts may not be required to base their hiring decisions upon student test performance of the educators.

SB 1453 by Sen. Taylor would allow students to use calculator functions on their cellphones in lieu of traditional graphing calculators, which would no longer be required.

SB 1776 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) would require every high school to offer an elective course on “the founding principles of the United States.” SB 1777 by Sen. Campbell would require the U.S. History end-of-course (EOC) exam include ten questions from the U.S. citizenship and naturalization test.

SB 2042 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) would require a study of career and technology education (CTE) programs. This would include a look at what industries are in demand in each region of the state, and whether the CTE courses being offered by local schools adequately address those demands. The study would recommend the elimination of some courses that do not appear to benefit the workforce. ATPE supports this bill.

The committee also heard SB 2440 and SJR 78 by Sen. Taylor, both of which would move the administration of the PSF from the elected SBOE to a non-elected, appointed board of managers. The bill would additionally create a “bicentennial education fund” for the purpose of providing compensation for highly effective educators. ATPE submitted testimony against both bills, raising the concern that in virtually every case in which educator effectiveness is tied to pay, effectiveness has been determined by student test scores. Research shows that student test scores are neither valid nor reliable indicators of educator effectiveness. ATPE supports differentiated pay for educators who voluntarily take on more challenging tasks or pursue advanced training and certification, but we believe tying test scores to pay serves only to increase concerns about “teaching to the test.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

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


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

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

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

 

 


Commissioner: School fund management needs structural change

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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