Tag Archives: Raise Your Hand Texas

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 3, 2020

This week, we celebrated the anniversary of the 26th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which was ratified July 1, 1971. Since the 26th Amendment lowered the voting age from 21 to 18, now is the perfect time to celebrate with all the young people in your life as you make plans to early vote in the primary runoffs. Here is our wrap-up of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team. We wish you a safe and relaxing Independence Day weekend!


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott made headlines with an executive order requiring that Texans wear masks in public spaces in counties with 20 or more positive COVID-19 cases. There are a few exceptions to the mask order, including for children under 10 years old, those with a medical condition that prevents wearing a mask, and in some specified circumstances such as driving. Violating the order is punishable by fine, but jail time for violations is prohibited. See the full executive order with a list of exceptions and exempted counties here. Abbott also reduced the limits of most allowed gatherings from 100 to 10 people. Both changes take effect at 12:01 p.m. Friday, July 3, 2020.

According to an article by the Texas Tribune republished here on our blog, Gov. Abbott gave an interview on Thursday afternoon in which he speculated about restarting schools this fall. ““If COVID is so serious, it may mean that students are having to learn from home through a distance learning program,” the governor is reported as saying, despite giving earlier assurances that it would be safe for schools to reopen soon. Meanwhile, we continue to wait for the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to provide school districts with health and safety guidance needed to begin the new school year. The agency posted a public health document last week only briefly before quickly pulling it down and calling it a working draft.

ATPE has shared its own Recommended Health and Safety Guidelines to the state and districts, urging them to address the safety concerns of school staff, students, and parents well ahead of a return to in-person classes, especially with the current spike in Texas coronavirus cases. Our recommendations urge TEA to release COVID-19 reopening guidelines and require that prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year, each school district disseminate a local policy describing health and safety measures it will take to mitigate and respond to the threat of COVID-19. ATPE believes TEA should require districts to involve non-administrative, campus-level staff and parents as they develop such policies. Districts should promptly notify employees and parents of their policy, and they must also be ready to adjust their policy should pandemic conditions change. We also provided a list of other considerations for districts to consider as they develop their policy, which include accommodating varying levels of risk factors among their student and staff populations, minimizing person-to-person contact, planning for special populations, adjusting staff  leave policies as necessary, and addressing child care needs of their staff, especially since many districts are now contemplating staggered student schedules or mandatory remote instructional days.

Please visit ATPE’s COVID-19 FAQ and Resources page for news and answers to educators’ commonly asked questions amid the rapid developments during this pandemic. Many of the categories of resources on the TEA Coronavirus Support Page were also updated this week, including an Operation Connectivity Survey, English learner guidance, waivers, finance, and grants (information on synchronous and asynchronous instruction), crisis code reporting results, July 4 public health resources, and child nutrition. Gov. Abbott also extended the P-EBT application deadline to July 31.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the primary runoffs and the Texas Senate District 14 special election started this Monday. Polls are closed today for the holiday, but early voting will continue through July 10. Election day is July 14, but we highly recommend you early vote in order to avoid crowds and lines. This week, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier voted early and documented her experience here on our blog with tips to prepare for a safe trip to the polls.

The education-focused nonprofit organization Raise Your Hand Texas is holding two virtual forums for runoff candidates next week (see below). If you’re not attending the ATPE Summit next week, find more information and submit questions for the candidate forums here.

  • Texas Senate District 19 (San Antonio to Big Bend area) – Tuesday, July 7 at 1:00 p.m. (CDT)
  • Texas House District 26 (Houston/Sugar Land area) – Thursday, July 9, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (CDT)

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is creating many challenges for our public education system that will be long-lasting and require a commitment of support from our elected officials. Voting is the best way to influence laws and policies in Texas that will affect your profession, your schools, and your students. Find a list of polling places where you can vote here. Generate a personalized sample ballot here. Review candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. Stay safe, Texas voters!


FEDERAL UPDATE: On Wednesday, July 1, the U.S. Department of Education officially published a final interim rule that states how public school districts must spend their CARES Act federal emergency funds for equitable services offered to private schools. The rule became effective immediately upon being published, but it is open for public comment through July 31, 2020. TEA held an update training session on Thursday in light of the changes; expect to find the training recording on TEA’s Grant Compliance and Administration YouTube playlist here. The new rule gives districts two options – spend CARES Act funds only on Title I schools and follow the longstanding interpretation of equitable services under federal law, or spend CARES Act funds on all schools and be held to the questionable interpretation of the equitable services law advanced by U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Read ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier’s post on the rule from last week for more information.

DeVos also announced final rules that impact the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program, which provides up to $4,000 a year to college students who are taking certain courses in preparation to teach, so long as they continually certify that they meet certain requirements when they become teachers, such as teaching in a low-income school. If recipients do not continue to meet the requirements, the grant is converted to a loan. As reported by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2015, many TEACH Grant recipients had their grants converted to loans due to confusion over the requirements. The new rules change the department’s practices to expand how recipients can fulfill their service obligation, simplify the employment certification requirements, and allow recipients whose grants have been converted to loans to request a reconversion, among other provisions. Read a fact sheet on the rules here.


This week, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter set the record straight on erroneous claims that teachers can temporarily retire due to the pandemic. The “temporary retirement” myth was mentioned in a news story following a conference call national teacher union affiliates held with Texas reporters last week. The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) has made it clear that there is no such option for “temporary” retirement, explaining that any teacher who retires and then returns to employment will be held to a fixed annuity amount as of their retirement date. There are a number of restrictions on early retirement that educators should consider. Read retirement facts in this blog post by Exter.


New data show student engagement declined when the pandemic forced schools to close this spring. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released crisis code reporting data this week, which includes crisis code reporting on student “engagement” and indicates that more than 600,000 students (about 11% of the student population) had inconsistent or no contact with their teachers or administrators. ATPE’s 2020 Membership Survey provided even more concerning data related to engagement, as just over 65% of our survey respondents reported that their students were less engaged during virtual learning. Moving forward, TEA and school districts will need to prioritize data collection and planning that works towards eliminating barriers students faced when attempting remote learning this spring, which goes far beyond access to Internet and devices. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to address several agenda items, including revision of physical education and health TEKS, which garnered over 12 hours of virtual testimony on Monday. Votes on proposed revisions to the curriculum standards will not occur until a future meeting of the board.

On Tuesday morning, Commissioner of Education Mike Morath appeared before the board during its virtual meeting and fielded questions from SBOE members on topics such as testing and how teachers would be protected against COVID-19 risks when schools reopen. The commissioner said no decision has been made yet as to whether Texas will seek a federal waiver of testing and accountability requirements like it did during the spring when schools were forced to close. Read a summary of Morath’s comments to the board in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

The SBOE committees’ work on Wednesday was largely uneventful, although the Committee on Instruction did amend an agenda item to keep computer science as a required high school course. On Thursday, the full board had a lengthy discussion about increasing the capacity of the charter school bond guarantee program by 20%. Upon a motion by Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville), the board voted 5-9 in favor of maintaining the increase. The board moved forward with ease on their other agenda items.


An accurate count for Texas in the 2020 U.S. Census is essential for adequate funding of public schools and other services that will be sorely needed in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. The Census Bureau has launched a self-response rates map, showing Texas currently ranks 40th and is tied with Arkansas. Rankings by county and city are also available, creating the perfect opportunity for some friendly competition! Congratulations to Mountain City, Texas and Fort Bend County for the highest census completion rates in Texas!

Find a Census response rate competition toolkit here, and keep spreading the word on social media and in other communications with family, friends, and the community about the importance of filling out the census questionnaire.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 21, 2020

It’s the first week of early voting in Texas! Whether you’ve already voted or are making your plan to vote by March 3, stay up-to-date on the latest education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the 2020 Texas primary election started this week on February 18, which was also Educator Voting Day. Many counties saw record numbers of voters at the polls on Tuesday. The early voting period ends February 28 and Texas’s primary elections on “Super Tuesday” will be March 3, 2020. If you haven’t made it out to the polls yet, be sure to get the scoop on voting procedures and reminders! (Doesn’t that make you want ice-cream?) Also, check out the latest “Texas election roundup” blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins here.

Why vote in the primaries? ATPE’s lobbyists explained why it’s so important in this “Primary Colors” blog series for Teach the Vote. In many cases, the winning candidate is chosen in the primary rather than in the November general election, as ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell described in Part I of the series (with a list of affected races). In  Part II of “Primary Colors,” ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains that for educators who face imminent attacks, it is imperative to show up at the polls and make informed choices so that the next legislative session is as positive as our last.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey. ATPE does not endorse candidates and invites all candidates to participate in our survey project for Teach the Vote. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know it’s not too late! Encourage them to contact ATPE Governmental Relations for additional details.

 

  • Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote.
  • Learn about the non-binding ballot propositions proposed by the state Democratic and Republican parties that will appear on the primary ballot. These measures don’t affect the law, but they help state party leaders learn more about their voters’ opinions on key issues. Check out this Teach the Vote blog post for more information.
  • Read all the fantastic election features in our latest issue of ATPE News for Spring 2020.
  • Use Vote411.org to build a customized ballot that you can print out and take with you to the polls.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com to find additional election-related resources created for educators.
  • Find additional election reminders and tips on ATPE’s main blog at atpe.org.

This week, Senator Kirk Watson (D-Austin) announced his plans to resign from the Texas Senate in order to become dean of the University of Houston’s new Hobby School of Public Affairs. Watson has served in the state legislature since being elected to office in 2006, and he was a key member of the Senate Education Committee during the 2019 legislative session. Senator Watson served as mayor of Austin before setting his sights on the legislature. The race to succeed Watson could draw a number of high-profile contenders from the Austin area. State Reps. Donna Howard (D-Austin) and Celia Israel (D-Austin) each indicated this week they are not interested in running for the seat, which is in an overwhelmingly Democratic district. Gov. Greg Abbott will be required to call a special election in order to fill the Senate District 14 vacancy, which could be held on the uniform election dates in May or November of this year.


Two polls of note were released this week that show voter support for public education. A University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll found that Texas voters want increased spending for public education, and lower property taxes, and they believe the quality of Texas public education is excellent or good. Another statewide poll, commissioned by the education-focused non-profit Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation showed that 77% of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers. Those polled also believe that teacher quality is extremely or very important in overall school quality, teachers are undervalued, teacher pay is too low, standardized tests may not be the best measure of student learning, and public schools have too little money.

These two new Texas polls are consistent with another recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center, (NSBAC) which we reported on last week. In the NSBAC poll, 64% of the respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, 73% were opposed to public spending on private, religious, and home schools, and 80% expressed favorable opinions of the teachers in their community.


ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified at the Feb. 21, 2020, SBEC meeting.

The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) met today in Austin for its first meeting of the year. ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier testified to urge the board to use its authority to remedy an unforeseen impact of House Bill (HB) 3 on former Master Teacher certificate holders. Under the bill’s repeal of the Master Teacher certificates, Master Teachers will no longer be able to renew their certificates and may face tricky situations trying to keep their current teaching assignments as a result. HB 3 author Rep. Dan Huberty also sent a letter to the board asking for their help in preserving the classroom expertise of Master Teachers.

Read complete details of the meeting in this comprehensive blog post from Chevalier.


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas Board of Trustees also met this week in Austin, and ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter covered the meetings. Hot topics of discussion at the meetings on Thursday and Friday, February 20-21, 2020, included healthcare for active and retired educators and plans for relocating the TRS agency staff.

Read Exter’s latest blog post for Teach the Vote here for highlights of the meeting.


Another poll shows strong support for public education

On the heels of a voter survey conducted by the University of Texas/Texas Tribune regarding state funding for public education (republished on Teach the Vote here), the Raise Your Hand Texas (RYHT) Foundation has also released a new statewide poll this week about Texans’ attitudes toward public education. Both polls show support for public schools and educators with a desire for increased funding of public education.

The RYHT Foundation poll found that 77 percent of Texans express trust and confidence in their teachers, and 70 percent believe that teacher pay is too low. The poll also showed that 60 percent of the Texans responding were concerned that our state’s standardized tests may not effectively measure student learning. Half the respondents said they were not confident that Texas’s “A through F” accountability grading system accurately represents school quality. The poll also asked respondents about the top challenges they believe teachers are facing, the biggest problems affecting the public schools in their communities, and what their feelings are about wraparound supports for students, such as mental health services.

In a press release from RYHT, Foundation President Shari Albright said, “We’re pleased to be the first organization in the country to commit to an annual statewide poll about public education issues.” Albright added, “We thought it important to provide this service to Texans on an annual basis, both to understand the challenges and help find ways to improve our public schools.”

Read complete results and additional information about the new RYHT Foundation poll here.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Feb. 14, 2020

While you’re enjoying conversation hearts and sweet notes on this Valentine’s Day, enjoy this week’s Texas education news.

XOXO, from your ATPE Governmental Relations team!


ELECTION UPDATE: Voting in the Texas primary begins in just FOUR days!

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.

Races all over the state are heating up and drawing endorsements. Texas Parent PAC this week released a list of 10 endorsements of pro-public education candidates in contested primaries. Read the entire list and other election news in this week’s election roundup blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Educators face an incredibly important decision in this primary election cycle. The additional funding for schools and educator compensation provided by last year’s House Bill (HB) 3 could easily be taken away in 2021 if educators don’t show up to the polls and vote for pro-public education candidates like they did in 2018. We’re already seeing a renewal of attacks on public schools and educators. It’s important to know your rights when it comes to being an educator and a voter, and this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell offers helpful reminders about rules educators should follow during elections.

Read up on the people running for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education this year by viewing their candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote, which include responses to the ATPE Candidate Survey, legislators’ voting records, campaign contact information, and more. Watch this instructional video to learn the different ways you can search for candidate information using Teach the Vote. 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. If your favorite candidate has not answered our survey, please let them know that it’s not too late! Contact ATPE’s GR team for additional details.

There are still some upcoming “For the Future” candidate forums being hosted by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here to find out if there’s an event in your area where you can meet the candidates and hear more about their views on public education. For other resources to help you prepare for early voting, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com.

Finally, be sure to check out the latest issue of ATPE News, our quarterly magazine. The brand new Spring 2020 issue features additional election-related coverage to help you navigate the 2020 primaries.


FEDERAL UPDATE: Earlier this week, President Trump released his budget proposal for 2021. The education portion of the proposal includes plans to consolidate 29 federal education programs, including funding for charter schools and Title I, into a single block grant. While reducing overall funding for the U.S. Department of Education, the plan would increase funding by nearly the same amount in order to pour billions of dollars into a private school voucher program. Read more about the budget proposal in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

In other news this week, the federal government introduced SchoolSafety.gov, which is a new clearinghouse for school safety resources. This bank of resources, meant to aid in all stages of emergency situations, was a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Department of Education, Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The website houses a variety of resources relating to bullying, mental health, school security personnel, school climate, action planning, and recovery, among others.


On Thursday, Governor Greg Abbott charged the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative with building upon the reforms in House Bill (HB) 3 of the 86th Legislature to work towards long-term workforce development in Texas. Gov. Abbott created the initiative in 2016 to help develop links between education and the workforce, with the goal of “helping Texas grow in economic prosperity.” The commissioners of the Texas Education Agency, Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and the Texas Workforce Commission who make up the tri-agency initiative submitted a February 2020 report on their progress, which you can read here. According to the governor’s press release issued February 13, 2020, the three agencies will collaborate on a report showcasing strategies to achieve multiple educational and workforce goals. The report will be due to the governor by September 1, 2020. Check out a short summary of the initiative here.


Gary Gates, Lorraine Birabil, and Anna Eastman were sworn in Tuesday as new state representatives for Texas House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. The swearing-in ceremony for Gates and Birabil took place at the Texas State Capitol, while Eastman was sworn in at Waltrip High School in Houston. Elected to replace state representatives who resigned in late 2019, these newly minted legislators will serve up to the start of the 2021 legislative session. All three are on the ballot in 2020, vying for the same House seat to begin a full term in 2021.


A recent national poll conducted by the National School Boards Action Center reflects that likely voters “love” their public schools and oppose public funding of for-profit charters and private schools. Sixty-four percent of the poll respondents said funding for public schools should be increased, with eight in 10 supporting an increase even if it meant an increase in taxes. Seventy-three percent do not want to send public dollars to private, religious, and home schools. Sixty-five percent agree that charter schools need oversight by local school boards and 80% are favorable to teachers in their community. Find the full poll results and a press release here.


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 31, 2020

As January ends, we hope you are registered to vote ahead of Super Tuesday on March 3! In the meantime, here’s this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


ELECTION UPDATE: Special elections in three Texas House districts concluded on Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2020. The victors were Gary Gates (R) with 58.05% of the vote in House District (HD) 28, Lorraine Birabil (D) with 66.28% of the vote in HD 100, and Anna Eastman (D) with 65.47% of the vote in HD 148. Read more on the results in this election night blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

Early voting for the primary starts in just under three weeks on February 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day. Primary election day follows two weeks later on March 3, 2020. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in the Texas primaries is Monday, Feb. 3. Verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about candidates running in 2020 for the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote, which include answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and legislators’ voting records.
  • Visit TexasEducatorsVote.com for election resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • The Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation is hosting “For the Future” education-oriented candidate forums around the state. Click here for details.

This week ATPE submitted public comments on three proposed changes to administrative rules that would affect public schools, educators, and students.

First, ATPE formally commented on proposed changes to commissioner’s rules that regulate school district-charter partnerships. Senate Bill 1882 of 2017 enabled school districts to partner with charter entities to operate some of their campuses, and newly proposed rules have raised some concerns for ATPE and other education stakeholders. Read our comments here.

Next, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is proposing changes to its certification rules that could benefit high school students interested in pursuing careers in the classroom. ATPE and the Texas Association of Future Educators (TAFE) submitted joint recommendations this week for the criteria associated with the educational aide certificate. Those interested in submitting input on this rule proposal can find more information here. The deadline for public comments is Feb. 3, 2020.

Finally, ATPE also shared ouir concerns with SBEC about rules relating to master teacher certificates that are slated to be eliminated as a result of last year’s House Bill 3. Those wishing to submit public comments on this rule review can find more information here. The deadline is Feb. 3.

As you can see, our advocacy for public education doesn’t stop when the legislative session ends. During the interim, it is important to stay engaged with the work of state boards and agencies implementing education laws and legislative committees as they study interim charges. Learn more about interim advocacy in this new blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Image sourced from THGC.

This week, Texans observed Holocaust Remembrance Week as designated by Gov. Greg Abbott after the 86th Legislature passed Senate Bill (SB) 1828 by Sen. José Menéndez in 2019. The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission (THGC) recommended the observance this week so as to include International Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27, which when Auschwitz was liberated. Also this week, in Washington, DC, the U.S. House passed H.R. 943, referred to as the “Never Again Education Act” to provide grants and resources for Holocaust education programs. Find more information and related links in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met today, Jan. 31, 2020, to conclude its week-long January meeting. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this update.

Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence), who chairs the Committee on School Finance/Permanent School Fund (PSF), updated members on the status of the fund. He reported that the PSF’s investments total $46.5 billion, and the fund is being utilized as collateral to guarantee $87 billion in bonds out of a $117 billion bond guarantee capacity. Of the bonds backed by the PSF, $85 billion of those are bonds for independent school districts, and $2 billion are bonds for charter schools.

The SBOE manages a portion of the PSF, while the School Land Board (SLB) under the General Land Office (GLO) manages the other portion. Legislation passed during the 2019 legislative session to address a dispute over PSF management expanded the SLB from three members to five, two of whom would be recommended by the SBOE. Those two members have now been seated on the SLB, and the SBOE is working on setting up a joint meeting in April.

The board spent much of the morning Friday discussing board training requirements for local school district trustees, and ultimately decided to maintain the current rules unchanged. Members also voted to give preliminary approval to curriculum standards for a new course on African-American studies, which would make Texas the fifth state in the nation to offer such a course, according to TEA officials.

Earlier in the week, ATPE’s Wiggins reported on one of the board committee’s discussion about the application process for charter schools and on Education Commissioner Mike Morath’s presentation to the full board on Tuesday with an annual update from the Texas Education Agency.


Today, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) released the 2019-20 accreditation statuses for Texas public school districts and open-enrollment charter schools. Accreditation statuses encapsulate a wide variety of factors, such as financial and academic accountability and compliance with reporting requirements. Districts and charters that are assigned anything other than an accredited status must notify parents and property owners in the district. Find your district’s status here.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 24, 2020

There is just over one week left to ensure you are registered to vote! After you have your voting plan ready, sit back, relax, and check out this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting for the special election runoffs has been going on this week and continues through today with the election wrapping up next Tuesday, January 28.  So far turnout for most of these elections has been low. In House District (HD) 148, for example, fewer than 500 people had voted either in person or by mail through the first three days of early voting. Even in the race to represent HD 28, the most hotly contested of the races, only about 2000 votes had been cast, a small minority of the districts total registered voters. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins looks at more of the trends in the HD 28 race in this week’s Election Roundup.

With such low turnout in this sort of election, every vote cast is hugely important. We encourage all educators and public education supporters to vote in every election for which they are eligible. For more information on the special election candidates see our recent blog post by ATPE Government Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

As soon as the special elections wrap up next week all eyes will turn to the Texas primary elections. Early voting for the primary starts in just over three weeks, February 18, 2020, with election day two weeks later on March 3, 2020.

Remember that the deadline to register to vote in the primaries is Feb. 3. You can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state, kicking off next Friday January 29, being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

 


The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue this week. The case centers on a voucher proposal passed by the Montana legislature that was subsequently stuck down by Montana’s supreme court for violating that state’s constitutional provisions against the use of public funding for religious schools. Check out this post on SCOTUSblog.com for more insights on the oral arguments. A decision in the case is expected by this summer.


Thank you to all ATPE members who answered our first “Your Voice” survey this winter on Advocacy Central. The results provided valuable insight into which policy issues our members want lawmakers to work on in the future. For a closer look at the issues ranked highest, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 17, 2020

As you slip into the three-day weekend and celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Monday, take a look at this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team.


ELECTION UPDATE: We have just over a month until the Texas primary election on March 3, 2020. Check out ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s most recent election-related blog post for the latest campaign finance insights and other tidbits. Remember that the deadline to register to vote in one of the primaries is Feb. 3, and you can verify your voter registration status here.

As the primaries get closer, here are some helpful resources for educators and the general public:

  • Learn more about the candidates by checking out their profiles here on Teach the Vote. All candidates running in 2020 for the Texas House or Senate or the State Board of Education are featured on our website, with their answers to the ATPE Candidate Survey (where available) and existing legislators’ voting records on education issues.
  • TexasEducatorsVote.com is another great source for election-related resources, advice, and voting reminders.
  • Learn everything you need to know about Texas elections in the Texas Tribune’s five-week crash course called “Teach Me How to Texas.” It’s free and fun! Click here to sign up.
  • Additionally, check out the upcoming candidate forums around the state being sponsored by the Raise Your Hand Texas Foundation. Click here for details and the full list of their “For the Future” town hall events beginning this month.

RELATED: If you live the Houston or Dallas area, don’t forget about the upcoming runoff election for three vacant House seats in House Districts 28, 100, and 148. Early voting starts Tuesday, Jan. 21. Registered voters in those districts can vote in the runoff even they skipped the first special election back in November. Learn more about the special election candidates on our Resources page.


ATPE’s Monty Exter

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) held a public hearing on Monday regarding proposed new commissioner’s rules affecting expansion of charter schools in Texas. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter joined other education stakeholders, including school district leaders and parents, at the hearing to testify on proposed revisions to the charter performance framework and charter expansion amendment process. Their input focused on concerns about the potential for significant expansion of charter schools with little state oversight or consideration of the fiscal consequences or impact on students.

Specific points offered through the testimony included the following:

  • TEA does not consider proximity to existing campuses when approving new charter school campuses, which can lead to duplication, waste, and inefficiency. Existing school districts near the new charter campus retain fixed costs but receive less funding.
  • State law requires TEA to consider the impact on all students served by the Texas public school system when proposing rule changes like these. This includes the economic impact of a program serving only a small subset of students and the educational impact on students, especially if the local population is not large enough to support robust programming at both the existing school(s) and the added charter campus in the same location.
  • TEA already has approved more than 557,000 seats at charter schools, which exceeds the enrollment level on which the state’s budget is based. If all those seats were filled, it would cost the state more than $11 billion over a two-year period s and consume more than a quarter of the funding under the Foundation School Program. Moreover, this maximum approved enrollment capacity of 557,000 would grow even larger under the commissioner’s proposals.
  • The state’s performance framework should not reward charter operators for things like maintaining their status as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, which is already required by law.
  • A charter operator should not be labeled “high quality” if its performance is based on excluding students with disabilities or filtering out other students who are harder to teach. Under federal law, TEA must ensure all public schools identify, enroll, and serve special education students.

ATPE joined more than a dozen other education advocacy groups in submitting formal written comments to the commissioner, as well. Click here and here to read the text of the proposed rule changes that were published in the Texas Register on Nov. 22 and Nov. 29, 2019, respectively.


Thank you to all ATPE members who took our very first “Your Voice” survey this winter. The results provided valuable insight into what our members’ top policy issues are, such as standardized testing, educator compensation and benefits, and the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Look for a blog post diving deeper into these issues on Teach the Vote next week.


On Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020, President Donald Trump announced from the Oval Office that nine federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Education (ED), would release new guidance regarding religious expression. In public schools specifically, the new guidance clarifies protections for students who want to pray or worship in school and eases access to federal funds for religious organizations that provide social services. The guidance also requires that, in order to receive federal funds under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, school districts must certify with their state agency that they do not have policies in place that would prevent students’ right to pray. Additionally, states must have a process in place to receive complaints against school districts regarding religious expression and must notify ED about such complaints.

Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, students and teachers have a right to pray in public schools. However, while acting in their official capacities, teachers, administrators, and other school employees are not permitted to lead, encourage, or discourage students from participating in prayer. Read more about the new rules in this reporting by the Washington Post.


On Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020 three Texas voters, the League of Women Voters, and the Move Texas Civic Fund filed a federal lawsuit to challenge Texas’s lack of online voter registration when residents update or renew their driver’s licenses online. Under The federal motor voter law allows for voter registration when obtaining a driver’s license, but in Texas, the law is only carried out in face-to-face interactions. This is the second iteration of the case, which was originally dismissed by a federal court because the plaintiff had become re-registered to vote before a verdict was reached and lost standing to sue. Should the plaintiffs ultimately win this latest case, Texas would have to allow online voter registration through the driver’s license process. Read more about the new case in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


As ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier reported earlier today on our blog, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) has announced his appointment of Rep. Giovanni Capriglione to chair the powerful House Appropriations committee. Read more about the announcement here.


 

From The Texas Tribune: Education Reform Group Mobilizes for 2014 Elections

An education advocacy group that became a lobbying powerhouse during the 2013 legislative session with the backing of Texas tort reform heavyweights is now turning its sights to the upcoming election cycle.

Texans for Education Reform, whose legislative package included measures to encourage the growth of online education and charter schools, has formed a political action committee, according to filings with the state ethics commission.

The new committee will allow the group, which spent at least $645,000 on a team of 16 lobbyists during its first legislative session, to put some of its resources toward political candidates.

“We advocate legislation that will transform our schools through proven, innovative strategies and provide parents with flexibility and choice,” spokeswoman Sherry Sylvester wrote in a statement emailed to The Texas Tribune. “TER PAC will provide us with another tool, in the political realm, to draw attention to our agenda and help achieve that goal.”

Sylvester declined to provide additional information about the group’s political objectives, noting that further details would be available when the Texas Ethics Commission releases campaign finance reports later this month.

TER PAC’s treasurer is listed as Doug Foshee, who is the former CEO of El Paso Corporation, which was among the largest producers of natural gas in North America until another energy company acquired it in 2011. Foshee is also a trustee of the Houston-based KIPP charter school network.

He is one of many Texas political and business leaders who sit on the group’s board, including homebuilder and tort reform champion Dick Weekley, Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC chairman Dick Trabulsi, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige and former Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, a Plano Republican who stepped down in 2011. El Paso businessman Woody Hunt and hedge fund manager Salem Abraham, who is a longtime member of the Canadian Independent School District’s board, are also among its supporters.

Texans for Education Reform’s emergence marked a change in the state’s education advocacy landscape, which has traditionally been dominated by professional associations aligned with educators, administrators and school boards. Its efforts were coupled with those of another newcomer, Texans Deserve Great Schools, a nonprofit coalition that includes the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, which has invested millions in Houston and Louisiana charter schools, and the San Antonio-based Brackenridge Foundation, which is part of a $30 million campaign to bring more charters to the city.

Speaking with the Tribune in May, TER adviser Anthony Holm said the group had formed to support new solutions for the state’s public schools, whose progress, he said, had been obstructed by existing advocacy organizations.

“It took me six to eight weeks to realize that most of the other interest groups in this space weren’t advancing agendas; they were restricting bills,” Holm said. “It’s much more difficult to advance affirmative legislation or to come up with solutions.”

TER’s official entry to the political arena sets the stage for a further standoff over education policy that became known as the “battle of the billionaires” among some lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session. In the fight to pass charter school and virtual education legislation, TER was often at odds with Raise Your Hand Texas, another education advocacy group with considerable financial resources.

Founded in 2006 by San Antonio grocery mogul Charles Butt to combat private school vouchers, Raise Your Hand has since become a powerful lobbying force at the Capitol. The organization itself does not make campaign contributions, but Butt is a top political donor in the state who has given substantial sums to both Republicans and Democrats, as well as to the Parent PAC, a public schools-oriented political action committee.

While TER and Raise Your Hand each supported the charter school and virtual education bills that eventually passed during the last legislative session, in both cases, Raise Your Hand successfully pushed versions that significantly limited the reach of initial proposals backed by TER.

A spokesman for Raise Your Hand Texas declined to comment for this story.