Tag Archives: safety

2020 Census: FAQs and coronavirus

Have you completed your 2020 Census questionnaire yet?

As of today, over 11 million people living in the United States completed their census questionnaire. An accurate census count is crucial to funding in Texas that supports infrastructure, public schools, healthcare, and other services. In this post, ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier shares answers to commonly asked questions about the census, including the impact of COVID-19 on this census collection.

I haven’t received my invitation in the mail yet. When will I get it?

Invitations are being sent out to 140 million U.S. households from March 12-20. About 5% of the country will be visited in-person by a census enumerator because mail is not delivered to physical addresses in those areas.

Can I take the census if I haven’t received my invitation?

Yes, you can! If you are home due to concerns with COVID-19 and have access to the internet, now is a great time to fill out your census questionnaire, and you don’t have to wait on the mail (or touch the mail).

How do I complete the census? Is it available in non-English languages?

The online portal at my2020census.gov is a secure website that will walk you through the census, even if you haven’t received your invitation in the mail yet. The online questionnaire is translatable into 13 different languages, and the Census Bureau also has guides in 59 non-English languages, including American Sign Language, Braille, and large print. Individuals also have the opportunity to fill out the paper-based census questionnaire, which in areas with limited internet will be mailed with the initial invitation. The Census Bureau will send out reminders during the summer to non-responders that will include a paid-postage envelope and a paper questionnaire. Individuals can also respond by phone.

How do I fill out the race, ethnicity, and origin questions on the census?

An individual’s answers to the race, ethnicity, and origin questions are based on how they self-identify. In the series of race/ethnicity/origin questions, the census will first ask about Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin and notes that these are not considered racial categories. Individuals who identify as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish will be required to also choose a racial category (White, Black or African American, etc.) and write-in an origin. This can be confusing for those who already stated their origin in the Hispanic/Latino/Spanish question. A good rule of thumb is to simply answer as you identify and to not worry about your answers being right or wrong.

Is there a citizenship question?

No, there is not a citizenship question on the census.

Is taking the census safe? Can the information I provide be used against me?

The Census Bureau is prohibited by law from releasing identifying information to any entity, including law enforcement. The online website is secure, but beware of scams. Make sure you are using the website that has the “.gov” address before starting the questionnaire.

How will COVID-19 impact the census collection?

The Census Bureau is actively monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and modifying its protocols as necessary. Currently, they are working on changes to cover some of the harder-to-count populations, since these often require in-person visits. Additionally, in-person visits to non-responders have been pushed later into April. According to news released today, field operations for the census have been suspended until April 1. As the situation develops, the Bureau will continue to make changes as necessary to protect the health of census workers and of the general public. The Bureau is urging everyone to take the census online, by mail, or by phone as early as possible.

For more information and a full list of FAQs about the census, please visit 2020census.gov. Also, don’t forget to check out texascounts.org for specific information regarding the census in Texas, as well as tool kits and other helpful resources.

Please also visit ATPE’s coronavirus FAQ and resource page for more information about COVID-19 and its impact on educators and education.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local decision-making

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elected officials respond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exploring legislators’ 2019 voting records on education: Part I

Last week on TeachtheVote.org, ATPE published a series of voting records for all Texas state lawmakers, analyzing their actions taken on significant education-related legislation. This blog post is Part I of a two-part feature on the record votes. Here, we’re taking a closer look at how the ATPE lobby team analyzed and chose the record votes that are featured on the legislators’ profiles.

Which bills are featured in the 2019 legislative voting records on Teach the Vote, and why were they chosen?

Without question, the most significant bill debated and ultimately passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year was House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood). This major school finance and public education reform bill, deemed the top priority of the session, resulted in $6.5 billion in increased funding for public education and $5 billion for property tax relief. ATPE’s lobbyists have written extensively about the omnibus bill here on our Teach the Vote blog, and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has also dedicated a set of online resources to helping Texans understand the many components of the bill. With its high profile, HB 3 figures prominently in the 2019 record votes compiled by ATPE. We’ve selected both the House’s and Senate’s votes on HB 3 on “third reading” as the first record vote featured in this year’s list for Teach the Vote.

There are also a few votes on floor amendments to HB 3 that made our list this year. On the House side, we’ve provided representatives’ votes on House Floor Amendment #15 to HB 3, which dealt with charter school transparency and efficiency. The amendment by Rep. Ernest Bailes (R-Shepherd), which passed and was incorporated into the House’s version of HB 3 but later stripped out by the Senate, requires charter schools to undergo an audit of their fiscal management. The Bailes amendment would have required such an audit to be conducted before a charter could expand or open new campuses, and it also called for charter schools to share the results of those audits publicly on their websites.

For senators, we similarly tracked their votes on three amendments to HB 3:

  • Senate Floor Amendment #8 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) attempted to remove from the Senate’s version of HB 3 a controversial merit pay program that ATPE and most of the education community opposed.
  • Senate Floor Amendment #30 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) also failed to pass but aimed to provide a guaranteed pay raise for all professional public school employees. While teacher pay was another high-profile issue debated throughout the 2019 legislative session, most discussions about pay raises at that point in the session had been limited to classroom teachers and librarians.
  • Also, Senate Floor Amendment #66 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) was an unsuccessful attempt to add language to the Senate’s version of HB 3 to ensure that state standardized tests were written at the appropriate grade level. Testing was also a subject of great importance to the education community during the legislative session, particularly after studies found that certain test questions on the STAAR test had been written at reading levels well above the grade level being tested. Although the Menendez floor amendment did not get approved by the Senate, another bill passed during the 2019 legislative session (HB 3906) requires a study of STAAR readability, and results of that study should be released beginning in December.

HB 3 ultimately included some additional funding for increasing educator compensation, but it was not the only bill pertaining to teacher pay that lawmakers debated in 2019. Early in the session, the Senate rallied behind Senate Bill (SB) 3 by Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), which Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) pledged would be one of the first bills passed by the full Senate in 2019. Although SB 3 was later rejected in favor of the alternative compensation-related language in HB 3, we’ve included the Senate’s third reading vote on SB 3 in our list of record votes due to its early significance.

ATPE also supported a stand-alone bill in 2019 that was designed to fund and strengthen mentoring programs for teachers. The House’s third reading vote on HB 102 by Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) made our list of record votes this year. HB 102 did not get heard in the Senate, but its language was later incorporated into HB 3.

Another piece of legislation related to educator quality produced one of the record votes published on Teach the Vote this year. The House voted to approve HB 1276 by Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) on third reading. HB 1276 was designed to prevent elementary grade students from being assigned for two consecutive school years to teachers who had less than one year of teaching experience or teachers who were not certified in the subject being taught as part of the foundation curriculum. Exceptions would have been provided under HB 1276 for new transfer students and for students whose parent or guardian consents to the non-compliant placement. Also, the bill would not have applied to school districts serving fewer than 5,000 students, those exempted under the District of Innovation (DOI) law, or those districts that received a hardship waiver from the commissioner of education. Unfortunately, this ATPE-supported bill did not get heard in the Senate.

School safety was another high priority issue debated during the 2019 legislative session. The key piece of legislation on keeping schools safe was SB 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), aimed at driving funding to implement school safety improvements and provide mental health resources. We’ve featured on our website the third reading vote taken on this bill in both the House and Senate chambers. Also on our list is the House’s treatment of House Floor Amendment #8 by Rep. Steve Allison (R-San Antonio) to SB 11, aimed at improving mental health support by requiring the state to identify regional resources that schools could use to address their students’ mental health needs. Legislators were considering a number of different measures pertaining to mental health resources in the context of the debate about school safety. Particularly in the House, some lawmakers were openly skeptical of efforts to link students with outside mental health professionals, worried about privacy concerns, and generally opposed to perceived government overreach. The controversy surrounding those issues had seemingly killed another high-priority bill aimed at addressing mental health earlier on the same evening that SB 11 was being debated. House leaders used Rep. Allison’s floor amendment as a vehicle for resurrecting the lost bill. Thus, Allison’s original amendment to SB 11 passed, was reconsidered, got amended to include language from the other mental health bill that had already been voted down, and then Floor Amendment #8 passed again. We provided data on both votes approving Floor Amendment #8 since there were some representatives who opted to change their position on the Allison amendment after it was expanded.

The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) also garnered attention during the 2019 session and was an ATPE legislative priority. Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston), which increased the contribution rates for the TRS pension fund. ATPE included the third reading votes on this bill taken by both the House and Senate among our record votes compilation. The legislature’s passage of SB 12 resulted in immediate actuarial solvency for the fund, which made it possible for TRS to issue a one-time 13th check to retirees in Sept. 2019. Read more about the TRS bill here.

Another ATPE legislative priority for 2019 was opposing vouchers and stopping the privatization of public schools in any form. Few voucher bills were considered this session, but the full Senate did take a vote on Sen. Taylor’s SB 1455, which we included on our list of record votes. The bill would have expanded full-time virtual schools and created a “virtual voucher.” Despite passing the Senate, SB 1455 did not make it out of a committee on the House side.

The House also took a record vote on HB 1133 by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford), which is included on our list. That bill produced one of the most dramatic debates but did not garner enough votes to pass the House. HB 1133 would have weakened the existing 22:1 cap on elementary school class sizes by moving to a campus-wide, grade-level average. Many ATPE members reached out to their legislators in opposition to this bill, which would have allowed class sizes in the lower grades to dramatically expand.

Finally, there are a few record votes on our list this year that pertain to efforts to restrict legislative advocacy by school districts or dissuade educators from being politically active. One such bill was SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), which the Senate voted to approve on third reading but the House left pending in committee. ATPE staunchly opposed SB 1569, which would have restricted educators’ First Amendment rights to engage in political speech, limited their ability to teach students about elections, and unreasonably subjected educators to criminal penalties. Another troubling bill was SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood), which tried to prohibit school districts and other local governmental entities from funding legislative advocacy efforts or paying membership dues to organizations that engage in legislative advocacy. SB 29 made our record votes list in two places. First, the Senate voted to approve the bill on third reading. Later, the House voted the bill down. Interestingly, the vote to defeat SB 29 on the House floor became even more significant after the legislative session ended, when certain Republican lawmakers who opposed the bill were seemingly targeted for retribution by their own party leadership in a taped discussion between House Speaker Dennis Bonnen and the head of the controversial dark money group, Empower Texans. The scandal resulted in Bonnen’s announcing that he would not seek re-election, opening the door for election of a new speaker when the 2021 legislative session convenes.

In any legislative session, there are limited votes taken on the record, offering relatively few options for us to showcase how individual legislators voted on education-related bills. However, we believe the votes listed above offer an informative glimpse into the treatment of public education by the 86th Texas Legislature, and we invite you to check out how your legislators voted by looking them up on our search page here on Teach the Vote. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for Part II of this blog feature where the ATPE lobbyists will explain more about the usefulness and limitations of record votes in general.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 8, 2019

Happy Election Week! Here are your highlights of this week’s education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ELECTION UPDATE: Thank you to all who voted in Tuesday’s general election!

All three special elections to fill vacated Texas House of Representatives seats are headed to runoffs. Additionally, of the 10 constitutional amendments on the ballot Tuesday, nine were approved by voters. Check out this election results post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins to learn more about how candidates and ballot measures fared on Nov. 5. Wiggins also has you covered on nationwide election news, including the recent exit from the presidential race of former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke. This just in: State Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass) announced late Friday he will not run for reelection in 2020. Nevarez chairs the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee. You can read more about his announcement in this post by the Texas Tribune.

In additional election-related news, our friends at TexasISD.com report that local voters passed 81 percent of the 63 school district bond elections held around the state during Tuesday’s election. When votes were tallied up, more than 93 percent of the total value sought by all districts statewide being approved. These high passage rates are a continued sign that the public overwhelmingly supports their local public schools and additional spending on those schools’ and students’ needs.

If you didn’t get the chance to vote this time, your next opportunity will be the primary election on March 3, 2020. The deadline to register to vote in the primary is Feb. 3, 2020. Check to see if you are registered to vote here. Need some inspiration? Read ATPE Lobbyist and former educator Andrea Chevalier’s voting story.


Do you have a couple of minutes to spare? The ATPE Governmental Relations team invites all ATPE members to take a short, three-question survey about the most recent legislative session and your education priorities. Help us best represent your voice at the Texas Capitol by taking our new “Your Voice” survey on ATPE’s Advocacy Central. You must be signed into the ATPE website as a member to participate in the survey, so call the ATPE Member Services department at (800) 777-2873 if you’ve forgotten your password.


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced on Wednesday plans for the state to take over management of Houston ISD and two rural school districts, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath cited two reasons for the takeover of Houston ISD: “failure of governance” and the consistent under-performance of Wheatley High School in the district. Houston ISD serves over 200,000 students. The takeover of all three school districts will entail replacement of each elected school board by a state-appointed Board of Managers and the appointment of a state conservator. Learn more in this reporting from the Texas Tribune.


This week the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center released a comprehensive analysis of targeted school violence. The report, focused on K-12 schools for the period of 2008 to 2017, details common trends among the school attacks. One significant finding was that, while there is no typical “profile” of a perpetrator, they do exhibit certain warning signs and traits. These include having been a victim of bullying, an adverse childhood experience, a mental health issue, access to firearms, and motive typically involving a grievance with classmates or school staff. Read a summary of the report from Education Week here, or read the full report here.

Back home in Texas, the House Select Committee on Mass Violence Prevention and Community Safety held its third public meeting this week. The hearing took place in Odessa, the site of one of the recent shooting attacks that garnered national attention. The committee heard several hours of testimony from local families and law enforcement, some of whom had lost loved ones in the Midland and Odessa shooting on Aug. 31, 2019. Testifiers pleaded for a more effective background check system and the integration of mental health information into the public safety system. Legislators and law enforcement officials discussed prevention strategies focused on more cohesive communication, such as a regional communications center. A recording of the hearing can be found here. Read more about the hearing from local CBS7 in Midland here.


Next week on Teach the Vote, we’ll be updating all state legislators’ profiles on our website to incorporate voting records from the 86th legislative session. ATPE’s lobbyists have analyzed all the education-related votes taken during the 2019 legislative session and selected a collection of recorded votes that will help Texans find out how their own lawmakers voted on major public education issues and ATPE’s legislative priorities. By sharing this information, we hope to help voters gain insight into legislative incumbents’ views on public education so that they can make informed decisions at the polls during the critical 2020 election cycle.

The candidate filing period opens this weekend for those seeking a place on the ballot in 2020. Once the candidate filing period ends, ATPE will be updating our Teach the Vote website to include profiles of all the candidates vying for seats in the Texas Legislature or State Board of Education. Stay tuned!


 

Breaking news: Gov. Abbott issues executive orders in response to shootings

In response to the recent El Paso and Odessa shootings, Gov. Greg Abbott today issued eight executive orders aimed at addressing public safety regarding gun violence. The executive orders are focused on tightening the alignment between reporting suspicious behavior and the actions taken by law enforcement officials in response to potential threats. Executive orders numbers five and six are likely to have the most impact on schools.

  • Order No. 1 Within thirty days of this order, the Texas Department of Public Safety shall develop standardized intake questions that can be used by all Texas law-enforcement agencies to better identify whether a person calling the agency has information that should be reported to the Texas Suspicious Activity Reporting Network.
  • Order No. 2 Within thirty days of this order, the Department of Public Safety shall develop clear guidance, based on the appropriate legal standard, for when and how Texas law-enforcement agencies should submit Suspicious Activity Reports.
  • Order No. 3 Within sixty days of this order, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement shall make training available to educate all law-enforcement officers regarding the standards that will be developed pursuant to Order No. 1 and Order No. 2.
  • Order No. 4 The Department of Public Safety shall create and conduct an initiative to raise public awareness and understanding of how Suspicious Activity Reports are used by law-enforcement agencies to identify potential mass shooters or terroristic threats, so that the general public and friends, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and classmates will be more likely to report information about potential gunmen.
  • Order No. 5 The Department of Public Safety shall work with the Texas Education Agency and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board on ways to better inform schools, students, staff, and families about the importance of Suspicious Activity Reports and how to initiate that process.
  • Order No. 6 The Department of Public Safety shall work with local law enforcement, mental-health professionals, school districts, and others to create multidisciplinary threat assessment teams for each of its regions, and when appropriate shall coordinate with federal partners.
  • Order No. 7 The Department of Public Safety, as well as the Office of the Governor, shall use all available resources to increase staff at all fusion centers in Texas for the purpose of better collecting and responding to Suspicious Activity Reports, and better monitoring and analyzing social media and other online forums, for potential threats.
  • Order No. 8 Beginning January 1, 2020, all future grant awards from the Office of the Governor to counties shall require a commitment that the county will report at least 90 percent of convictions within seven business days to the Criminal Justice Information System at the Department of Public Safety.  By January 1, 2021, such reporting must take place within five business days.

Before the 86th legislative session, Gov. Abbott declared school safety as an emergency item, which led to the passage of several bills on the topic. See our blog post on school safety, part of ATPE’s “New School Year, New Laws” series here on Teach the Vote, for more information on changes coming to school districts this year. For more information on the funding and policy decisions made over the last two years to address school safety, view the governor’s recently released report entitled “Improving School Safety in Texas”.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 26, 2019

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


This week Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) filed H.R. 3934, the “Equal Treatment of Public Servants Act of 2019.” The ETPSA aims to address unfair reductions to the Social Security benefits for many educators and other public employees under what is known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

While there are many similarities between this WEP replacement bill and a previous version of the ETPSA filed by Brady in the last congress, H.R. 3934 would produce a higher benefit payment for the majority of retirees, including those future retirees who are over the age of 20. For more details on the newly filed bill, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


Today, the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) is meeting to discuss several important items, including the adoption of changes to allow for the implementation of the EdTPA portfolio assessment pilot for teacher certification. The board is also discussing pending rule changes resulting from bills passed by the 86th Legislature, such as the repeal of the Master Teacher certificates within HB 3. Check the Teach the Vote blog later this weekend for a more detailed summary of the meeting by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


ELECTION UPDATE: November is right around the corner. Are you registered and ready to vote? This week the Secretary of State revealed the ballot order for constitutional amendments that voters will consider in November 2019, including one that pertains to education funding. Learn more about the proposed amendment, along with updates on campaign announcements for the 2020 primary elections in this new election update post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


In Washington, DC, the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs held a hearing on school safety on Thursday, July 25, 2019. The specific focus of yesterday’s hearing was on examining state and federal recommendations for enhancing school safety against targeted violence. The committee heard from four invited witnesses: Max Schachter and Tom Hoyer, who are both parents of children killed in the Parkland School shooting; Bob Gualtieri, Sheriff of Pinellas County, Florida; and Deborah Temkin, PH.D., Senior Program Area Director, Education Child Trends. Mr. Hoyer identified three areas where policymakers can impact school safety, particularly with regard to school shootings: securing the school campus, improving mental health screening and support programs, and supporting responsible firearms ownership. Committee members focused their questions and attention on the first two issues. Archived video of the hearing and the testimony of the individual witnesses can be found at the links above.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 12, 2019

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


On Tuesday, April 9, the Texas Senate passed its version of the state budget for the next two years. The Senate’s substitute version of House Bill (HB) 1 received unanimous approval from the upper chamber.

Like the House, the Senate set aside $2.7 billion in the budget bill for “tax relief,” although it is yet to be determined exactly how the money will be spent to achieve that goal. The Senate also dedicated $6.3 billion to public schools, $4 billion of which is reserved for a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise for all full-time teachers and librarians through Senate Bill (SB) 3. That leaves only $2.3 billion in the Senate’s bill to try to make changes to the larger school finance system.

The Senate’s budget proposal differs from the House’s plan, which delivers more than $6 billion to school districts with instructions to spend the first 25 percent of any increase in the basic allotment, or approximately $2.4 billion, on salary increases for all non-administrative staff. While amounts of such a pay raise, if passed, would vary from district to district, the House’s plan would average out roughly to about $1,300 per full-time employee.

Next, each chamber will appoint members to a conference committee that will work out the differences between the version of HB 1 that the Senate passed this week and the version of the bill that the House passed last month. For its part, the House has already appointed its five members of the critical budget conference committee: House Appropriations Chairman Rep. John Zerwas will chair the committee, joined by Reps. Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria, and Armando Walle. Once the Senate appoints its conferees, negotiators will have until the session ends in late May to reach an agreement. The budget is the only bill the Texas Legislature is constitutionally required to pass, so any failure to come to an agreement within the 140-day regular session would result in legislators being called back for a 30-day special session to finish the budget.

 


The state’s ongoing difficulty in providing resources for students with disabilities continues to make headlines. On Thursday, April 11, Representative Mary González (D – Clint) and Representative Morgan Meyer (R – Highland Park) held a press conference to address Texas’s consistent underfunding for students with disabilities and lack of compliance with federal spending requirements under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). ATPE and other stakeholder groups representing educators, students, and advocates for people with disabilities participated in the bipartisan press conference.

The state’s inadequate spending on students with special needs could cost Texas as much as $223 million in lost federal funding. Under the IDEA’s maintenance of financial support requirement, each state must spend at least as much on special education as it did in the previous year or face a financial penalty. Read more about the millions in penalties Texas faces here.

 


The Senate Education Committee convened twice this week to take action on bills pertaining to virtual schools and other miscellaneous items. The first meeting of the committee on Tuesday featured testimony about which entity should manage the Permanent School Fund and a discussion of school turnaround options. The committee also heard an ATPE-supported bill by the committee’s chairman, SB 1895 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), that would help educators receive professional development on blended learning.

Among the legislation voted out favorably by the committee on Tuesday were two bills pertaining to virtual schools, which ATPE opposed when they were heard by the committee the previous week. The committee advanced SB 2244 by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-McKinney), which prevents school districts from charging fees for virtual classes and makes it easier to enroll in virtual schools, and SB 1455 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), which also expands virtual schools. ATPE previously submitted written testimony opposing both bills and citing research that calls into question the quality and performance of existing virtual schools. The committee also voted out a number of other bills, including SB 1256 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) that cleans up portions of his educator misconduct bill passed last session.

For a full recap of Tuesday’s committee meeting, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

During the Senate committee’s second hearing on Thursday, the bills discussed were mostly unrelated to each other. ATPE supported bills including SB 426 by Sen. Eddie Lucio,. Jr. (D-Brownsville), which would ensure that counselors spend the majority of their time counselling students as opposed to being assigned other duties such as test monitoring. The committee also took action on some pending bills, including a major school safety bill. Chairman Taylor’s SB 11, which ATPE had also supported, received a favorable vote by the committee on Thursday. SB 11 follows up on recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security that met during the interim last year.

More information on the bills heard and acted upon during Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Education Committee can be found in this additional blog post from ATPE’s Mark Wiggins.

On Tuesday, April 16, the Senate Education Committee is slated to meet again and is expected to hear the House’s major school finance bill, HB 3. ATPE urges educators to contact their senators about this widely support bill and keep up the momentum for passing meaningful school finance reform and an educator pay raise this session.

 


The House Public Education committee held a marathon meeting on Tuesday, hearing 38 bills that mostly pertained to charter schools. Several of the bills were aimed at regulating the expansion of charter schools and how charter schools handle student discipline, eliciting hours of public testimony. Other bills heard on Tuesday included the ATPE-supported HB 228 by Rep. Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) that would create new eligibility standards for Districts of Innovation (DOI), and HB 1853 by Rep. Leo Pacheco (D-San Antonio), which would require charter schools to hire certified educators and protect the rights of educators. ATPE also provided neutral testimony on HB 3904 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), which is considered a clean-up bill for Huberty’s HB 22 that was passed last session.

Find more information on the bills considered and passed by the House Public Education committee in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee will meet again on Tuesday, April 16, where it will consider a diverse agenda, including some virtual schooling bills similar to those acted upon by the Senate committee this week. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and follow us on Twitter for updates.

 


ATPE is encouraging educators to contact their senators asking them to oppose two bills that would infringe on educators’ free speech rights and limit the ability to teach studentsSB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) and SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) both deal with “political advertising” laws and are aimed at limiting the ability of school district employees and school board members to talk about political content while they’re at school.

SB 1569 has been placed on the Senate Intent Calendar for next week, meaning that it could come up for a floor vote as early as Tuesday. SB 904 has not yet been placed on the Senate Intent calendar but may also appear there at any time. While the authors did make some changes to these two bills compared to their versions as filed, ATPE remains concerned about likely negative consequences of SB 1569 and SB 904 and the chilling effect they would have on educators. For additional information, check out this blog post about the bills. ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central for talking points and quick communication tools for reaching out to their senators.

 


State leaders continue to discuss school safety measures

The office of Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued a report today on school safety, specifically highlighting actions being taken by school districts to respond to growing concerns about violence in schools and related safety measures. The “School Safety Action Plan Summary” follows an earlier School and Firearm Safety Action Plan shared by the governor’s office earlier this year. The governor also convened a group of stakeholders back in July to discuss the issue, and ATPE’s state officers were invited to weigh in.

Among the safety measures noted in the governor’s summary report out today are training programs for educators, including the Mental Health First Aid course that is available at no cost to public school employees through their local mental health authorities. The eight-hour course for which educators can earn CPE credit focuses on identifying the signs and symptoms of mental health and substance abuse problems in students. Educators can learn more about the program here.

The governor’s report out today also highlights an increase in the number of school marshals, who are school employees trained and authorized to provide an armed response to violence incidents on a school campus. The school marshal program has existed since 2013 when the legislature passed House Bill 1009 by Rep. Jason Villalba, but relatively few school districts have opted into it. As ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter noted in this article for the Dallas Morning News, “Whether it’s due to a lack of knowledge of the programs available or a lack of will to implement them, school boards have clearly not made arming educators a priority.” Money is also an ongoing issue in the debate over keeping schools safe, as school districts that are already facing deficiencies in their revenue struggle to find ample cash to pay for additional training, make building updates, or provide mental health resources.

Read the governor’s latest School Safety Action Plan Summary here. Read ATPE’s associated press statement here.

SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich addresses school safety issues as part of a federal panel on Aug. 28, 2018.

On Tuesday, Texas State Board of Education chair Donna Bahorich was a panelist in a listening session for the Federal Commission on School Safety. The event held in Montgomery, Alabama, was part of a series of listening sessions held around the country with the goal of devising strategies to improve school safety.

Bahorich talked about the mental health aspect of curbing violence in schools, including the need to remove the stigmas associated with seeking mental health treatment. “We need to do a paradigm shift around mental health,” Bahorich told the panel before sharing statistics about the prevalence of mental illness among schoolchildren. She also mentioned the concerns over expecting school counselors to fulfill both a mental health treatment function and academic counseling responsibilities, noting that Texas has been discussing whether such roles should be bifurcated. The full listening session broadcast can be viewed here. (The segment featuring Bahorich begins at 1:25:25 during the broadcast.)

Expect school safety to remain a top issue for consideration during the 2019 legislative session. A Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security held hearings on the issue this year and released an interim report of its findings earlier this month. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this important issue.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: July 20, 2018

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


Shannon Holmes

This week included some big news for our central office. ATPE announced Hardin-Jefferson ISD Superintendent Dr. Shannon Holmes will take over the reins as our new ATPE executive director starting in September. Dr. Holmes was recommended by a search committee composed of ATPE stakeholders and was approved by a vote of the ATPE Board of Directors.

Dr. Holmes has led HJISD, a 4A school district based in Sour Lake in Southeast Texas, since 2005. He brings 20 years of experience with Texas public schools, a long history of involvement with public education organizations, a strong background in business and finance, and proven engagement with issues facing public education in Texas. He currently serves as chair of the 2018 Legislative Council for the University Interscholastic League (UIL) and has experience testifying before committees of the Texas Legislature.

We’re excited to welcome Dr. Holmes to the ATPE family! Please join us in making him feel at home. You can read more about Dr. Holmes in the official ATPE press release.


The Senate Select Committee on Violence in Schools and School Security met again Wednesday of this week at the Texas Capitol. This marked the third meeting of the committee formed by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the wake of the horrific shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The Texas House of Representatives has held similar hearings through its Public Education and Public Health committees. The agenda for Wednesday’s meeting was laid out as follows:

Examine the root cause of mass murder in schools including, but not limited to, risk factors such as mental health, substance use disorders, anger management, social isolation, the impact of high intensity media coverage — the so-called “glorification” of school shooters — to determine the effect on copy cat shootings, and the desensitization to violence resulting from video games, music, film, and social media. Recommend strategies to early identify and intercept high-risk students, as well as strategies to promote healthy school culture, including character education and community support initiatives.

Lawmakers heard plenty of calls for additional resources, such as counselors and psychologists, to address these issues. However the Senate in particular has a history of being resistant to initiatives that involve increasing state spending on schools. You can read a recap of the hearing by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann here.


A busy and successful ATPE Summit last week in Dallas didn’t slow down ATPE’s state officers, who were back to work Monday morning advocating for ways to keep campuses safe.

ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, State Secretary Tonja Gray, and State Treasurer Jimmy Lee were invited by the governor’s staff to participate in stakeholder meetings covering a range of topics pertaining to school safety.

This included feedback relating to law enforcement in schools, the marshal program, and students removed from traditional classrooms for disciplinary reasons. ATPE leaders were able to share their personal experiences with Gov. Greg Abbott’s staff and make suggestions for ways to maximize campus safety. Read more about their meeting in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

ATPE state officers offer input on school safety

The ATPE state officers were in Austin yesterday to offer input on Governor Greg Abbott’s School and Firearm Safety Action Plan. ATPE State President Carl Garner, State Vice President Byron Hildebrand, State Secretary Tonja Gray, and State Treasurer Jimmy Lee were invited by the governor’s staff to participate in stakeholder meetings covering a range of topics pertaining to school safety.

ATPE state officers (from left) Tonja Gray, Jimmy Lee, Carl Garner, and Byron Hildebrand at the Texas Capitol.

The meetings consisted of stakeholders representing a number of different industries, organizations, and interests. All were asked to share their perspectives as practitioners and experts in their respective fields. The discussion covered a broad array of topics dealing with school safety, including law enforcement in schools, the school marshal program, emergency response plans, campus security programs, mental health, students who disrupt the classroom, social media tactics, and training for educators and students.

Carl Garner shares feedback on the governor’s school safety plan.

ATPE leaders shared feedback from their perspectives as educators in the classroom. For example, Garner provided context with regard to students who are removed from the traditional classroom due to disciplinary reasons. When his school noticed that many of their alternative education program students became repeat offenders, they instituted support and intervention services that helped such students assimilate back into the traditional classroom. These students can be drawn to the structure of smaller classrooms and more individualized support that differs from many large, and sometimes overcrowded, classrooms. The supports on his campus are aimed at stopping the cycle and addressing the needs of these students to prevent ongoing behavioral issues or threats.

ATPE will continue to follow school safety developments and report on relevant information. At the 2018 ATPE Summit last week, the importance of this issue was solidified. The ATPE House of Delegates passed a main motion that reiterated ATPE members’ desire to remain advocates for their students and informed voices on the important and timely topic of school safety. We are committed to supporting those efforts.

The Governor’s Office will hold one additional school safety meeting on Wednesday. This meeting will focus on aspects of the governor’s plan that pertain to gun safety, background checks, and gun ownership.