Tag Archives: salaries

Early budget proposals include boosts for educators, classrooms

The Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate released their initial budget recommendations this week, and each includes significant additional funding for public education.

The proposals drafted by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) represent each chamber’s opening bid in budget negotiations for the 2020-21 fiscal biennium. The budget is the only bill the legislature is constitutionally required to pass within its 140-day session. If it fails to do so, lawmakers will be called back into one or more special sessions until a budget is passed.

The 2020-21 House budget proposal includes $7.1 billion in additional general revenue funds appropriated for public education, which represents a 17.2 percent increase over the 2018-2019 biennium. Looking at all funds, public education would see a $10.1 billion, 16.7 percent increase, under the House’s proposal.

The base budget is structured around sufficient funding to maintain services at the current level, and the additional funding comes from a single budget rider that appropriates an additional $9 billion contingent upon the 86th Texas Legislature enacting legislation to increase the state’s share of Foundation School Program (FSP) funding, enhancing district entitlement, reducing recapture, and providing local property tax relief.

Details of the House proposal are spelled out under Rider 77 (page 301 of the House budget):

77. Additional Foundation School Program Funds for Increasing the State Share, Enhancing School District Entitlement, Reducing Recapture, and Providing Tax Relief. It is the intent of the Eighty-Sixth Legislature to adopt comprehensive school finance legislation and provide local property tax relief. In addition to amounts appropriated above in Strategy A.1.1., FSP – Equalized Operations, and Strategy A.1.2., FSP – Equalized Facilities, $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2020 and $4.5 billion in fiscal year 2021 is appropriated out of the Foundation School Fund No. 193 to be used for the purposes specified in this rider.

The amounts appropriated in this rider are contingent on enactment of legislation supporting school districts and charter schools by increasing the state share of the Foundation School Program, enhancing district entitlement, reducing recapture, and providing local property tax relief, while maintaining an equitable system of school finance. Options may include, but are not limited to, increasing the Basic Allotment and providing additional funding for early childhood education, special education, and teacher compensation.

A portion of the amounts appropriated in this rider shall be used to provide local property tax relief. Funds shall be used to enable the compression of local maintenance and operations (M&O) property tax collections, pursuant to the provisions of the legislation, while ensuring school districts do not receive less total state and local funding through the FSP.

The $9.0 billion in Foundation School Fund No. 193 appropriated in this rider represents new state funding for school districts and charter schools above amounts estimated to fully fund current law. The $43.6 billion in current law appropriations provided above in Rider 3 includes the amount necessary to fully fund $2.4 billion in enrollment growth and $2.2 billion in additional state aid above 2018-19 funding levels associated with the increase under current law in the Guaranteed Yield associated with the Austin Independent School District in accordance with §41.002(a)(2) and §42.302(a-1)(1) of the Texas Education Code.

The Senate’s proposal would increase public education funding by $4.3 billion or 10.3 percent from general revenue, or $7 billion all funds — an 11.6 percent increase. This proposal includes an additional $3.7 billion to provide all teachers with a $5,000 raise effective at the start of the 2019-20 school year and $2.3 billion to reduce reliance on recapture. Senate Bill (SB) 3 filed Tuesday by state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) would authorize the pay raise, if passed. Lower bill numbers are generally reserved each session for high-priority bills.

The governor, lieutenant governor, and speaker have each declared increasing teacher pay a high priority this session. Due to the publicity surrounding teacher pay, ATPE expects several teacher compensation bills to be filed this session. Our governmental relations team will be analyzing each one to determine how it is structured with regard to who is eligible and the extent to which it includes stable, reliable, and long-term state funding.

Providing additional money for teacher compensation and public education funding were the main topics in Tuesday’s Inauguration Day speeches at the Texas Capitol. Educators should note that this shift in focus among the state’s leaders is a direct result of educators’ increased involvement in the 2018 primary and general elections. Teachers, parents, and public education supporters sent a strong message that Texans demand better school funding and teacher pay. Even in instances where the pro-public education candidate was not elected, the strong showing by public school advocates successfully forced many elected officials to reexamine their stance on public education issues.

Make no mistake, we are only at this point because educators voted, rallied, and lobbied legislators like never before. Educators must keep a close eye on lawmakers over the next five months to ensure they follow through on their promises. ATPE will be bringing you regular updates on legislative proceedings, including changes to these early drafts of the budget and various compensation bills, and educators should remain vigilant and ready to make your voices heard at a moment’s notice. Visit ATPE’s Advocacy Central to learn more and share your own views on school funding and educator compensation with your own elected officials.

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.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas teachers’ pay is average. But their pensions are among the lowest in the country.

By Alex Samuels, The Texas Tribune

Photo by Jacob Villanueva/iStock

Today’s Texplainer question was inspired by reader Tiffany Adair.

Hey, Texplainer: How do employment benefits for Texas educators compare to those in other states?

This question has been a point of contention between lawmakers and educators for many years. Texas teachers say they’re frustrated due to a lack of state funding for public education. But lawmakers say the uncertainty surrounding the budget makes it hard to allocate better benefits for educators.

If you look at the raw numbers, Texas ranked 27th in the nation for teacher pay in 2016, according to the National Education Association. On average, Texas teachers earned $51,890 — roughly $6,500 below the national average.

However, teachers have long argued that inadequate funding for public schools cuts into their salaries. During the 2008 fiscal year, the state covered roughly 48.5 percent of the cost of public education, according to the Legislative Budget Board. By the 2019 fiscal year, that figure will be closer to 38 percent. Over the same period, teacher salaries remained about the same [Texas teachers, on average, earned roughly $47,000 in 2008].

“One of the biggest costs to education are the teachers and other employees at a school district. That’s the biggest cost to the state,” said Clay Robison, a spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association. “When you start cutting education in Texas, you’re shortchanging teachers. We’re already behind the national average when it comes to teacher pay, and we’re getting further behind.”

But salaries aren’t the only component to consider when looking at how Texas teachers fare compared to their peers in other states, said Ed Allen with the American Federation of Teachers.

“When looking at a nationwide comparison, most people factor in the salaries. But when teachers get older, what’s being paid into retirement and the health insurance becomes a really big deal,” Allen said.

When it comes to health care benefits, advocates say Texas teachers are stuck in 2002. That’s when state lawmakers created the plan known as TRS-ActiveCare. The teacher health insurance program, which is run by the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, requires the state to contribute $75 per employee toward monthly health care premiums.

Nearly 430,000 public school teachers and retirees are covered under the plan, which is used by many of the state’s 1,200-plus school districts. Since the program went into effect, employees’ share of premiums have more than doubled, while the state’s contribution to teacher’s health care has remained the same.

“When your salary is barely going up year after year, health care costs are going up considerably and you’re not getting any additional money put toward those healthcare cost by your employer — which is the state in this case — then effectively you’re taking a year over year cut to your salary,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.

Under the TRS-ActiveCare program, districts are also required to put a minimum of $150 per employee per month toward health insurance premiums, with the option of contributing more. But Exter said that can be difficult for districts as education budgets are squeezed.

Joel Solomon, a senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, said it’s hard to compare Texas teacher health insurance programs to other states since the structure of such programs varies nationwide. But, he said, “when we look at educators’ health benefits around the country and how important … ensuring quality health benefits to educators are, what we see in Texas is deeply troubling.”

When it comes to retirement funding, a majority of states pay into both a pension plan and Social Security. Texas is in the minority of states that only pay into a pension fund and does not pay into Social Security for the majority of its teachers — which means most Texas teachers won’t have access to Social Security benefits when they retire. Fewer than 50 of the state’s districts participate in Social Security on their own.

Among states that only offer a pension plan for teachers, Texas is dead last when it comes to funding its pension programs — by a lot.

For years, Texas only paid 6 percent — the constitutional minimum — into the Teacher Retirement System. It now pays 6.8 percent, according to the National Association of State Retirement Administrators. And the Texas Constitution says the state’s contributions to pension funds can’t eclipse 10 percent without a constitutional amendment approved by voters.

“The next closest non-Social Security state had a retirement contribution rate at least double ours,” said Ann Fickel, the associate executive director of the Texas Classroom Teachers Association. The median contribution for the other 14 other states that don’t pay into Social Security for their teachers is around 18 percent, she added.

“As retirees’ costs rise, especially for medical care, there will be pressure on lawmakers to find a way to increase benefits for retired teachers,” Fickel said.

The bottom line: When it comes to teacher pay, Texas ranked 27th in the nation — right around the middle. But Texas is dead last in teacher retirement funding and puts a little more than the minimum into the Teacher Retirement System.

Disclosure: The Texas State Teachers, the Association Association of Texas Professional Educators and the Texas Classroom Teachers Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/04/20/texas-teachers-employee-benefits-dead-last-retirement-funding/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Your chance to talk to the school finance commission!

If you’re a regular Teach the Vote reader (as you should be!), you’ve probably been following our updates from the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Now’s your chance to participate!

The commission was created as part of HB 21, which passed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature. The bill was a consolation prize to public education supporters disappointed with the Texas Senate’s decision to kill a school finance reform bill containing $1.5 billion in additional public school funding for the 2018-2019 budget biennium.

The commission’s titular purpose is to discuss and make recommendations for how to improve the state’s “lawful but awful” school finance system. The first few meetings have focused on broad issues such as demographics, funding, educator retention, and charter schools. While some of the invited witnesses – including ATPE executive director Gary Godsey – have provided important perspectives, the commission has also served as a forum for outside actors with a financial interest in promoting vouchers and other schemes that would weaken the public school system.

Members of the public will now get the chance to address the 13-member commission at the upcoming March 19 meeting. This will likely be the only time educators, parents, students, and other community members will be allowed to speak their minds in front of this group.

The commission will present its recommendations to the governor and legislature at the end of the year. These recommendations may include everything from how much to pay teachers to how many students can be assigned to a single classroom, or whether taxpayer dollars should be transferred from the public school system to subsidize private school tuition. Details of the meeting are as follows:

Texas Commission on Public School Finance

Monday, March 19, 2018 – 9:00 a.m.

William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104

1701 N. Congress Avenue, Austin TX

The commission will hear from invited witnesses before opening testimony to members of the public. Public testimony will be limited to three minutes per person. A sign-up sheet will be posted on the commission’s webpage two days prior to the meeting. Sign-up sheets will also be available at the meeting. Those who are unable to attend the meeting can e-mail their comments to schoolfinancecommission@tea.texas.gov. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) will provide a livestream of the meeting that can be viewed here on Monday.

This meeting is expected to last well into the evening, but it is important that educators provide input. Consider that the state currently contributes just 38 percent of the cost for educating our students, down from a roughly 50-50 split a decade ago. As state lawmakers have gradually decreased the share the state chips in, school districts have been forced to increasingly rely on local property taxes to make up the difference. At the same time, some lawmakers are openly discussing ways to remove even more money from the system through vouchers and other forms of privatization. Here are some questions to think about when crafting your message if you plan to testify before the commission:

  1. What resources do you need to meet your students’ needs?
  2. What sorts of programs, benefits, or incentives would help attract and retain quality teachers?
  3. How would you explain the importance of making sure education dollars are spent on our public schools and not funneled out to private entities or used for other non-education purposes?
  4. Are you also a homeowner who pays property taxes? Increasing the state’s share of education funding to at least 50 percent would place less burden on school districts to raise local property taxes in order to keep their schools operating. How might this change help you as a taxpayer while also meeting the needs of our public schools?

There are plenty of resources available if you’d like to do your own research. You can search numerous articles here at Teach the Vote covering the entire universe of public education issues. You can also check out good primers such as this one by the Center for Public Policy Priorities. ATPE members who are considering testifying are also invited to contact our lobby team for any additional guidance.

We hope you take the time to stop by the meeting to testify or e-mail comments if you’re unable to make it. Let’s make sure our teacher voice is heard loud and clear!

 

ATPE testifies before school finance commission

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met this morning, Feb. 22, in Austin to consider another round of testimony, this time largely focused on teacher quality. Chairman Justice Scott Brister began the meeting by announcing subcommittee assignments.

Texas Commission on Public School Finance meeting, Feb. 22, 2018.

The Revenue Committee will be led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and include state Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), Nicole Conley Johnson, Elvira Reyna, and Justice Brister. The Expenditures Committee will be led by state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) and include state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), state Sen. Larry Taylor, State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), and Justice Brister. The Outcomes Committee will be led by Todd Williams and include state Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Dr. Doug Killian, Melissa Martin, and Sen. Taylor.

The first to testify was Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez, who presented information that $28.8 billion of combined state, local, and federal funding was spent on instruction in 2016, which comprised 47.7 percent of total education spending. Rep. Huberty, who chairs the House Public Education Committee, pointed out that when factoring in instructional materials and other classroom supports, the 47.7 percent figure does not accurately capture the percentage of funding spent directly on students in the classroom.

Rep. Bernal, who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, asked about the cost to the state that can be attributed to teacher turnover. Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson answered that each teacher who leaves her district costs between $7,000 and $12,000, which doesn’t even address the negative impact on students. Teacher turnover has been estimated to cost the nation $2.2 billion per year.

The commission heard next from Dr. Eric Hanushek, a professional paid witness who has made a living for decades testifying in court against efforts to increase and equalize school funding, as well as advocating for private school vouchers. Hanushek laid most of the blame for poor student performance at the feet of teachers, but argued against increasing teacher pay. Member Ellis contended that there is a strong statistical relationship between total school spending and results, and that how much is being spent is at least of equal importance as the manner in which the money is spent. Several other commission members, including Conley Johnson and Rep. Bernal, pushed back on Hanushek’s attempts to minimize the importance of adequate school funding.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojisa testified regarding his district’s efforts to implement a robust performance-based pay system. The Dallas system provides teachers significant tiered pay increases based on performance. Rep. Huberty lauded the concept, but raised questions about cost and affordability. Hinojosa conceded that the program is unsustainable going forward, and as such is being “recalibrated” in order to bring costs under control. Hinojosa also pointed out that public school districts offer many “school choice” options, which include magnet schools and district transfers. According to data presented by Todd Williams, who advises Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings on education policy, implementing Dallas ISD’s ACE program costs $1,295 per student, or roughly $800,000 per campus. The commission heard from several more witnesses describing various performance pay programs.

ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey and Lobbyist Monty Exter testify before the school finance commission.

ATPE executive director Gary Godsey testified before the commission, and began by stating the obvious: Texas schools need more money. Godsey informed the commission that teachers often experience low morale, difficult working conditions, and the feeling they are underappreciated. Teacher turnover costs Texas an estimated $500 million per year. Some initiatives, such as mentorship programs, could reduce turnover with a minimal impact on school budgets. Regarding pay, Godsey testified that teachers are very concerned about efforts to repeal the minimum salary schedule (MSS), which guarantees a minimum level of pay for educators that increases over time. In addition to other low-cost initiatives to reduce turnover, Godsey suggested modifying funding weights and tracking the distribution of teacher quality. Regarding performance pay programs, ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified that incentive pay must be complemented by adequate base pay and should not be tied solely to student test scores. Exter added that any incentive pay program must be financially viable in the long term in order to achieve buy-in from educators and administrators.

The final panel addressed prekindergarten programs, and witnesses emphasized the importance of pre-K in getting children prepared to learn and excel in elementary school. Witnesses testified that dollars invested in early education are dollars saved in remediation later on in a student’s educational career.

The commission is scheduled to meet next on March 7, followed by a March 19 meeting that will be open to comments from members of the public. Another meeting is scheduled for April 5.

From The Texas Tribune: Hey, Texplainer: Does the Texas lottery fully fund public education?

A Texas Lottery display in Austin on April 3, 2017. Photo by John Jordan

A Texas Lottery display in Austin on April 3, 2017.
Photo by John Jordan

Today’s Texplainer is inspired by a question from Texas Tribune reader Lynne Springer. Send us your questions about Texas politics and policy by emailing texplainer@texastribune.org or through texastribune.org/texplainer. 

Hey, Texplainer: The lottery is supposed to fund education — that was stated at the get-go. Why is lottery money being used for other things?

When they were trying to sell the lottery to voters more than 25 years ago, political candidates left many Texans with the impression that 100 percent of the money earned from the lottery would go toward education and that the lottery might generate enough money to pay for all public education.

Neither is true.

Through a constitutional amendment, voters approved the creation of the Texas Lottery in November 1991. Between 1992 and 1997, $4 million from lottery ticket sales and unclaimed prizes went toward the state’s general revenue fund — meaning it could be used for any state expense.

It wasn’t until after 1997 that Texas schools became a specific beneficiary of the money.

The breakdown of how that money is distributed now looks like this, according to the Texas Lottery Commission website:

  • 63 percent is paid to lottery winners
  • 27.1 percent funds Texas education through the Foundation School Fund
  • 5.4 percent goes toward retailer commissions
  • 4 percent goes to the lottery for administrative costs
  • The remainder, about 0.4 percent, funds the Veterans Assistance Program and other state programs

The commission announced in September 2016 that it had earned more than $5 billion in sales for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

“This is the first time in our history that we have generated more than $5 billion in sales,” Gary Grief, the lottery’s executive director, said in a news release. “We are excited to celebrate the extraordinary growth we have achieved and proud to make our largest contributions ever to both Texas public schools and veterans’ programs.”

Of that $5 billion, roughly $1.3 billion was allotted to the Foundation School Fund, which is administered by the Texas Education Agency. The money is used for expenses such as teacher salaries, bilingual education and special education. TEA officials said the Foundation School Program should be thought of “as a huge pot of money” with lottery revenue being just one contributor to the pot.

In 2015, the Legislature budgeted $48.4 billion in state funds for public education over two years, which included $2.4 billion that the lottery contributed to the state’s foundation school account.

According to the Texas Lottery’s website, the lottery has contributed $20 billion to the Foundation School Fund since 1997. But TEA officials say there’s no telling which Texas school districts receive lottery funding.

The bottom line: The money earned by the Texas Lottery has never been fully dedicated to Texas education. Since 1997, a percentage of lottery revenue has gone toward funding the state’s public schools, but not all of it.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2017/07/07/hey-texplainer-does-lottery-fully-fund-public-education/.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

About that proposed pay raise…

Falling US MoneyGov. Greg Abbott surprised many in the education community on Tuesday when he stated what is old hat for us, but seldom admitted by fiscal hawks: “Teacher pay is too low.”

The governor followed that with a call to add a $1,000 teacher pay raise to this summer’s special session.

Fantastic!

Only the state is not going to pay for it.

In fact, the governor claimed such a raise “can easily be achieved by passing laws that reprioritize how schools spend money, and we can do that without taxpayers spending a penny more.” In other words: An unfunded mandate.

Well, at least we can appreciate the sentiment. Or perhaps we could, had the governor not followed that empty promise with a more disturbing one: To pass a laundry list of bills aimed at stripping teachers of their rights and redirecting even more resources from Texas school children – at a time when schools and teachers are being asked to do more with less.

Let’s quickly recap how lawmakers spent our money in this most recent legislative session.

Despite ATPE-supported attempts by leaders in the Texas House of Representatives to increase public education funding across the board, the final budget negotiated with the Senate actually decreased the overall amount of state spending on public schools by about $1.1 billion, forcing districts to rely on rising local property tax collections just to maintain current funding levels. The decision by Senate leadership to scuttle the House’s school finance legislation also means some schools are likely to close as existing funding streams expire.

Within this budget, Gov. Greg Abbott requested that lawmakers designate $236 million for “high-quality” pre-K programs, without providing any additional money to do so. This will basically force districts to cut money from other parts of their own budgets; whether that means from teacher payroll, band instruments, or football pads, it will be up to districts to decide. Now the governor has proposed using the same approach to generate a raise of $1,000 for teachers over the course of a year.

The state’s underfunding of public education has already had a pretty devastating effect on teachers’ healthcare. While ATPE effectively advocated for increased funding for TRS-Care, lawmakers chose to only increase that funding enough to avoid shutting the system down completely. The result is a restructured TRS-Care plan that reduces benefits and raises premiums. Lawmakers’ decision not to provide adequate funding will also result in an average rate increase of 8.1 percent for those enrolled in TRS-ActiveCare plans.

Let’s not forget that this is the same budget that found $800 million to spend on border security, despite President Trump’s promises to ramp up federal involvement along the Rio Grande.

Now Gov. Abbott intends to hold a 30-day special session at a cost of around $1 million in taxpayer money to pass a long list of bills that were either unnecessary or too controversial to pass during the previous five months of the regular session. This includes legislation that would make it easier for districts to fire teachers, plus the anti-teacher payroll deduction legislation and private school vouchers for students with special needs.

ATPE has fought and continues to fight for educators to be paid what they deserve. That means a pay raise that is fully funded by the state legislature. Without any funding for the governor’s offer to raise teacher pay – and with that offer having been waved in front of a grab bag of other offensive legislation – we cannot help but feel trepidation about his proposal.

17_web_Spotlight_AdvocacyCentral_1Now more than ever, Texas educators must be vigilant. We now know that this special session is shaping up to be an all-out assault on teachers and public education by the governor and lieutenant governor. We urge ATPE members to be active through ATPE’s Advocacy Central and let your legislators know you will stand up for your rights and those of your students.

Press release: ATPE weighs in on completion of 84th legislative session

Today, ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey issued the following remarks to the media about the end of the 84th regular legislative session:

“For the education community, legislative sessions in Texas–at least in recent years–are when we find ourselves defending the great work that is being done in our schools and fighting off harmful attempts to deregulate and defund the programs that help students, devalue the education profession, and detour state resources for the benefit of private entities and vendors. The 84th was no exception, with some in the legislature choosing to focus their energy on pushing forward vouchers, proposals to convert public schools to privately managed charters with little accountability to local parents and voters, bills lowering the minimum wage for teachers, and vindictive attempts to pass a payroll deduction ban with no public benefit aimed only at discouraging educators from being politically active.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at the capitol. We were able to defeat harmful legislation while making progress in areas of genuine need for public education. We helped pass bills to further reduce the emphasis on standardized tests and the high stakes those tests have imposed on our students and staff; we enhanced the funding and quality of early education; we secured additional money to help cover retired educators’ rising healthcare costs; and we prioritized students’ well-being through nutritional support programs, suicide prevention, and a host of other health and safety measures.

It was not a perfect session for public education. The legislature failed to address our broken school finance system, left billions of dollars on the table that could have been used to shore up underfunded schools, and made a few changes we hoped to avoid, such as moving to a system of labeling schools with ‘A through F’ grades. However, we believe those choices will eventually be corrected, and in the meantime, we are thankful for the lawmakers and legislative leaders who stood up for public education. In a session that had the potential to fling public education backward, the small steps forward that were taken have enormous significance.

Despite the attempts of some to use politics to drown out the voices of pro-public education voters, ATPE believes that the majority of the members of the 84th Legislature acted in the best interest of their districts’ schools, students, and school staffs. We are grateful for their dedication to our cause and the progress that was made.”

Download ATPE’s June 2 press release here.

Legislative Update: Senate committee tackles teacher pay and pre-K, graduation bill heads to governor’s desk, anti-suicide bill gains support

Today the Senate Education Committee is hearing House Bill (HB) 4 by Rep. Dan Huberty, a bill to increase funding to pre-kindergarten programs that implement certain quality control measures. ATPE supports HB 4, which Chairman Larry Taylor (R) says he expects the committee to vote on later today. The bill represents one of Gov. Greg Abbott’s legislative priorities but has been at the center of recent tensions among state leaders after a panel advising Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) blasted the bill and referred to public schools as “Godless.” (For related content, check out this week’s op-ed in the Austin American-Statesman by Charles Johnson of Pastors for Texas Children responding to the group’s remarks about the pre-K bill and criticizing the Senate’s passage of several “bills designed specifically to demoralize teachers.”)

The Senate committee will also hear Senate Bill (SB) 1303 by Sen. Jose Menendez (D), a bill calling for teachers to receive a $4,000 pay raise. Read ATPE’s press statement in support of SB 1303. Teacher salaries have been a hot topic for debate this session, as two high-profile bills to do away with the state minimum salary schedule for teachers are languishing over on the House side.

Other bills on today’s Senate Education Committee agenda include SB 625 by Sen. Chuy Hinojosa (D) on prohibiting the use of tasers against public school students, SB 1004 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R) regarding certain dual-credit courses offered by junior colleges in the Harris County area, and SB 1058 also by Sen. Hinojosa on superintendents’ requirement to report information about educators in their districts who engage in certain misconduct. The committee may vote out other bills that are pending and have already been heard when it reconvenes later today.


Following a motorcycle accident that necessitated surgery, Sen. Kel Seliger (R) returned to the Senate this week in time to see his SB 149 sent on its way to the governor’s desk. The bill allows for the creation of individual graduation committees to determine if certain students should graduate high school despite having failed a mandatory STAAR test. The Senate voted yesterday, April 29, to concur in amendments added to the bill by the House of Representatives. The final Senate vote on the ATPE-supported bill was 29 to 2, with Sens. Kelly Hancock (R) and Charles Schwertner (R) voting against the motion. SB 149 now awaits the governor’s signature.


A bill to do away with educators’ ability to use payroll deduction to pay dues to educator associations and for other conveniences remained on the Senate’s calendar, but did not get called up for a floor debate today. The bill is SB 1968 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R). Additionally, Sen. Larry Taylor’s virtual voucher bill, SB 894, was placed on the Senate Intent Calendar earlier this week but then removed. Senators appear to be having second thoughts about the bill’s hefty fiscal note and lack of accountability measures. ATPE has opposed both measures.


The House Public Education Committee held another nine-hour meeting on Tuesday, April 28, during which numerous bills were put to a vote. The committee heard lengthy debate on SB 6 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), the bill calling for “A through F” accountability grades to be assigned to public school campuses in lieu of existing accountability ratings. Most education groups offered testimony against the bill, including ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter who described SB 6 as worthless and emphasized the need to “dig down deeper than the indices” to make real changes to the accountability system before merely tinkering with labels. He added that “oversimplification in the name of transparency” would be “unproductive” for public school students. Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) surprised some members of the committee by announcing that he was incorporating the “A through F” campus ratings into his accountability overhaul, HB 2804, which the committee then voted out favorably on a 7 to 4 vote. Aycock was later quoted as saying, “I’m personally willing to swallow ‘A through F’ if we get a better accountability system out of it.”

The committee also approved a duo of controversial bills that ATPE and similar education groups opposed based on concerns about privatizing the management of public schools and exempting them from state education laws. One bill is HB 1536 by Rep. Harold Dutton (D) calling for the establishment of a statewide Opportunity School District for low-performing schools, which passed on a vote of 9 to 2. The other bill is a substitute version of HB 1798 by Rep. Joe Deshotel (D) relating to local control school districts. Deshotel’s bill changes the existing home rule charter district law to make it easier for districts to opt out of state regulations; HB 1798 made it out of committee on a vote of 8 to 3.

Here are some of the other bills that got a nod of approval from the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday evening:

  • HB 18 by Chairman Aycock relating to college and career readiness training for certain public school counselors.
  • CSHB 1300 by Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R) relating to the required qualifications of persons admitted to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 1842 by Chairman Aycock relating to the assessment of intervention in and sanction of a public school that does not satisfy accreditation criteria.
  • CSHB 2205 by Rep. Myra Crownover (R) relating to educator preparation programs, including the appointment of a member of the State Board for Educator Certification with experience and knowledge of alternative educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 2566 by Rep. Gary VanDeaver (R) relating to educator preparation programs.
  • CSHB 3347 by Chairman Aycock relating to revocation of a charter for an open-enrollment charter school and procedures for the disposition of property owned by a charter school after revocation or surrender of a charter.
  • CSHB 3987 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) relating to programs in public schools designed to facilitate planning and saving for higher education and facilitate personal financial literacy instruction.

The House Public Education committee also heard but left pending HB 4047 by Rep. Alma Allen (D), a bill that ATPE requested to ensure that charter school employees retain the right to participate in political activities and join educator associations, if they choose.


Childers Senate Ed 04-28-15Also on Tuesday of this week, the Senate Education Committee heard SB 1169 by Sen. Donna Campbell (R) relating to suicide prevention training for educators. The bill is very similar to HB 2186, which ATPE urged Rep. Byron Cook to file on behalf of our member, Coach Kevin Childers, who lost his son Jonathan to suicide two years ago. The Childers family was on hand Tuesday to testify in support of SB 1169, which the committee passed on a vote of 6 to zero.

The Senate Education Committee also voted to send to the floor SB 507 by Sen. Eddie Lucio (D). The controversial bill would require schools to video-tape classrooms upon the request of a parent of a student with special needs. Video would have to be kept on file by the school district for at least a year, and the bill would cost millions to be implemented statewide. It is worth noting that school districts already have the ability to videotape classroom  interactions, and several of them already do so.


Ina_MinjarezFinally, ATPE congratulates Rep. Ina Minjarez, who was officially sworn in this afternoon as a member of the Texas House of Representatives. Following a string of special elections, today’s ceremony marks the first time this session that the 84th Legislature has been full. San Antonio’s Minjarez won a special election to fill the unexpired term of former representative and now Sen. Jose Menendez, who gave up his HD 124 House seat in order to run for the Senate.

The latest on teacher salary bills: ATPE refutes claims by reform group and urges opposition

ATPE recently sent communications to all legislators to refute misleading claims made by a politically-connected reform group about bills that would eliminate the state’s minimum salary schedule for teachers. SB 893 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo) and HB 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R-Georgetown) are both pending in the Texas House. SB 893 passed the full Senate but has not yet been heard by a House committee. HB 2543 was heard by the House Public Education Committee but has so far been left pending, thanks to growing opposition to the bill.

Texans for Education Reform (TER) has been the main entity pushing for passage of these two pieces of legislation, along with several other bills that are part of a divisive reform package favored by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). In addition to fighting for SB 893 and HB 2543 to change teacher pay and evaluations, TER’s legislative agenda includes other bills that ATPE has opposed calling for “A through F” grading of public school campuses (SB 6 and its House companion bills, HB 2109 and HB 2176); expanding and speeding up parent trigger laws making public schools more susceptible to private management (SB 14 and HB 1727); amending the state’s home rule charter district laws to facilitate creation of less regulated “local control school districts” (SB 1012 and HB 1798); creating a statewide Opportunity School District subject to private alternative management for the state’s lowest performing schools (SB 895HB 1536, and SB 669); and spending state money to expand home-schooled and private school students’ access to the state’s Virtual School Network (SB 894).

With so many in the education community opposing these bills, you may wonder who is behind the effort to take away educators’ rights, eliminate quality control measures for schools, and open the door for privatization and vouchers. TER was formed by a group of wealthy business leaders previously involved in tort reform efforts, and its founders include former Sen. Florence Shapiro, who joined the group upon her retirement from the Texas Legislature and her chairmanship of the Senate Education Committee. For the current legislative session, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, TER has employed 22 lobbyists at a reported cost of between $830,000 to more than $1.6 million to help advance its controversial legislative agenda.

While TER’s legislative package has enjoyed support in Texas’s ultra-conservative Senate under Patrick’s leadership, the TER-backed bills have faced stiffer opposition in the House, leading to more aggressive lobbying efforts by the reform group. In an April 14th press release that was widely disseminated, TER claimed that SB 893 and HB 2543 would do nothing to impact the minimum salary schedule and would not lead to appraisals incorporating STAAR test results. ATPE sent a response to legislators pointing out the fallacies of the TER claims and highlighting specific sections of the bills that call for repealing teachers’ portion of the minimum salary schedule and creating a state-mandated framework for personnel decisions based in large part on student performance data.

Read ATPE’s message to legislators on “The Truth about SB 893 and HB 2543.”

ATPE urges members to keep calling their state representatives about these bills, which would facilitate district-level pay cuts for many experienced educators, remove important salary protections in state law that drive teacher retention, and do irreversible harm to teachers’ morale, leading many high-quality, veteran educators to consider retiring early from the profession. Visit our Officeholders page to find out who represents you in the Texas House, or click here to access contact information for all 150 state representatives.