Tag Archives: ruben cortez

Commissioner discusses COVID-19 issues at the June SBOE meeting

The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) is holding its June meeting this week. On Monday, the board heard over 12 hours of testimony from more than 250 people on the review of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for physical education and health TEKS. The board’s discussion of these TEKS was pushed to Tuesday’s meeting.

On Tuesday, the board began with an appearance by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, whose comments were primarily related to education issues stemming from the current coronavirus pandemic. Because Texas lacks end-of-year student learning data, Morath pointed to an outside study on the blended learning tool “Zearn,” which showed disparate outcomes in learning between students with different wealth measures. Morath did note that data will likely be released today on Texas public school student engagement, which was gathered by teachers in the spring. Morath stressed that we cannot allow the public health crisis to become an educational crisis and discussed transitioning from crisis-mode instructional support to instruction, in order to minimize learning loss.

As we previously reported here on Teach the Vote, Morath explained that the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has used its waiver authority to set up two new school finance mechanisms, which will allow districts to receive funding for either a synchronous or asynchronous remote instructional model next school year. In a later answer to a question by board member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-Converse), Morath explained that attendance (tied to schools’ ability to receive funding) in the asynchronous method of remote learning will be specifically determined through a district’s definition of progress and engagement, which must abide by an already established framework defined by TEA. Morath stressed that it is essential to get as many children back in school as possible and as quickly as possible, but the commissioner said he understands that it may not be safe for some children to return to school.

Morath stated that the risk of COVID-19 infection, transmission, and complications in children is much lower than for adults and expressed confidence that districts can implement enough strategies and protocols so that parents feel safe sending their kids to school. This appeared to leave some board members wondering, “What about the teachers?”

Board member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) later asked the commissioner to address how the agency is prepared to protect educators and deal with infected school employees who have to miss school or quarantine. Morath pointed to the agency’s provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as face shields, plus guidance the agency has provided to districts suggesting screening protocols and considerations for higher levels of distancing. Similarly, member Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) later asked Morath if there was going to be any state support for teachers who are pregnant or have asthma, to which Morath responded that it will be left up to school districts to address this issue, and TEA has provided them guidance regarding staff who fall into a high-risk category. Morath suggested that there would not be any additional state financial support for districts in dealing with this issue of accommodating staff around such COVID-19 concerns.

During his presentation, the commissioner commented on the financial situation facing Texas public schools. He stated that while negative downturns in the economy will impact tax revenue, Texas has not announced cuts to public education funding and does not plan to cut funding in the coming years. Morath explained that the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) fund created as part of the federal CARES Act will be used to execute the “hold harmless” provision for Average Daily Attendance (ADA) that the agency recently announced. This means that cuts to funding in the coming year will not be necessary, according to the commissioner. In addition to the ESSER funds, half a billion dollars will be allocated through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF), also part of the CARES Act, which will fund 75% of schools’ coronavirus-related expenses incurred during the 2019-20 school year. Morath said the state also plans to provide PPE to every school district, fund access to broadband and digital devices through Operation Connectivity, and offer the free, optional Texas Home Learning platform and resources for districts that do not already have a learning management system (LMS) in place. The commissioner added that 24% of Texas students needed paper learning resources this spring, which is likely why connectivity and access to devices are a large focus of how the state plans to spend its emergency funds provided by Congress.

When board member Davis asked the commissioner how racial equity would be addressed in his agency’s efforts, Morath referenced the increases in funding that resulted from the legislature’s passage of House Bill 3, Operation Connectivity, and the Texas Home Learning network. Similar to his previous positions, the commissioner suggested that each district is responsible for closing the gaps and that TEA can only provide robust resources within the limits of the agency’s own funding. Member Barbara Cargill (R-Conroe) asked Morath how the Texas Home Learning network was being vetted and what was being done to ensure that it will not become the next CSCOPE. Morath responded that the new home learning resources were meant to be extremely transparent and available to the public, but the commissioner added that he would like those resources eventually to be vetted by the SBOE .

Before taking questions, Morath also commented on the reading academy requirements included in House Bill 3, stating that all requirements are still on schedule. Reading academies will be offered mostly in a blended learning form. Providers may begin offering cohorts in July. More information on reading academies can be found here.

Board member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) asked about TEA’s future plans for administering the STAAR test. Morath answered with a long-winded explanation of why assessments are important for measuring learning for diagnostic purposes and emphasizing the correlation between STAAR test scores and future outcomes for students. To provide districts some flexibility, the commissioner stated that the agency has extended the testing window for the coming school year and that there will likely be future adjustments to the A-F accountability system to compensate for not being able to calculate growth. In response to a question by board member Georgina Pérez (D-El Paso), Morath said he isn’t sure if Texas will be requesting another testing waiver from the federal government in the upcoming academic year.

Lastly, Pérez asked the commissioner to comment on charter school expansion requests and if TEA could improve its process for notifying SBOE members of charter school expansion amendment requests. (ATPE was among a coalition of education groups that asked the commissioner to impose a moratorium on granting charter school expansion requests during the COVID-19 pandemic in order to save the state money.) Morath replied that expansion requests are being processed as normal. With regard to notice requirement, Morath did not have an answer.

The SBOE will continue to meet through Thursday of this week. Find the full agenda here.

For all information and guidance that TEA has provided to districts during the pandemic, visit the TEA COVID-19 Support page. Be sure also to check out ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources for frequently updated information for educators about issues related to COVID-19.

Texas election roundup: Last chance to vote early!

Friday, Feb. 28, is the last chance to vote early in the 2020 Texas primary elections, so make plans to vote before 7 pm Friday if you’d like to avoid the long lines we’re expecting to see on Election Day, March 3.

Our partners in the Texas Educators Vote coalition would like to remind you that by voting, you pick the people who decide how much to fund public schools; how much the state will rely on standardized testing; whether to use A-F ratings and how grades are determined; how much to fund teacher pay, healthcare, and retirement; and whether to invest in our schools or privatize them. You can be a voice at the polls for the over 5.4 million kids in Texas public schools, most of whom are not old enough to vote, model good citizenship for students, move Texas up from being last (or almost last) in voter turnout, strengthen democracy by being an engaged citizen, exert your power at the polls, and practice what you preach — if first grade students are learning the importance of voting, you should, too!

According to data from the Texas Secretary of State’s website, as of the fifth day of early voting, 322,541 Texans had voted in Texas’ top 10 counties for voter registrations. News outlets report that figure as an increase of 30.7% from the number who had voted by the fifth day of early voting in the 2016 primaries.

Statewide 1,394,488 Texans had cast a ballot by Feb 26, the eighth day of early voting, including 762,290 Republicans primary voters and 632,198 Democratic primary voters.  Texas election data researcher Derek Ryan found that, 20% of those who voted in the Democratic primary through day eight of early voting had voted in a previous general election but were likely voting in a primary for the first time. The share of likely first-time primary voters is greater than Democrats saw in 2018 (18%) and in 2016 (17%). In the Republican primary, 12% of early voters this year had voted in a general election but not in a recent primary. So far, slightly more men than women have voted in the Republican primary, while more women than men have voted in the Democratic primary this time around.

On Feb. 26, the Texas Tribune updated its “hot list” of the most competitive Texas primary races. There are 20 Texas House districts on the list, including five races that earned the distinction of being listed among the “hottest” races in the state. Those five are as follows:

  • In House District (HD) 2, the Republican primary features incumbent Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) being challenged by Bryan Slaton and Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins. Slaton challenged Rep. Flynn in the 2018 primary and nearly defeated him.
  • In HD 59, the Republican primary is between incumbent Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) and challengers Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. Rep. Sheffield, a physician, has been endorsed by pro-public education groups like Texas Parent PAC and received campaign contributions from a number of medical associations. Johnson has loaned his own campaign over $1 million as of his last ethics filing.
  • The crowded race to replace infamous Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), who is not running for re-election in HD 92, has contested primaries on both sides of the aisle. In what has become a closely watched swing district, both parties hope to put forth the candidate who will ultimately prevail in November. The Republican primary candidates are Jeff Cason, who also ran for the seat in 2018 and is one of relatively few candidates to be endorsed this year by Empower Texans; Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin, who received endorsements from Texas Parent PAC and Gov. Greg Abbott. The Democratic primary is a contest between Steve Riddell, who came close to toppling Stickland in 2018, and Jeff Whitfield, whom the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram endorsed. There are also two third-party candidates who will be on the ballot in November.
  • In the Republican primary in HD 132, former Rep. Mike Schofield faces Angelica Garcia. Each candidate is vying to unseat freshman Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) in November. Rep. Calanni defeated then-incumbent Schofield in 2018, flipping the seat from Republican to Democrat that year.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, newly elected Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston) is defending the seat she won just last month in a special election. Her primary challengers include Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. While Eastman is now the incumbent, former Rep. Jessica Farrar, who resigned from the seat after last session, is backing Morales Shaw. A Republican challenger who also ran in the special election will be on the ballot in November, too.

Also of note is the sole Texas Senate race to make the Texas Tribune‘s hot list. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a 30-year incumbent, is facing two challengers in the Democratic primary in Senate District 27. One is State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville)., who also received an endorsement from Texas Parent PAC, and the other is Brownsville lawyer Sara Stapleton Barrera.

A new presidential poll released this week by Public Policy Polling and commissioned by Progress Texas shows Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden tied at 24% as the top choice of Texas Democrats. Michael Bloomberg follows at 17%, with Elizabeth Warren at 14%, and Pete Buttigieg at 10%.

With early voting coming to close, ATPE encourages everyone to take a moment to research the races in their local districts and go vote!

Texas election roundup: Pro-public education endorsements

Early voting in the 2020 Texas primary elections begins next Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day. In Texas election news, a new wave of candidate endorsements that may be of interest to educators were announced this week.

Texas Parent PAC, which exclusively supports candidates who support public education, announced 10 primary election endorsements this week. These include House District (HD) 9 Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), HD 41 Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen), HD 59 Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), HD 60 candidate Dr. Glenn Rogers, HD 72 Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), HD 100 Rep. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), HD 119 candidate Jennifer Ramos, HD 127 Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), HD 128 candidate Robert Hoskins (R), and SD 27 candidate Ruben Cortez (D).

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing at least two candidates who are challenging incumbent legislators. Robert Hoskins is facing Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) in the House. Ruben Cortez, currently serving on the State Board of Education, is challenging Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) for a Senate seat. Both races have attracted media attention recently. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Hoskins has the support of nearly all the local officials in his suburban Houston district, while a handful of state representatives from other districts have been stumping for Cain. Meanwhile Sen. Lucio’s office was the site of protests this week by progressive activists who are unhappy with the senator’s voting record, as reported by KGBT.

The Austin American-Statesman endorsed Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) and Republican candidate Bud Wymore in the HD 45 Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. The newspaper also endorsed Jenny Roan Forgey for the Republican nomination in HD 47, which is held by Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), and recommended Jenai Aragona-Hales in the Republican primary for HD 49, a seat held by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin). While Hinojosa’s seat is safely Democratic, Zwiener and Goodwin both managed to flip seats in 2018 that were previously held by Republicans.

Earlier this week, new Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg), Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), and Anna Eastman (D-Houston) were sworn into office as new state representatives for House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. All three won special runoff elections in late January and are on the ballot in 2020 vying for a full term.

In federal election news, the Texas Tribune reported Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced plans to employ 24 staffers in Texas after strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all have staff working in Texas ahead of the March 3 primary on “Super Tuesday.”

With early voting just a few days away, it’s important to remember that elections are decided by who shows up! Check out the election-related resources from our coalition partners over at Texas Educators Vote, including text message reminders when an important election is coming up. You can also research candidates in your own local races here at Teach the Vote. Please make plans to vote next week, and encourage your family and friends to do the same!