Tag Archives: recapture

86th Legislative Session Highlights from ATPE

As the 86th Texas Legislature began its regular session in January 2019, it was dubbed the “session of the teacher” and was marked by abounding promises to fix school finance and provide pay raises to the most important in-school factor contributing to student success: our teachers. Indeed, this session’s legislation included several pro-public education proposals such as a multi-billion dollar school finance and property tax reform bill, efforts to provide an across-the-board teacher pay raise, school safety enhancements, and measures to shore up the Teacher Retirement System (TRS), while mostly avoiding troublesome and divisive topics such as payroll deduction and tactics to privatize education.

However, bills rarely reach the finish line in the same form as they started, while most others don’t make it at all. In fact, there were more than 10,000 bills and resolutions filed this session, but only 1,429 House and Senate bills were finally passed. As a reminder, bills that do finally pass the legislature are still subject to review by the governor. Gov. Greg Abbott vetoed three bills that were on ATPE’s tracking list. The governor vetoed House Bill (HB) 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), which would have required charter schools to give students Memorial Day off as school districts are currently required to do, yet the bill exempted districts of innovation (DOI). Gov. Abbott explained in his veto statement that the bill would have exempted up to 859 school districts, and suggested the legislature draft more targeted legislation in the future. The governor vetoed HB 455 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), which would have required the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to develop a model policy on recess that encourages age-appropriate outdoor physical activities. Despite praising the bill’s good intentions, the governor called HB 455 “bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.” Gov. Abbott also vetoed HB 3511 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), which would have created a “Commission on Texas Workforce of the Future.” The governor called the bill redundant and duplicative of work being done by the Tri-Agency Workforce Initiative, which involves the Texas Workforce Commission, TEA, and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). 

To learn how education issues fared during the 2019 session that ended on Memorial Day, ATPE offers this comprehensive summary prepared by our lobbyists: Jennifer Mitchell, Monty Exter, Mark Wiggins, and Andrea Chevalier. You’ll also find within this post an update on the actions taken by the 86th Texas Legislature on ATPE’s legislative priorities for 2019.

Here’s a list of the topics covered in this post:


School Finance:

ATPE’s top legislative priority this year was improving Texas’s school finance system, and more specifically, supporting legislation to dramatically improve that system in order to provide every child access to an exemplary public education.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) declared school finance reform to be one of his top priorities and an emergency item for early consideration by the 86th Legislature. Newly elected House Speaker Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) did his part to keep school funding on the minds of state representatives by providing them with cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.” While a handful of school finance bills were filed this session, House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) quickly became the session’s signature piece of legislation. HB 3 was a culmination of selected recommendations from last year’s Commission on Public School Finance that was created by the 85th legislature, as well as other input from education stakeholders such as ATPE.

ATPE supported the version of HB 3 that was approved by a vote of 148-1 in the House chamber. The House-approved bill called for providing billions of dollars to public schools; included important programmatic changes such as full-day pre-K and dyslexia and dual language funding; and it increased the basic allotment. Importantly, the bill as it left the House did not include merit pay provisions ranking teachers competitively or basing their compensation on their students’ performance; nor did the bill tie district funding to the results of student assessments like the STAAR. The Senate sponsor of HB 3, Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), pushed forward a revised version of the bill in the upper chamber, which was approved by the Senate on a vote of 26-3 with two senators “present not voting.” As an updated version of the bill progressed through the Senate and ultimately reached a conference committee, ATPE continued to work to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of the final bill.

State leaders announced on May 23, 2019, that a deal on HB 3 and other key legislation had been reached. Known as the Texas Plan, the final version of HB 3 as passed by the House and Senate now awaits the Governor’s signature as of our writing of this report. It is important to note that the final bill includes approximately $5.2 billion for property tax compression in addition to the $6.2 billion for school resources, and it reduces school districts’ vulnerability to recapture.

In its final form, HB 3 also makes a number of education policy changes that fall outside the scope of traditional school finance legislation, addressing such topics as the creation of a “do not hire” registry for educators who have been accused of misconduct and requiring teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading. Fortunately, HB 3 as finally passed does not rank educators across or within districts and expressly prohibits compensation being tied to testing in local teacher designation systems. The bill also does not tie school funding to students’ third grade reading scores.

Read more about the major changes to school finance and education policy that are contained in HB 3 in this detailed ATPE blog post about the omnibus bill here on Teach the Vote.

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Educator Pay: 

Increasing educator compensation through plans that foster both retention and a robust workforce at every Texas public school was another ATPE legislative priority this session. We advocated for compensation plans that would allow for local flexibility, encourage educator input, involve factors more meaningful than students’ standardized test scores, and align with other efforts to promote and enhance the education profession.

Leading up to the November 2018 Texas elections and heading into this year’s legislative session, Lt Gov. Dan Patrick (R) made teacher pay a central tenet of his communications. During campaign messaging, he first promised educators a $10,000 pay raise before ultimately scaling back his plan to the $5,000 pay raise encapsulated in Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound).

SB 3’s first high-profile hearing by the Senate Finance Committee coincided with the timing of ATPE at the Capitol, our lobby day event held every legislative session, and several ATPE members testified at the hearing. The Senate quickly passed the more than $4 billion bill out of the upper chamber within the first 60 days of session, after Gov. Abbott declared teacher pay to be another emergency item this year. SB 3 as passed by the Senate called for across-the-board pay raises for classroom teachers and librarians.

However, SB 3 stalled in the House as the lower chamber grappled with its larger school finance bill, HB 3. For its part, House members proposed smaller, state-funded, across-the-board pay raises at the district level that would cover all public school employees except administrators in their version of HB 3. Later in the session. SB 3-style pay raise language momentarily regained life in the Senate’s version of HB 3, but did not make it into the final version of the school finance bill. Ultimately, the combination of legislators opposed to across-the-board raises and the prioritization of property tax compression by state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Patrick, doomed the proposal for a $5,000 across-the-board teacher pay raise.

While it does not guarantee an across-the-board, state-mandated pay raise, the final compromise version of HB 3 does contain two significant provisions on educator compensation. The first requires districts to spend 30 percent of the new revenue they receive under HB 3 on compensation. Seventy-five percent of that portion must be spent on teachers, counselors, librarians, and nurses; with a prioritization of spending the money to increase compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years of experience. Districts are not required to give to every employee within this category an increase. The remaining 25 percent of the compensation carve-out may be spent on compensating other full-time staff who are not administrators. Additionally, districts likely can choose to spend these dollars on benefits such as insurance premiums in lieu of salary hikes.

HB 3 also allows districts to assign their teachers performance designations and draw down additional state funding for compensation based on the combination of a teacher’s designation and the student demographics of the campus in which they teach. The additional funding ranges from $3,000 to $32,000, depending on a teacher’s designation and other factors, but the total amount of money budgeted by the state for this program is only $140 million for the biennium, meaning that it may end up being limited to only a handful of districts. Based on the wording of HB 3, state funding under this program will flow to the districts rather than directly the individual teachers who may earn the designations, allowing districts substantial discretion in how they spend the additional money.

For more information on the compensation provisions found in HB 3 as finally passed, view our blog post about the bill’s details here on Teach the Vote.

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Teacher Retirement System (TRS):

ATPE had two legislative priorities for this session that were connected to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Our first priority was preserving educators’ pension benefits, which have remained largely stagnant for several years as a result of the legislature’s failure to inject more money into the system. This year, ATPE actively supported legislative efforts to preserve both the solvency and the defined-benefit structure of the TRS pension program. We also teamed up with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that advocates for pension plan sustainability, to jointly promote legislation that would address the TRS funding shortfall.

ATPE’s other TRS-related legislative priority was funding educators’ healthcare needs. We aimed to help the state and school districts provide active and retired public educators with more affordable and accessible healthcare benefits. With healthcare costs on the rise nationally, active and retired educators alike have seen their medical costs eat up an increasingly larger percentage of their take home pay or TRS annuities.

Retired teachers can rest a little easier knowing that the passage of Sen. Joan Huffman’s (R-Houston) SB 12 (pending the Governor’s signature, of course) will provide a much needed increase in contributions to TRS, making the fund actuarially sound and ensuring that the primary retirement income for many Texas educators will be viable for decades to come. Read more on the details of changes made to TRS, including the provision of a 13th check for current retirees, in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.

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School Safety and Student Health: 

One of the most sweeping bills the legislature passed this session was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which was aimed at improving school safety in the aftermath of the 2018 deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. School safety and mental health were among the issues that Gov. Abbott declared as emergency items for the 86th legislative session, following round-table discussions his office held with stakeholders, including ATPE state officers, during the interim.

Although SB 11 and a related mental health bill, SB 10, took a meandering path through the session, legislators ultimately placed a specific focus on improving students’ mental health and assigning specialized teams at each campus to identify individuals who may pose a threat to themselves or others. The bill’s largest component sends $100 million to school districts over the next two years through a school safety allotment for use on facilities and security programs. Read the rest of what SB 11 does in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.

Other school safety-related bills that were passed this session include HB 1387 by Rep. Cole Hefner (R-Mt. Pleasant), which removes caps on the number of school marshals who can serve a public or private school, and HB 2195 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), which requires that a school district’s multihazard emergency operations plan include a policy on responding to an active shooter situation. Freshman Sen. Beverly Powell (D-Ft. Worth) also passed a bill that pertains to the information law enforcement officials are required to share with school districts when a student is arrested. Her SB 2135 helps superintendents and school boards work together with law enforcement  agencies to exchange information that can be used to conduct a threat assessment or prepare a safety plan related to a student who may pose a threat.

Another noteworthy bill that passed this session and could be directly attributed as a reaction to recent school shootings was HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio). It sets forth protocols for the provision and use of bleeding kits in public schools, as well as training of students and staff to respond to traumatic injuries.

A couple of education-related bills were passed this session that aim to prevent or respond to the growing problem of child sex trafficking. HB 111 by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), calls for school district employees’ training to include recognizing the signs of sexual abuse and sex trafficking of children with significant cognitive disabilities. HB 403 by Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Houston) similarly requires superintendents and school board trustees to undergo training in identifying and reporting sexual abuse, human trafficking, and other maltreatment of children.

Lawmakers also approved bills this session that address students’ mental health, HB 18 by Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo) is a bill that grew out of interim recommendations and strives to help school employees be aware of and provide interventions for students with mental health challenges, substance abuse, or a history of trauma. HB 19, also by Rep. Price, requires mental health professionals in each Education Service Center (ESC) region to provide training and resources to help address public school students’ mental health. Additionally, Rep. Todd Hunter’s (R-Corpus Christi) HCR 137 designates the month of September as Suicide Prevention Month for the next 10 years. Also, SB 435 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) requires local school health advisory councils to recommend appropriate opioid addiction and abuse curriculum that can be used by the school district.

Finally, there are some student health-related bills that passed and are worth mentioning. This session Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) finally passed HB 76, a bill he has carried for several sessions aimed at providing student athletes access to cardiac assessments before they participate in certain activities sponsored by the University Interscholastic League (UIL). Rep. Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches) also passed HB 684 enabling school nurses and other trained public school employees to provide assistance to students with seizure disorders. Likewise, HB 2243 filed by physician and Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Houston) aims to help school nurses administer asthma medication to certain students. SB 869 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) calls for an ad hoc committee to consult with the commissioner of education on updating guidelines for the care of students with food allergies who are at risk for anaphylaxis.

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Student Testing:

A handful of bills pertaining to student testing are on their way to the governor’s desk as of our writing of this report. Sen. Kel Seliger’s (R-Amarillo) bill to continue Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs), SB 213, has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott. The ATPE-supported bill originally aimed to make the IGC law permanent, but its final version simply extends the sunset date for the law to September 1, 2023, making it ripe for consideration again during the 2021 or 2023 legislative session.

The largest testing bill that passed this session is HB 3906 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which makes a variety of changes to how state assessments are administered and the content of the tests. Additionally, HB 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) changes the end-of-course exam for U.S. History to include 10 questions from the civics test used in the naturalization process; and HB 1891 by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) will allow those who reach a required score on high school equivalency exams to be exempt from taking the Texas Success Initiative assessment.

Read more about these bills and others pertaining to testing in this ATPE blog post for Teach the Vote.

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Special Education:

During the interim, special education advocates worked diligently on the state’s Special Education Strategic Plan and Corrective Action Response, which was ordered by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) due to Texas’s artificial 8.5% cap on special education enrollment. Advocates also worked with the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year, carrying legislators into the session with renewed energy for special education reforms.

To invigorate everyone even more, news broke just before session that our state faced penalties from ED due to the Texas Education Agency’s failure to maintain “state financial support” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Essentially, the state spent $33.3 million less on special education in 2012 than in the year before, and thus, Texas was being assessed a $33.3 million financial penalty by ED. Unfortunately, the state has continued this trend, and it is now estimated that the federal penalty will reach $233 million.

Legislation passed this session hopes to address this issue going forward. The funding changes in the major school finance bill, HB 3, and under the state’s supplemental appropriations bill, SB 500 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), should help address Texas’s issue with maintenance of financial support. HB 3 raises the mainstream weight from 1.1 to 1.15; creates a new dyslexia weight of 0.1; and establishes a special education allotment advisory committee. SB 500, the supplemental budget, includes over $219 million to settle maintenance of financial support costs and prevent future penalties.

Other bills will impact special education beyond funding, such as HB 165 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), which will allow students in special education programs to earn high school endorsements on their transcripts, and SB 139 by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D-El Paso), which will provide parents with clearer notice on special education rights, including information related to evaluation and eligibility. Additionally, SB 522 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) improves the development of individualized education programs (IEPs) for students who are visually impaired, and SB 2075 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) aims to improve school districts’ compliance with dyslexia screening and parental notification.

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Payroll Deduction:

Protecting educators’ right to use payroll deduction for the voluntary payment of their professional association dues was another ATPE priority for 2019. In 2017, ATPE and other groups that represent public employees fought off vigorous, politically motivated efforts to repeal the payroll deduction statute, with the issue being named a top priority of Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and even being added to Gov. Greg Abbott’s list of urgent issues that he felt necessitated a special session that summer. Those efforts failed last session, and ATPE was prepared to fight any similar legislative efforts this session.

Despite frequent pleas from far-right groups like Empower Texans and the Texas Public Policy Foundation to compel the 86th Texas Legislature to do something about the “union dues” issue, ATPE is pleased to report that not a single bill was filed this year aiming to eliminate payroll deduction for educators. There were some efforts in the final days of the session to try to amend language onto other bills that could prevent public employees from using payroll deduction, but those efforts failed.

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Class Sizes:

Early in the session, the House Public Education Committee heard HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford). This bill would have changed the current hard cap of 22 students in a single elementary grade classroom to a campus-wide, grade-level average, having the effect of allowing class sizes to dramatically expand. ATPE strongly opposed this bill, but it was unfortunately voted favorably out of the committee. After weeks of inaction on the bill, the language from HB 1133 was abruptly amended as a House floor amendment onto one of Rep. Huberty’s school accountability bills, HB 3904. The next day, this language was stripped from HB 3904 following a third-reading amendment by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie). What followed was quite extraordinary. Within hours, HB 1133 was added to a floor calendar and set to be voted on by the full House. Rep. Stickland postponed a vote on the bill three times, and when he finally allowed for a vote, the House defeated HB 1133 by a vote of 44 yeas and 97 nays. For more about the debate and to find out how your legislator voted on HB 1133, check out our coverage here on the Teach the Vote blog. ATPE thanks those who called their legislators and helped us oppose this bill in order to protect class-size limits, which are part of ATPE’s member-adopted legislative program.

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Private School Vouchers:

ATPE’s final legislative priority for the 86th legislative session was opposing the privatization of public schools through programs such as vouchers, scholarships, tax credits, education savings accounts, or allowing private entities to take over the authority and accountability vested in locally elected school boards. During the 2017 legislative sessions, private school vouchers were a top priority for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and voucher legislation easily passed the Texas Senate only to be stalled in the House. The House members’ unambiguous opposition to vouchers last session, combined with the strong statement made in 2018 by educators showing up in higher numbers at the polls, dissuaded lawmakers and even state leaders from pushing a voucher priority this year. ATPE is happy to report that no major private school voucher bills like the ones filed last session were heard in committee this time around.

There were a handful of bills considered this session that ATPE and others deemed to be virtual voucher bills. The primary bill in this group was SB 1455 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). SB 1455 would have eliminated statutory limitations on a student’s ability to demand access to more than three virtual school courses in a semester. The bill also called for expanding the number of full-time virtual school programs and access to those programs for students in grades K-2. Virtual school programs while accessed through a school district or charter school are operated almost exclusively by private, often for-profit, providers. Research has consistently shown that such full-time programs do a poor job of educating students compared to traditional brick-and-mortar schools, but they are a source of large profits for the providers at the expense of taxpayers. Other similar bills were filed this session by Sens. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood). Thankfully, all of these ATPE-opposed virtual school expansion bills failed to make it out of the House Public Education Committee this session.

Although not technically a “voucher” bill, ATPE believes it is worth mentioning this session’s version of the so-called “Tim Tebow” bill. Session after session, lawmakers have filed bills named in honor of the famous athlete who was home-schooled. The bills attempt to force public schools to allow home-schooled students to participate in their activities through the University Interscholastic League (UIL). The latest iteration was HB 1324 by Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), which ATPE opposed based on our member-adopted legislative program. During its hearing by the House Public Education Committee, ATPE submitted written testimony against HB 1324, expressing our concern that there was no assurance under the bill that home-schooled students would be required to meet the same prerequisites for UIL participation as public school students. The bill was expected to be brought up for a committee vote a couple weeks later, but was left off of the vote list, likely in response to growing opposition to HB 1324. ATPE appreciates the members, educators, parents, coaches, and other stakeholders who called their legislators to oppose this bill.

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Charter Schools:

In the previous regular legislative session of 2017, charter schools walked away with $60 million in first-time state facilities funding and the ability to operate school district campuses and receive financial benefits through “1882 partnerships,” a reference to the enabling legislation, SB 1882 (2017). While charter school legislation did not take center stage this session, several bills affecting charter schools are headed to the governor’s desk.

Some bills that passed this session have the effect of treating charters in the same manner as traditional public schools. HB 109 by Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco) prohibits charters from operating on Memorial Day; HB 2190 by Rep. Todd Hunter (R-Corpus Christi) allows children of charter school employees to attend their parents’ school; and SB 372 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) allows charter governing bodies to employ security personnel, commission peace officers, and enter into agreements with law enforcement to assign school resource officers. Additionally, SB 2293 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) subjects charter school employees to the same collective bargaining and anti-striking laws as all other public school employees. SB 2293 also creates a common application for charter school admission and a requirement that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) maintain and report on the nebulous “charter waiting list” often cited by charter school proponents as justification for their further expansion.

While the above-referenced bills do bring some parity between charters and traditional public schools, ATPE also supported several bills this session that would have had an even greater impact but did not pass. For instance, HB 43 by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin) would have prohibited charters from using exclusionary admission policies based on students’ discipline history, and HB 1853 by Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio) would have required charter schools to employ certified teachers.

Other bills that passed this session will impact charter school finance and expansion. The previously discussed omnibus school finance bill, HB 3, affects charter school funding, including requiring charters to pay their fair share into TRS and removing the charter benefit of the small and midsize adjustment. SB 668, a mandate relief bill by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola), allows charters to submit an expansion approval request up to 18 months before expanding and requires that charters notify school superintendents affected by the expansion. Unfortunately, this is a pared-down version of stricter notification requirements that were included in the bill as it left the House. Other related bills that passed include HB 4258 by Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), which provides the attorney general with the sole authority to approve the tax-exempt status of charter school bonds, nixing the authority of municipalities. Lawmakers also approved SB 2117 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), which provides the financial benefits of 1882 partnerships to previously established partnerships in Spring Branch ISD and Aldine ISD that were formed prior to the final implementation of SB 1882. Lastly, SB 1454 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) improves the transparency of the sale, lease, and disposition of closed charter schools and their assets.

A couple of other charter-related bills passed the legislature, including HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), which allows for large charter operators to repurpose a closed public school district campus with the requirement that the same students who were at the campus before it was closed be admitted. Finally, HB 1051 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) makes permanent the Goodwill Excel Center, an adult high school diploma and industry certification charter school pilot program, and codifies its best practices.

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Student Discipline:

Legislators also passed several bills related to student discipline this session. HB 3630 by Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas) and SB 712 by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) are identical bills prohibiting the use of “aversive techniques,” which are described as techniques or interventions intended to inflict pain or emotional discomfort. This includes sprays, electric shocks, using a device to restrain all four extremities, and denial of the ability to use the restroom. Teacher organizations worked with the bill authors to ensure that this legislation would not prevent an educator from using a technique outlined in a student’s behavioral intervention plan (BIP) or from removing a student from class when necessary.

Regarding the removal of students, SB 2432 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) adds criminal harassment against a district employee to the list of conduct that will result in a student’s automatic removal from a classroom. This would mandate that a student who threatens a teacher or sends them harassing electronic communications is immediately removed from class. Another bill also by Sen. Taylor, SB 1451, states that negative action may not be taken against an educator solely on the basis that the teacher made disciplinary referrals or documented student misconduct. ATPE supported these bills.

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School Turnaround:

Lawmakers spent considerable time this session discussing ways to improve student performance at public schools that are struggling under the state’s accountability system. Finding a programmatic “fix” that will dramatically improve performance in a reasonably short period of time, and in particular, one that is capable of being replicated, has long been an elusive goal of state and local policymakers and many education reformers. The latest attempt is called the “Accelerated Campus Excellence” (ACE) approach. The program, which began in Dallas ISD and has spread to a handful of other districts mostly in the DFW metroplex, has shown some promise and caught the attention of lawmakers when it was discussed during interim hearings of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance last year.

In a nutshell, ACE consists of a robust set of wraparound services for students at a persistently struggling campus, along with salary incentives and additional training for the teachers at the campus. The program utilizes a campus reconstitution approach, where a principal, often new to the campus, assembles a team of educators, some of whom are already teaching at the campus but many of whom are new. Many aspects of ACE mirror initiatives that ATPE has long advocated, such as using financial incentives to entice high-quality, often more experienced, educators to work at hard-to-staff campuses; offering robust mentoring and professional development; and providing students with robust wraparound supports. Unfortunately, the high cost of both the educator stipends and the wraparound services has made the longer-term sustainability of an ACE program questionable.

Several bills this session included provisions that would add ACE program language to state law, including both the House and Senate versions of HB 3. Regrettably, most of the provisions included in such bills featured heavy reliance on students’ standardized test performance data, including the use of STAAR data, to select educators for ACE campuses; provisions that rank teachers competitively by district or statewide, again based largely on student performance; and giving the appointed commissioner of education extreme control over the programs and their approval.

Ultimately, the ACE provisions were removed from HB 3, the omnibus school finance bill. However, the legislature did also pass HB 4205 by Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland) which had been amended with language from another stand-alone ACE bill, SB 1412 by Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). HB 4205 as finally passed contains a watered down and unfunded provision that allows districts, subject to commissioner approval, to use a version of ACE as a turnaround plan for a multi-year IR campus under Section 39.105 of the Texas Education Code.

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Political Speech:

In addition to advancing pro-public education legislation, ATPE worked to stop proposals this session that would have hindered the ability of our schools, teachers, and students to receive the best education possible. Specifically, ATPE worked to block SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola). These bills would have had the combined effect of subjecting educators to extensive restrictions on political speech that go far beyond those that apply to any other group of public employees. Under these bills, teachers would have faced criminal penalties for all kinds of innocuous activities, including break room conversations of a political nature and teaching students about civic engagement as required by the Texas curriculum standards. Neither bill made it all the way through the legislative process.

ATPE also opposed SB 9, another controversial bill by Sen. Hughes that would have significantly increased the criminal penalties for mistakes made by voters, decreased voter privacy, and made voter registration more difficult. The Senate passed SB 9 on a party line vote, but the measure stalled in the House late in the session where it could not make it onto a calendar for floor consideration.

Another pair of bills that were of concern to some education groups were SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) and HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville), aimed at preventing public entities from hiring lobbyists or paying dues to associations that lobby the legislature. While it is difficult to speculate what impact those bills might have had on groups like ATPE that do not receive their dues dollars from public entities, there is no question that weakening the ability of local schools to communicate their needs to the legislature was one of the authors’ goals. Fortunately, a deluge of messages from public education supporters all over Texas helped convince legislators to reject the bill in a major late-session vote on the House floor on May 20.

It is widely believed that these bills were filed in response to pressure from certain anti-public education groups reacting to the overwhelming pro-public education sentiment expressed by many voters in the most recent elections. Some of these bills came perilously close to becoming law, and ongoing advocacy by educators during the legislative session was among the key determining factors in preventing them from making it to the governor’s desk.

Indeed, if there is a single takeaway for the education community following the 2019 legislative session, it is reinforcement of the fact that political participation by educators is essential for the defeat of anti-public education bills. Stated differently, the engagement of educators in every election cycle and through grassroots communications with their elected officials, especially during a legislative session, is what produces successful outcomes for public education. ATPE thanks all those who helped prioritize the needs of public schools, educators, and most importantly, students during this 86th legislative session.

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School finance commission discusses initial recommendations

School finance commission meeting Dec. 11, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin to discuss recommendations for the commission’s report, which is due to the legislature by the end of the month. The initial draft recommendations can be viewed here, and additional resources can be found here.

The draft report includes a recommendation that the 86th Texas Legislature “inject significant additional annual state revenue” through new strategic allotments and weights outlined in the commission’s report, including about $1.7 billion in specific areas. The report adds that for the purposes of new funding, members should note that an increase of $500 million in state funding is equal to a roughly 0.9 percent increase over the last budget biennium. This would be formula funding, targeted at the neediest studies, and tied to specific outcomes.

Commission Chair Scott Brister voiced reservations, suggesting that asking the legislature for significant additional funding is not the commission’s job. He later clarified that his chief opposition was to placing a dollar figure on additional funding. Several members pushed back, including House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who said he would not sign a report that does not call for additional school funding.

The report also calls for reallocating $5.34 billion in existing funds to more impactful spending and greater system-wide equity. The commission recommends significant investment to substantially increase third grade reading levels. Outcomes-based funding would be targeted toward early literacy and post-secondary access of career, military, or higher education without remediation.

The commission is recommending a high-quality teacher allotment, initially funded at $200 million, for districts wishing to offer differentiated compensation to pay their most effective educators higher salaries sooner in their career. This would be contingent on districts creating locally-developed, multi-measure evaluation and compensation systems based on an outline created by the legislature. This includes the state setting a goal that top teachers have a path to a $100,000 salary and incentivizing districts to assign top teachers to the most challenging campuses.

Finally, the draft report calls for statutorily increasing the basic allotment, though it does not specify a specific amount. It calls for increasing the yield on “copper pennies” and compressing the rate in order to provide tax relief, as well as reducing the role of recapture in the school finance system. The report makes no recommendations regarding special education, instead suggesting that the current corrective action plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education should be completed before any additional reforms are discussed.

Discussing the commission’s major findings, Brister acknowledged that schools are being asked to do more than ever before. This includes higher security standards and providing for the physical and mental well-being of students in addition to educating them. He then asked to strike language from the report that says the state has failed to adequately fund public education.

After breaking for lunch, the commission returned for more in-depth discussion on individual recommendations. Commission member Todd Williams of the Commit Partnership in Dallas pointed out that the teacher compensation portion of the plan (Section D) does not include specific funding for strategic staffing such as that implemented by the Dallas ISD ACE program, which is intended to incentivize top teachers to teach at the highest-need campuses. Williams argued the evaluation system and strategic staffing system should be treated as separate and funded accordingly.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) then laid out the recommendations from the working group he chaired on revenues. The group’s primary recommendation is to adopt Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to cap local property tax revenue growth. The plan suggests capping growth at 2.5 percent annually, and replacing revenue lost by school districts with state funding. The governor’s office does not specify how much this would cost or from where the replacement funding would come.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez presented a chart addressing the three plans endorsed by Bettencourt’s group, which suggests that the governor’s plan would reduce local maintenance and operations (M&O) tax collections by nearly $1 billion and increase school district revenue by $300 million in 2020 at a cost of roughly $1.3 billion. By 2023, the governor’s plan is projected to reduce M&O tax collection by $3.7 billion while increasing school district revenues by $74 million. Lopez pointed out that this is primarily a tax relief plan, as opposed to a school finance plan, which explains why future funding is projected to flatten out.

The commission discussed the level of emphasis that should be placed upon the governor’s revenue cap plan. Members pointed out the interrelation of property taxes and school finance, as well as the need to focus on the commission’s statutory charge, which is to fix the school finance system. The governor’s plan alone would not change the fundamental mechanics of the school finance system.

Sen. Bettencourt has argued that the state’s coffers will be flush heading into the next budget cycle based on tax revenue from booming oil and gas production, but the state comptroller has yet to release a formal biennial revenue estimate (BRE) with hard numbers upon which to base a budget. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who represents oil and gas-dependent west Texas, cautioned against relying on oil and gas as a reliable, long-term funding source. A combination of the governor’s plan and the commission’s recommendations for additional public education spending could add up to a price tag north of $5 billion for the upcoming budget biennium.

The commission is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, to vote on final recommendations. The commission is required by law to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

Finance commission group finalizes recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenue met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss recommendations to deliver to the full commission. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who leads the working group, indicated he is open to using the economic stabilization fund (ESF), which is commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund,” to help fund public education.

School finance commission working group meeting November 27, 2018.

Bettencourt opened the meeting suggesting that state revenues are looking bullish heading into the next budget biennium. Again, Sen. Bettencourt emphasized his priority is phasing out the “Robin Hood” system of wealth equalization through recapture. According to Bettencourt, freezing recapture would cost approximately $2.3 billion.

Before Bettencourt began his presentation, commission member and Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson told the group she had identified $14 billion in new programs to propose to the commission.

According to figures Bettencourt provided to the group, the state comptroller increased the revenue estimate for the next biennium to $110.2 billion in July 2018 from $104.9 billion in 2017, a $5.3 billion increase. During the first two months of fiscal year (FY) 2019, sales tax revenues, which represent 58 percent of all state tax collections, are expected to be up ten percent compared to FY 2018.

Bettencourt asserted two point upon which most agree: Without school finance reform, the state’s share of public education funding will continue to shrink, and the amount of funding districts pay into recapture for wealth equalization will continue to increase. Bettencourt emphasized his prediction that increased revenue in FY 2019 will provide additional general revenue (GR) which will be available to help fund schools.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, raised a question over how equity would be preserved if legislators make changes to or eliminate the recapture system. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who is also a member of the House Public Education Committee, also raised a concern that any increase in school funding will need to be sustainable.

Bettencourt presented the governor’s tax cap plan as the solution. The plan would increase funding for districts that increase teacher pay and improve student outcomes, however Rep. Bernal noted that outcomes-based funding threatens to reward districts that already have the resources necessary to improve while neglecting districts that have failed to improve precisely because they lack the necessary resources. The plan would also limit property tax revenue growth to 2.5 percent per year, which the plan promises to make up for with state funding.

Another proposal discussed by Bettencourt is one presented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a far-right pro-voucher organization, which would aim to eliminate all school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes. This would cost roughly $51.3 billion for the 2018-19 biennium. The TPPF proposal claims to be able to pay for itself by dedicating future increases in state revenues to public education, but Bettencourt conceded that this is an optimistic view.

Bettencourt also briefly discussed the idea of “sharing” recapture. In this plan, property value growth would be divided by thirds, and the benefits from the growth in property values would ostensibly be shared. Additionally, Bettencourt suggested using the increase in production severance taxes – largely due to oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin – to help fund public education. This funding stream currently already flows to public education and general revenue, with an overflow stream that is bifurcated between highway funding and the ESF. Despite the Senate’s opposition to spending ESF dollars in previous legislative sessions, Bettencourt indicated he’s now open to spending ESF money to help fund public education. Johnson argued that this represents a redirection of existing revenues and does not represent the new revenue necessary to improve school performance.

The working group voted to advance each of the proposals except the plan offered by TPPF to be considered by the full commission. Rep. King made the motion to table the TPPF plan, which he declared nonsensical. Several members expressed similar concerns. Closing the meeting, commission chair Scott Brister suggested that legislators should feel less constrained by court rulings enforcing equity. As a justice, Brister was a dissenting voice in the West Orange-Cove school finance ruling.

The full commission will meet Friday, again on December 5, and at least once more during the third week of December. The commission will get a chance to react to Tuesday’s recommendations and will arrive at a decision by the December 5 meeting on what the final report should look like. The following meeting will focus on what the report should say. The commission is required to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

Brister asked commission members to do their best to reach a unanimous consensus on recommendations, and said that in lieu of a minority report, individual members will be allowed to place letters in an appendix to the final report.

 

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.

 

 


School finance commission subcommittee approves expenditures plan

The Expenditures Subcommittee of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this week to lay out and vote on their recommendations back to the full commission. Based on both the recommendation and what the committee members had to say, it became clear that their primary goal is to drive dollars into increasing the basic allotment. They also have secondary goals of shifting funds out of programs not tied to educational programming and into programs designed to increase educational attainment for harder-to-teach students, particularly economically disadvantaged populations and English language learners.

The committee has not publicly released its report yet, but a summary breakdown of the recommendations can be found below. A video archive of the full subcommittee meeting, which lasted a little under an hour, is also available.

Group 1 – Reallocations of existing programs. This group represents approximately $5.3 billion to be spent on increasing existing initiatives and creating new initiatives.

  • Reallocate the Cost of Education Index (CEI) – $2.9 billion
  • Reallocate the 92-93 Hold Harmless – $30 million. This program only impacts 12 -20 school districts.
  • Reallocate the Ch. 41 Early Agreement Credit – $50 million. Eliminates a program that currently pays property wealthy districts to sign an annual contract by Sept. 1 agreeing to pay the state what they owe in recapture. The discount did not require districts to prepay or early pay.
  • Reallocate the Gifted and Talented (GT) allotment – $165 million. This recommendation eliminates the stand-alone allotment but does not eliminate other requirements to provide GT education from the Texas Education Code (TEC). Currently 99.9% of districts are at the 5% GT cap, meaning the same dollars can be more efficiently flowed out to schools through the basic allotment.
  • Reallocate the High School Allotment – $400 million.
  • Move from prior year to current year property values – $1.8 billion.

Group 2 – Increased spending on existing programs

  • Increase state compensatory education allotment from 0.2 to a spectrum that ranges from 0.225 and 0.275 as part of a tiered system that pays out higher amounts to campuses with more severely challenging populations. Currently, the recommendation is still based on free and reduced lunch but could use a more sensitive metric.
  • Change the transportation allotment to a millage-based approach at 0.83 cents per mile, to be set by appropriations.
  • Allow Ch. 41 districts to get compensated by the transportation allotment at a $60 million cost.
  • Fund the stand-alone small-size and mid-size district adjustment between $0 and $400 million outside the basic allotment, depending on where the basic allotment is set.
  • Increase the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA) to $100 million. This represents a $76 million increase over last session.
  • Expand Career and Technical Education (CTE) funding to include sixth through eighth grades – $20 million.

Group 3 – New programs

  • Create a dual language allotment of 0.15 at a cost of between $15 and $50 million. This new allotment would be in lieu of (not in addition to) the bilingual allotment; you can either get the bilingual allotment or the dual language allotment, but not both.
  • Create a dyslexia allotment of 0.1 – $100 million.
  • Create a Kindergarten through third grade ELL/economically disadvantaged allotment of 0.1 – $786 million. This money is not tied to outcomes and can be used to fund any program that seeks to improve reading and math on grade level by grade three, including paying for full day Pre-Kindergarten programs.
  • Create a grade three reading bonus of 0.4 – $400 million. This provides incentive money for students meeting grade level in reading on the 3rd grade standardized test.
  • Create a College, Career, and Military Readiness Bonus – no specific weight – $400 million. This is envisioned as a reallocation of the High School Allotment and is aimed to drive the state’s “60/30” goals.
  • Create a teacher compensation program – $100 million. This is the governor’s performance pay program. It is formula-based, not grant-based, and is not subject to appropriation. There will likely be no fiscal note for the program until year three, and it is envisioned to grow over time.
  • Fund an extended year summer pilot program – $50 million. This program is intended to reduce summer learning losses for disadvantaged students.

Additional changes recommended:

  • Change the guaranteed yield on the copper pennies from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the Basic Allotment. When the yield was set, the dollar amount used represented approximately 88% of the basic allotment. Now it is much less. Increasing the guaranteed yield increases state entitlement, which helps property poor districts and recapture districts.
  • Decouple the golden pennies from Austin ISD.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for reporting on future actions of the commission.

School finance commission talks property taxes

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Thursday morning in Austin to discuss the role of tax revenue in the school finance system. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by apologizing for comments about disabled children he made during a meeting of the working group on expenditures.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting April 5, 2018.

“I never suggested that any group of kids should be excluded from public funding or from being educated,” said Brister. State Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who chairs the Senate Education Committee, blamed the media for taking Brister’s comments about “slow” children out of context.

Brister followed by announcing that the working groups are not working as intended, specifically noting that attempts to hold meetings by teleconference have yielded less than stellar results. The chairman suggested members may instead call additional witnesses to the full commission’s May and June meetings and postpone working group recommendations to later in the year.

Additionally, Brister indicated what sort of recommendations he is seeking. Those recommendations include “how to get more with what you’ve got,” “all you can get from the taxpayers otherwise,” and how to address the concerns of those who argue still more funding is needed.

The chairman also offered a brief recap of suggestions submitted during public testimony last month. Those recommendations included raising the basic allotment for all students, increasing funding for gifted and talented and special needs students, funding pre-K, funding smaller class sizes, mentoring teachers, restoring additional state aid for tax relief (ASATR) funding, increasing teacher salaries and reducing health care costs for active and retired teachers, updating the cost of education index (CEI), and restoring state funding to at least 50 percent of the burden of paying for schools.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez was the first to testify, and outlined state sources of school revenue. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) argued for recapture, or “Robin Hood” taxes paid by local taxpayers, to be counted as state funding. House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston) pointed out that the state comptroller has consistently counted recapture as local funding. If recapture were counted as state funding, it would falsely inflate the percentage of school funding contributed by the state, which is currently around 38 percent.

The next panel featured a pair of representatives from the comptroller’s office. Texas does not have a statewide property tax, but it does have a statewide sales tax. Various sales taxes account for around two-thirds of all state revenue collections. Collections from the business franchise tax, which was initially created in order to help ease the property tax burden on homeowners, have steadily shrunk as lawmakers have chipped away at the tax over time. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked the comptroller’s office to prepare a report on education funding streams that have been cut by the legislature over the past ten years.

San Jose State University Professor Anette Nellen presented what an ideal tax system should consider, and her presentation led to a spirited conversation about whether the internet should be taxed. Nellen was followed by former chief revenue estimator James LeBas, who offered a summary of a book he wrote on tax law turning points. LeBas concluded that previous attempts to “buy down” local property taxes were thwarted by increases in property values, bond elections and other factors. He argued no such effort will be successful without continuously increasing funding, restricting local tax increases, or some combination of both.

The final panel involved testimony from several businesses, including Phillips 66, Texas Instruments and P. Terry’s Burger Stand. Business interests emphasized that taxes are a major consideration when it comes to where companies choose to locate and do business. A representative from the Texas Association of Builders testified that high property taxes are a hurdle to home ownership, however many homeowners choose where to buy based upon the quality of local schools. Patrick Terry, the founder and owner of P. Terry’s, testified that the rapid increase in property taxes is making it more difficult to provide discretionary benefits to employees and make charitable contributions to community organizations. More significantly, Terry suggested it is likely discouraging more entrepreneurs from entering the economy. Wayne Gerami, vice president at Austin Habitat for Humanity, suggested that some states utilize a “circuit breaker” provision, which caps an individual’s property tax burden at a certain percentage of their income.

Before adjourning, Brister confirmed that the reports from commission working groups will be delayed until September. The commission is scheduled to meet again on April 19.

Texas House committee begins school finance discussion

The House Public Education Committee met Tuesday to discuss school finance legislation, including the House’s priority school finance bill announced Monday by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston). Underscoring the issue’s importance to the House, Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) greeted committee members shortly before the hearing began.

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) expresses support to House Public Education Committee members taking up priority school finance legislation

Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) expresses support to House Public Education Committee members taking up priority school finance legislation

Unveiled Monday, House Bill 21 would be funded by a budget rider that would allow the basic allotment to be increased to $5,350 from $5,140 per student. The bill is anticipated to create new transportation funding at $125 per student through the basic allotment that would be open to recapture districts. HB 21 would roll both the high school allotment and the additional state aid for non-professional staff into the basic allotment. The bill would lower recapture by approximately $163 million in 2018 and $192 million in 2019, and create a hardship grant to assist districts that will lose money once ASATR expires. Additionally, HB 21 would add a 0.1 weight for students with dyslexia and repeal a hold harmless for districts identified as Chapter 41 in 1993. Model runs were posted Monday for 2018 and 2019.

With a fiscal note of $1.6 billion over the biennium, Huberty described the bill Tuesday as a “big lift.” If passed, it would mark the first time in decades that the Texas Legislature meaningfully addressed the school finance system without the threat of a court order.

Seven other bills were slated for hearing before HB 21. The first, HB 223 by state Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), would provide districts the option of providing childcare services or assistance with childcare expenses to students at risk of dropping out through the existing compensatory education allotment. Since the allotment provides a set amount of funding, the change would not fiscally impact the state.

HB 1245 by state Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio) would allow students to take CTE courses beginning in the eighth grade. By extending weighted funding to the middle school level from the high school level, the bill carries a fiscal note estimating expenses to the state of $39.7 million in 2018 and $50.6 million in 2019.

HB 395 by state Rep. Cecil Bell (R-Magnolia) would include technology applications courses, such as computer science, in weighted funding for CTE courses. The bill as filed carries a fiscal note of $21 million in 2018 and $23.7 million in 2019, but Bell suggested the committee substitute delaying implementation could result in no fiscal impact in 2018. Supporters testified the inclusion would eliminate confusion and provide districts slightly more room and flexibility in their budgeting.

HB 186 by vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) would order the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to conduct a study regarding the costs of educating educationally disadvantaged students and students of limited English proficiency. The study would determine whether the compensatory allotment and bilingual education allotment provide adequate funding to accomplish their intended purposes, and if not, how much additional funding is needed. Bernal argued Tuesday that the weights for each have not been adjusted since the 1980s, and achievement gaps remain between 18 percent and 27 percent.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill, citing research confirming the importance of investing adequate resources in order to achieve the best educational outcomes for both groups. ATPE expressed a desire to work with the committee to take steps toward increasing the weights this session.

HB 587 by state Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston) would create a new technology applications course allotment weighted at the same 1.35 multiplier as the CTE allotment. The bill is aimed to accomplish the same goal as HB 395 by Bell, and carries a similar fiscal note estimating a cost of $44.7 million over the biennium.

HB 883 by state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) would raise the adjusted basic allotment multiplier for CTE to 1.60 from 1.35. King explained funding has not caught up with expanded options for CTE courses and increasing technology expenses. According to the fiscal note, the change would cost the state an estimated $950 million over the biennium.

Huberty laid out HB 21 with a reference to the recent school finance lawsuit that reached the Texas Supreme Court, which upheld the current system despite heavily criticizing it. Regardless of the lawsuit, Huberty said, “Texans know that now is the time to help our students.”

After years of roughly splitting the cost of public education with local taxpayers, the state’s share of funding has dropped precipitously in recent years, and will sink to 39 percent in 2019 if nothing is done. Legislative budget writers have taken advantage of rising property values to decrease state spending. That means local taxpayers have shouldered an increasingly outsized share of the burden through increasingly burdensome property taxes.

Huberty explained HB 21 will reduce the need for higher property taxes and begin to reduce the amount of money taxpayers have to send away for recapture. The chairman described the hardship provision grant as a “glidepath” for districts that will lose ASATR funding. The grant would be capped at $100 million per school year for the state.

“We can’t fix the entire school finance system this year, but we can start trying,” Huberty said.

ATPE lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 21, emphasizing it is a “first step” in a more sweeping reform. ATPE advocated in favor of including language to study the weights, as well as increasing support for educators, particularly in terms of health care. ATPE recommended finding ways to increase funding for some of the larger statewide programs established in statute, such as pre-K and bilingual education, and cautioned against potential unintended consequences stemming from the changes to transportation funding.

After hearing several hours of testimony, Huberty notified the committee his intention to take the day’s recommendations under advisement and present a committee substitute at next week’s hearing, at which point HB 21 could be taken up for a vote.

The last bill of the day focused on extending ASATR. With ASATR scheduled to expire this year, HB 811 by King (R-Canadian) would extend ASATR through 2021 at an estimated cost of $402 million over the next two years. The funding would benefit some 160 school districts that continue to receive varying levels of funding, many of which warn of serious financial problems once the funding runs out.

All bills were left pending. The committee will resume discussion of school finance and other bills next Tuesday, when possible action is expected.

Huberty leads House committee in school finance talks, dismisses vouchers

The Texas House Public Education Committee met today, Feb. 28, to take up the weighty subject of school finance, which is a priority item for House leadership under Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). The lengthy hearing featured invited testimony from 24 witnesses, including state agencies, school districts and organizations focused on school finance.

Dan_Huberty_HD127_2016pic

Dan Huberty

To kick off the hearing, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) rattled off a number of statistics related to public education.

The state added 69,175 students in fiscal year 2016, and is projected to add 75,824 students in 2017 and another 81,796 students in 2018. Out of 320 charters awarded by the state, 176 remain active while 144 have closed. A total of 241,336 students are enrolled in charter schools and 228,774 are enrolled in private schools.

Of the state’s 1,024 public school districts, 241 paid recapture for 2015. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) estimates 229 will pay recapture for 2016, and the number is expected to increase to 264 by 2019. In fiscal year 2016, 249 districts received Additional State Aid for Tax Reduction (ASATR) at a cost of $340 million. If ASATR is allowed to remain in effect, TEA estimates 156 districts would receive payments in fiscal year 2018 at a cost of $200-250 million.

A total of 156 bills have been referred to the House Public Education Committee thus far this session, and the committee anticipates receiving another 131 bills that have been filed and are awaiting referral. The House budget, House Bill (HB) 1, includes $44 billion in all funds for the Foundation School Program (FSP) for fiscal year 2017-18, including a $1.5 billion increase in public education funding contingent upon school finance reform.

Huberty at Tribune interview 02-28-17Before presiding over today’s committee hearing, Chairman Huberty participated in an early morning discussion hosted by the Texas Tribune and sponsored in part by ATPE. There, Huberty told Texas Tribune executive director Evan Smith that school finance reform could take two to three sessions to complete. He also confirmed the Senate’s voucher proposals are dead in the House. Huberty pointed out that Texas already has robust “school choice” in the form of charters, magnet schools, public school transfers, and other options. The chairman emphasized that handing out public tax dollars to private ventures without any accountability is at odds with conservative principles.

Committee testimony began Tuesday afternoon with a brief rundown of the laws and legal decisions impacting public education funding. For example, the Cost of Education Index (CEI) has not been significantly changed since 1990. Of critical relevance to school finance discussions, the Texas Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax. TEA general counsel Von Byer testified that while the state can rely on local property taxes to help fund schools, it can’t set up a system where the state directly controls that property tax.

House leaders have wisely pointed out the see-saw relationship between state and local funding for schools. As the share of public education funding provided by the state has steadily declined over the years, local property taxes have risen in order to make up the difference. Chairman Huberty repeatedly pointed out that meaningful property tax relief is necessarily contingent upon the state taking the burden back from local districts.

The majority of testimony focused on districts representing a variety of financial challenges. The committee heard from Dallas ISD, which is about to enter recapture while facing a concurrent drop in enrollment. The state’s largest district, Houston ISD, faces a looming $160 million recapture payment, despite serving a historically impoverished student population. The district has already cut $40 million of that from classrooms, including cuts to teachers, tutoring programs, nurses, librarians, social workers, and counselors.

Houston ISD recommended the committee increase the basic allotment, count full-day pre-K students in weighted average daily attendance (WADA), restore the transportation allotment for all Chapter 41 districts, include the homestead exemption in the school funding formula, and allow districts a mechanism to reattach real property detached by TEA in order to meet wealth equalization requirements.

Austin ISD, which is scheduled to pay the state’s largest recapture payment of $536 million next year, noted that the state relies on district recapture payments to reduce its funding responsibility by $2 billion. As property values and inflationary costs increase, the state – not districts – benefits. Austin ISD suggested lawmakers tie property value increases to an increase in the basic allotment, update the CEI, allow Chapter 41 districts to receive the transportation allotment, include full-day pre-K in WADA, and increase the number of “golden pennies” of taxing capacity exempt from recapture available for local districts.

Other district administrators testified regarding the myriad issues facing public schools, including rapid growth that in many cases outpaces available facilities funding, growing populations of students with special needs and English Language Learners, and an increasing proportion of low-income students locked in generational poverty.

HPE02-28-17Representing fast-growth school districts, Denton ISD superintendent Jamie Wilson recommended increasing funding under the New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA), as well as options to provide more flexibility when it comes to setting local tax rates. The South Texas Association of Schools advised against structural changes to the school finance system, but encouraged lawmakers to allocate the additional $1.5 billion under HB 1 toward the basic allotment and commit to educational cost studies during the interim.

KIPP Public Charter Schools co-founder Mike Feinberg testified that public charter schools receive less per-pupil funding than traditional schools, which is often offset by fundraising, financing, or both. Feinberg fielded questions regarding student due process, the accuracy of much-touted wait list numbers, and the state’s liability for charters that have accessed bonds backed by public tax dollars. Huberty notably inquired how quickly charters would be able to expand if additional facilities funding were made available, and hinted at a role for future charters focused on special needs populations.

Gary VanDeaver

Gary VanDeaver

Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston) inquired several times as to the effect on state funding if a student who is new to Texas were to choose a charter school as opposed to a traditional public school. The question received varying answers, with witnesses noting that funding levels vary from district to district.

Among those working on an overall plan to simplify the system, Ray Freeman with the Equity Center outlined a proposal to stabilize and streamline funding through a single-sentence formula. Pursuant to a system overhaul, Freeman indicated lawmakers may desire a transition plan funded through a budget line item.

Vice-chairman Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) noted that as demographics shift and wealth inequality deepens, the “average student” of today looks different from that of years past. More than half of Texas students are Hispanic and 59 percent are economically disadvantaged. Considering these changes, Bernal suggested lawmakers may want to reassess some funding methods based on certain special populations in favor of reorienting the system as a whole.

The hearing concluded with testimony from organizations whose advocacy is not limited to the public education realm. Huberty sharply questioned a representative from the pro-voucher Texas Public Policy Foundation over why voucher supporters oppose any accountability for public tax dollars diverted to private institutions.

The committee will begin considering specific school finance-related legislation when it meets next Tuesday, March 7. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates.

House Public Education Committee convenes first meeting

HPE02-21-17

The House Public Education Committee met at the Texas State Capitol on Feb. 21, 2017. The committee heard invited testimony only.

The House Public Education Committee held its first meeting of the 2017 legislative session today, Feb. 21. Newly-appointed chair Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) began the hearing by appointing state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) chair of the Subcommittee on Educator Quality, where he is joined by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) as vice-chair and Reps. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), and Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston).

Chairman Huberty kicked off the hearing by noting the committee’s efforts to address school finance during the interim. After the Texas Supreme Court ruled the current system “lawful but awful,” according to Huberty, the committee spent much of 2016 working on fixes under the leadership of then-outgoing Public Education Committee chair Jimmie Don Aycock (R-Killeen) and Appropriations chair John Otto (R-Dayton).

Notably, Huberty vowed the committee would get to work on school finance early, and suggested the topic would be the focus of hearings during the next two to three weeks.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath briefed the committee on agency operations and priorities. The agency currently serves roughly 5.3 million students and oversees $56 billion in funds. About 348,000 teachers are employed across 8,685 campuses. Texas boasts an 88 percent high school graduation rate, despite serving a student body that is almost 60 percent economically disadvantaged.

Morath highlighted a brief list of priority initiatives, including an agency “lesson study” initiative – a professional development tool used to develop best approaches to individual Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) components – as well as high-quality pre-kindergarten, math innovation zones, and rolling out the “A through F” accountability system.

Chairman Huberty pressed the commissioner on several areas of recent interest, beginning with informal “caps” on special education enrollment unveiled by a Houston Chronicle investigation. Morath told the chairman the special education performance indicator at issue had “outlived its usefulness.” House Bill 363 filed this session by Huberty would require TEA to cease using the indicator. Morath assured the chair, “If for some reason it doesn’t pass, we’re going to do it anyway.”

Chairman Huberty also asked the commissioner about TEA’s interaction with testing vendor Educational Testing Service (ETS) over faulty STAAR tests. Morath said the agency has imposed financial penalties on ETS. Continuing on the testing subject, Huberty prodded Morath on efforts to shorten the STAAR test as required by Huberty’s House Bill 743 from the 2015 legislative session. Morath indicated the process of creating a shorter test has cost the agency more than anticipated, and teachers may not have been provided adequate practice time with testing changes.

In response to Huberty’s inquiry regarding Districts of Innovation (DOI), Commissioner Morath testified that 105 districts have applied for DOI status thus far. According to the commissioner, the most popular exemptions are from teacher certification requirements, the first day of instruction, and class-size limits.

With regard to charter schools, Morath told the committee the state currently hosts 178 public charter entities, which operate a total of 603 campuses and serve roughly 245,000 students – about five percent of the total student population. A total of 22 entities have had their charters revoked, and seven have been non-renewed.

Chairman Huberty pointed out the state has not reached the charter cap and is not in danger of doing so. Rep. VanDeaver, a former superintendent, noted that in districts forced to pay recapture such as Houston ISD, the state pays more to educate a student in a charter school than in a public school.

Finally, the committee received a briefing from Comal ISD Superintendent Andrew Kim, who chaired the Texas Commission on Next Generation Assessments and Accountability. The 15-member commission was convened as a result of House Bill 2804 in 2015, and delivered a report to the legislature in August 2016, which included nine final recommendations for new systems of student assessment and public school accountability. You can read the commission’s full report here.

Chairman Huberty concluded today’s hearing by announcing that the committee will begin school finance discussions at the next meeting. The committee will hear from school districts when it meets again next Tuesday, and school finance bills will be posted for hearing the following week. Once those bills are voted out, Huberty said the committee will take up accountability issues, including A through F.

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Rep. Dan Huberty

Related: House Public Education Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Huberty will be one of our legislative panelists for ATPE at the Capitol, our upcoming political involvement training event exclusively for ATPE members on March 5, 2017.

 

Senate Bill 1: The budget’s starting point

Background with money american hundred dollar billsThe Senate Finance Committee this week began a string of meetings to flesh out plans for a Texas state budget for the next two years. Following an organizational meeting on Monday, the committee began hearing testimony Tuesday on Article III of the budget, which includes public education. Both in her written statement and over and over again in comments during Monday’s and Tuesday’s hearings, committee chairwoman Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) called Senate Bill (SB) 1 a “starting point” from which the senators on the finance committee, and eventually the entire Senate, can work to produce the Senate’s eventual budget proposal.

So where did Chairwoman Nelson and her colleagues start?

On Monday, Nelson began by laying out a budget that spends roughly $3 billion less in general revenue than its predecessor over the last biennium (House Bill 1 of 2015) and $4-6 billion less than would be needed to maintain the level of services funded during the current biennium considering inflation and population growth. She also started lowering expectations by laying out a budget proposal that spends about a billion dollars less than the revenue the state is projected to bring in, according to the comptroller.

While the numbers were not promising, the chairwoman also started the process by announcing two work groups that would be tasked with proposing solutions for two of the state’s most pressing budgetary and policy trouble areas, school finance and the out-of-control cost of health care. The two areas of the budget that these issues impact account for more than 85 percent of the state’s discretionary budget.

On Tuesday, the actual work of going through the budget one agency at a time began. First up; Texas Education Agency (TEA), which includes the $42 billion Foundation School Program (FSP), followed by the Teacher’s Retirement System (TRS), and Texas’s schools for the visually impaired and the deaf.

Several members of the committee spent the majority of Tuesday morning trying to prove, while convincing no one, several points: (1) That the state is not under-funding education; (2) thet neither local property taxes nor recapture dollars have been spent outside of the education budget; and (3) that high property taxes and the disparity between significant increases in local revenue dedicated to education versus much smaller increases in state revenue going to education should be blamed on local tax assessors and school boards, not the legislature. The committee also heard from TEA staff about spending on the various projects administered by the agency outside the Foundation School Program. Many of these standalone programs are funded at levels below the current biennium, and several have been zeroed out completely in the base budget.

Tuesday afternoon, the committee heard from the Commissioner of Education and from executive directors of TRS, the Texas School for the Visually Impaired, and the Texas School for the Deaf. Each presented their exceptional items, budget requests above and beyond the agencies’ base budget needs. Brian Guthrie, the executive director of TRS, had the most challenging reception from the senators, several of whom would like to abandon Texas’s defined benefit pension system and replace it with a defined contribution 401(k)-style system that would both reduce state liability and result in increased profits for wealthy campaign donors. Ultimately, Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) redirected questioning away from the TRS pension trust fund, which is in reasonably good health, and toward the separate TRS-Care health insurance fund, which over the years has become unsustainable in its current form and will run out of money in the upcoming biennium without significant structural changes and increased funding.

After the committee concluded the testimony from the state agency heads, they heard public testimony, including from ATPE. In addition to a general plea for prioritizing education spending, we requested the committee’s consideration in three specific areas. First, we asked that the senate approve TEA’s full funding request of $236 million for the high quality pre-kindergarten grant created last session, for which the current draft of SB 1 provides only $150 million. Second, we asked that the legislature increase state funding for health insurance for active educators. The state has not increased its share of funding for TRS-ActiveCare since that program began in 2001, and funding that was once in line with what private employers provide is now far less than the private market and woefully inadequate. Finally, ATPE echoed much of the rest of the education community in requesting that additional school property tax revenue collected due to increased property values be used to increase the education budget instead of being used to replace state dollars that legislators want to spend elsewhere – in other words, the concepts of “supplement not supplant” and property tax transparency.

If this was the Senate’s starting point, what are the next steps?

Today, Jan. 27, the work group tasked with reimagining the school finance system will meet for the first of what will likely be several times. It is a joint meeting with the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). They will be taking invited testimony from several stakeholder and school finance experts. At some point in the coming weeks, the Article III (education) subcommittee will also meet and begin to negotiate potential changes from the base budget. The work of these two groups will eventually inform both the budget and a separate school finance bill that would then have to be negotiated with the House, before a final budget and possibly and school finance bill finally makes its way to the governor’s desk.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and atpe.org/advocacy for updates as the budget-writing process continues.