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From The Texas Tribune: Three Texas school districts face state penalties after 2019 A-F grades released

Three Texas school districts face state penalties after 2019 A-F grades released” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

San Antonio ISD’s Ogden Academy failed to meet academic standards but has a temporary reprieve from state penalties. Photo by Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Three Texas school districts — including the state’s largest — will likely be forced to shut down their chronically underperforming schools or submit to state takeover, based on annual state ratings released Thursday morning.

Houston ISD, Shepherd ISD and Snyder ISD all have at least one school that failed state ratings for five or more years in a row, subjecting them to bruising state penalties created in 2015. School superintendents will be allowed to appeal their ratings by mid-September, and final decisions will be out by the end of the year.

While Houston ISD’s Kashmere High School, the state’s longest-underperforming school, soared from an F to a C this year, Wheatley High School failed to meet state academic standards for the seventh year in a row.

This is the second year that Texas has awarded letter grades to school districts and the first year for schools, replacing a previous pass/fail system. (Schools last year received numeric scores that could easily be translated into grades.) The grades are intended to represent students’ academic performance, based on standardized test scores and other factors such as graduation rates.

For superintendents and principals, the pressure to get a good report card is high: Texas has increased the stakes of the accountability system in recent years, promising harsh penalties for schools and districts that repeatedly underperform.

Schools that fail to meet state academic standards for more than four years in a row will be forcibly shuttered, or the state will take over their school districts.

This year, further raising those stakes, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath instituted a policy change to count a D grade as “unacceptable” performance, which critics argue will only increase the number of schools facing state penalties.

Last year, Houston ISD was one of 92 school districts that received a waiver from state ratings, because of the damaging effects of 2017’s Hurricane Harvey on students’ academic performance. That waiver saved it last year. No similar waivers were offered this year.

Snyder ISD, in West Texas, and Shepherd ISD, north of Houston, were also at risk of state takeover, each with at least one school that had been failing for four years. Snyder’s junior high school and Shepherd’s elementary and intermediate schools received their fifth consecutive failing ratings this year.

The state offered school districts a life raft: Those that handed the management of their underperforming schools to a nonprofit, university or charter group could get a two-year pause from sanctions.

Without that life raft, at least six districts — Ector County ISD, Lubbock ISD, Hearne ISD, Austin ISD, Beaumont ISD and San Antonio ISD — would have been in trouble. Ogden Academy, one of San Antonio ISD’s elementary schools, received its sixth F in a row this year. But the district’s leaders handed over control of curriculum, hiring and other duties to the Relay Graduate School of Education, giving Ogden more time to improve.

Midland ISD’s Travis Elementary School, in West Texas, also received a fifth consecutive low rating, but it received an exception from the state because it will partner with IDEA, a charter district, in 2020.

But Houston, Snyder and Shepherd ISDs did not enter into partnerships and subsequently failed to improve the performance of their schools. In Houston, community members effectively blocked the school board from using the law, arguing that giving nonprofits or charters control of their low-performing schools would privatize public education.

Even if all of Houston ISD’s schools had improved, the district was looking at likely state takeover due to its dysfunctional school board. A recent preliminary state investigation recommended state education officials take over Houston ISD’s elected school board, plagued by infighting and scandals for years, and replace it with an appointed board of managers.

The move to letter grade ratings, with the higher stakes attached to them, is extremely controversial, especially among many educators.

They argue that letter grades are overly simplistic measures of a long list of complex metrics and mislead parents about the quality of a school or district. They also dislike how much the system is based on students’ standardized test scores, the only consistent statewide evaluation but one widely mistrusted to accurately depict whether students are learning.

Despite the criticism, lawmakers did little to adjust how the state assesses school districts in the legislative session that wrapped up in May.

State officials have argued that the letter grades are more accessible for parents who want to know how well their children’s schools are doing and that they allow the state to better keep tabs on underperforming schools. The state also has updated a public website intended to present the ratings in a more easily digestible way, including new tools that allow for comparisons among schools and districts.

“All of these tools are designed to provide as much transparency to administrators and school leaders, as well as to parents and members of the public,” Morath said at a recent media roundtable.

A higher percentage of school districts that received letter grades were awarded A’s and B’s this year, compared with last year. A smaller percentage of districts received C’s, D’s and F’s.

The grades for schools and districts are determined by ratings in three categories: student achievement, school progress and closing the gaps. Those categories measure how students perform on state tests, how much those scores have improved and how well schools are educating their most disadvantaged students.

 

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2019/08/15/texas-schools-grades-accountability/.

 

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

Session Recap: The big school safety bill

One of the largest education-related bills the 86th Texas Legislature passed was Senate Bill (SB) 11 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), the omnibus school safety bill passed in the wake of the tragic school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, in May 2018.

The final version of the ATPE-supported SB 11 contained a number of provisions, the most important of which is a school safety allotment, which may be used for a wide variety of purposes, including securing facilities, purchasing security technology, hiring security personnel, and providing training. According to the fiscal note, the allotment is expected to provide an additional $9.72 per student in average daily attendance (ADA) at a cost of roughly $100 million over the next two years. The other major provisions of SB 11 are as follows:

MULTIHAZARD EMERGENCY OPERATIONS PLANS

  • Each district’s multihazard emergency operations plan must include measures to ensure employees have classroom access to direct communications with emergency personnel, and the district’s communications infrastructure must be adequate to allow for communication during an emergency.
  • A multihazard emergency operations plan must include a chain of command, provisions that address physical and psychological safety, provisions ensuring the safety of students in portable buildings and people with disabilities, provisions for providing immediate notification to parents of a significant threat, training and strategies for suicide prevention, and implementation of trauma-informed policies.
  • If a district does not comply with the requirements for its multihazard emergency operations plan, the school board must hold a public hearing. The commissioner may also appoint a conservator or board of managers to order the district to put a plan in place. If the district refuses, the conservator or board of managers may take over the district.
  • Local school safety and security committees must include law enforcement and emergency management officials, provide periodic recommendations to update the district’s multihazard emergency operations plan, consult with local law enforcement regarding ways to increase law enforcement presence near district campuses, and hold regular public meetings.
  • The Texas School Safety Center (TSSC) may audit a district’s plan and must establish a regular review cycle.

THREAT ASSESSMENT & SAFE AND SUPPORTIVE SCHOOL TEAMS

  • Each district’s board of trustees must appoint a threat assessment team and a safe and supportive school team to serve at each campus to assess threats and to develop and implement a new safe and supportive school program developed by the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and the TSSC.
  • Teams must immediately report to the superintendent any determination that a person poses a threat to himself or others.
  • Teams must report demographic data back to the TEA regarding assessments and disciplinary actions.
  • TSSC must adopt model policies and procedures to assist districts in training threat assessment teams.

TEXAS CHILD MENTAL HEALTH CARE CONSORTIUM

  • The bill creates a new Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, established to leverage the expertise of institutions of higher education to address urgent mental health care challenges.
  • The consortium will establish a network of comprehensive child psychiatry access centers and expand telemedicine for identifying mental health needs.
  • The consortium will be funded using $99 million from state general revenue.

OTHER PROVISIONS

  • The commissioner of education must adopt rules regarding best practices for school district and charter school facilities that provide a secure and safe environment.
  • District improvement plans must include a trauma-informed care policy.
  • The commissioner must provide a waiver of operational and instructional time for a district that requires each educator to attend a school safety training course, provided that the waiver does not result in an inadequate number of minutes of instructional time for students or reduce operational and instructional time by more than 420 minutes.
  • Physical health, mental health, and suicide prevention are added to the Health curriculum.
  • The State Board of Education (SBOE) must require each district to incorporate instruction on digital citizenship and cyberbullying.
  • Suicide early warning signs, mental health, and identifying community resources for suicide risks and behavioral health concerns are added to the responsibilities of local school health advisory committees (SHAC).
  • A district that receives a bomb threat or terroristic threat must provide immediate parental notification.
  • The commissioner must adopt rules providing school evacuation procedures and designating school drills, including fire exit, lockdown, lockout, shelter-in-place, and evacuation drills.
  • The TEA must develop a rubric for use by the regional education service centers (ESC) in identifying local mental health resources. Each ESC must create an inventory of local resources and report it to the TEA.
  • The TEA must develop a statewide plan for mental health, which includes connecting people to local mental health resources. The plan must be used to revise the agency’s long-term strategic plan and progress must be reported to the legislature.
  • Districts may issue bonds for retrofitting vehicles for safety or security purposes.

Full implementation of SB 11 will require multiple entities to work in coordination with each other and districts, as well as what will likely be significant rulemaking to implement aspects of the law.

Senate Education Committee wraps up regular hearings

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday, May 16, to hold what is expected to be its last meeting to consider new legislation. The committee will continue to hold formal meetings as necessary for the sole purpose of voting out bills that have already been heard. Members heard testimony on the following bills:

  • HB 961, which would require that school districts and charters that employ a school nurse place the nurse on the concussion oversight team upon the nurse’s request. Nurses on these teams must then take a concussions training course every two years to be on the team.
  • HB 2778, which would update the local bracket to a joint election agreement in Rep. Tracy King’s (D-Batesville) district regarding election expenses.
  • HB 2818, which would remove the requirement that an online dropout recovery program establish satisfactory requirements for monthly progress. The bill states that online dropout recovery programs are not subject to minutes of instructions and calculations of average daily attendance (ADA) and would create new requirements for how ADA will be calculated.
  • HB 3012, which would require that school districts provide students an alternative means of instruction for the classes the student misses while in in-school suspension (ISS) or out-of-school suspension (OSS). The bill states that at least one option should not require the use of the internet. The committee substitute for this bill reduces this requirement to apply only to core courses.
  • HB 3650, which would require the district and institution of higher education to consider the use of free or low-cost open educational resources in courses offered under an agreement to provide a dual credit program to high school students.
  • HB 496, which would require school districts and charters to develop and implement a bleeding control kit program. The version passed by the House incorporates changes ATPE recommended to strengthen educators’ immunity from liability.
  • HB 663, which would require the State Board of Education (SBOE) to review and revise the Texas essential knowledge and skills (TEKS) for the foundation curriculum.
  • HB 769, which would require a school board to receive approval from the commissioner for any severance payment to a superintendent who has been terminated based on malfeasance. The committee substitute for the bill clarifies the definition of malfeasance and removes retroactive reporting.
  • HB 974, which would change the cycle of the safety and security audit to two years from three and require districts to check the ID of a person who is coming to the school for a non-public event. Current law leaves checking IDs for non-public events up to districts.
  • HB 1388, which adds indicators of post-secondary readiness to the accountability system. In the student achievement domain, for high school campuses and districts with high school campuses, the bill provides for a measure of students (rather than a percentage of students) who successfully complete an SBOE-approved practicum or internship and students who successfully complete a coherent CTE sequence. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 1906, which would allow a parent of a student with severe cognitive disabilities to request that the child be exempted from required assessments. This bill was amended on the House floor to add a section on evaluating specialized support campuses. For a campus in which at least 90 percent of students receive special education services, the bill would require the commissioner, in consultation with administrators, teachers, parents, and guardians, by rule to establish accountability guidelines for a specialized support campus in developing an alternative accountability program.
  • HB 2184, which would create collaborative policies for improving a student’s transition from an alternative education setting back to the regular classroom. A committee substitute for the bill clarifies that teachers who implement the transition plan are included on the planning committee. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2511, which would require campus improvement plans to include goals and methods for bullying prevention and dropout deterrence, including providing teacher continuing education and materials or training for parents. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 3435, which would establish March 1 as Texas Girls in STEM Day.
  • HB 3511, which would create a commission on the Texas workforce of the future. The commission would be established to engage business, state agencies, and local workforce system partners in the efforts of state and local authorities to build the state’s workforce talent pipeline, which includes providing data regarding college and career readiness, workforce credentials, and degree programs. The commission would be required to make recommendations to the legislature, including statutory changes, in order to improve alignment between workforce stakeholders and public schools and higher education, expanding the adult high school and industry certification charter school program, and encourage long-term collaboration between public education, higher education, and industry.
  • HB 3630, which would prohibit a teacher from using “aversive techniques” on a student with a disability receiving special education services.
  • HB 3884, which would transfer duties relating to providing bacterial meningitis information from TEA to the Department of State Health Services. The bill repeals a section of law referring to TEA’s duty to consult with the Texas Department of Health in prescribing the content of information given to students and to establish an advisory committee.
  • HB 4258, which would transfer bond approval for charter schools to the attorney general and requires approval if the guidelines are met.
  • HB 4388, which would require SBOE and the School Land Board (SLB) to share investment information with each other and require SLB to contribute to a newly-created liquid permanent school fund (PSF) account over which the SBOE would have control.

The Senate Education Committee also adopted a committee substitute for HB 3906 today that included the language from the Senate’s version of HB 3 that deals with the STAAR test. This includes provisions that would consolidate reading and writing exams in grades four and eight, cap multiple choice questions, and allow the STAAR to be split over multiple days, among others. Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) explained that this language would be coming out of HB 3, which is currently in a conference committee to work out differences between the House and Senate versions, in order to address the topic in a separate, standalone bill like HB 3906.

The committee also voted to advance the following bills to the full Senate:

  • HB 496, which was heard earlier in the day. Sens. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) and Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) voted against the bill.
  • HB 548, which would require that districts and charters report through the public education information management system (PEIMS) various truancy information, including students subject to compulsory attendance requirements, children who fail to enroll or fail to attend without an excuse for 10 or more days within a six-month period, etc.
  • HB 680, which would require the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to coordinate with the Texas Workforce Commissioner (TWC) on efforts to improve pre-K quality, and assign a PEIMS number to track children under age six enrolled in the commission’s child care program. The bill would allow local workforce development boards to contract with area child care providers to provide subsidized child care services. Sens. Bettencourt, Hall, and Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) voted against the bill.
  • HB 769, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 961, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 1051, which would continue the Excel Goodwill Charter. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 1131, which would create the “Texas Public Finance Authority” to act as a paying agent under current law for the guarantee and payment of bonds. School districts would also be able to borrow money from the new authority. Sens. Bettencourt, Hall, and Angela Paxton (R-McKinney) voted against the bill. Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) registered as present, not voting.
  • HB 2184, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 2210, which states that students who receive residential services in a state hospital will not be considered in the accountability rating of the district or campus that the hospital is located in if their parent does not reside in the district. ATPE supports this bill.
  • HB 2778, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3012, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3435, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3511, which was heard earlier in the day. Sen. Hall voted against the bill. Sens. Bettencourt and Hughes registered as present, not voting.
  • HB 3630, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3650, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3884, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 4205, which would allow repurposed campuses to be operated in partnership with certain nonprofits that have a successful record of operating a campus or charter. This bill was amended on the House floor to include ACE campus turnaround language. ATPE opposes this bill because it would create a statewide campus turnaround plan that includes elements that could tie a teacher’s evaluation to student test scores.
  • HB 4258, which was heard earlier in the day. Sen. West registered as present, not voting.
  • HB 4310, which would require districts to allow teachers sufficient time to teach a given curriculum and states that districts may not penalize a teacher for failing to follow the scope and sequence timeline if the teacher determines that the students need more learning time.
  • HB 4388, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 663, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 3906, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 974, which was heard earlier in the day.
  • HB 4342, which would change the composition of the board of directors of the Texas School Safety Center to include a professional architect and three rather than two members of the public.
  • HB 76, which would allow parents the option of participating in an echocardiogram (ECG) or electrocardiogram (EKG) screening program for any student participating in a University Interscholastic League (UIL) activity that currently requires a physical examination. School districts would be required to provide information about the availability of the tests and would able to partner with a nonprofit to provide the service or could pay for the service themselves. Sens. Bettencourt, Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels), Pat Fallon (R-Prosper), and Hall voted against the bill.

ATPE and others testify on school finance commission recommendations

This week, the House Public Education Committee received feedback from various stakeholders regarding recommendations of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Tuesday and Wednesday, committee members heard testimony from panels including three former House Public Education Committee chairs, superintendents, trustees, teachers, and representatives of education associations. Rural, suburban, and urban districts were represented, as well as charter and traditional public schools.

The overwhelming majority of testifiers expressed support for the commission’s recommended increase in the spectrum weight and the dual language weight. These would help create equity by funding certain student populations at higher levels. Most witnesses also commended the commission’s recommendation to fund early childhood education, but were concerned with its sustainability and with tying it to third-grade reading scores.

Among the concerns commonly expressed by stakeholders was outcomes-based funding. District leaders said they would like  local flexibility in implementing merit-based, outcomes-based, or performance-based funding mechanisms for their teachers. Apprehension with outcomes-based funding derived from mistrust or lack of confidence in the current assessment system’s ability to accurately capture student learning. In fact, an equal proportion of Tuesday’s discussions seemed to focus on assessment as on school finance. Some leaders expressed that tying funding to tests would reinforce teaching-to-the-test, and some stakeholders suggested that base teacher pay be addressed before additional incentive mechanisms.

Stakeholders representing small and midsize districts (up to 5,000 students) also expressed concern with the commission’s recommendation to move the small and midsize funding adjustment out of formula, which could alter funding to these special student populations, affecting the districts’ ability to meet federal obligations for financial maintenance of effort under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Overall, stakeholders also expressed concerns with any funding changes that were not part of the base formula, given that similar funding approaches in the past have been less reliable. An example cited was Pre-Kindergarten (Pre-K) funding under House Bill (HB) 4 of 2015, which created an optional grant program should districts decide to offer high-quality Pre-K. Another potential funding change discussed this week was the Cost of Education Index (CEI). While some testified that they were uncomfortable with the idea of the CEI being eliminated, Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) reiterated his intent for definite removal of the CEI in any school finance overhaul this session.

While this week’s testimony nearly always touched on teacher compensation, an important aspect of teaching beyond pay arose in the conversations: mentoring. A few witnesses expressed that the best first-year investment is a mentor teacher and that having mentor teachers is another way to provide extra compensation. Special education is another topic that came up during the hours of testimony, even though it was not widely broached by the commission last year other than through a discussion of funding for dyslexia. In testimony, several special education advocates suggested revamping the way special education is funded, which is currently done by placement rather than services. Chairman Huberty was favorable to the ideas presented.

Monty Exter

ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter, was last to testify Wednesday evening. He shared that ATPE supports the commission’s recommended changes to the weights, local flexibility in spending weighted dollars, and increases to the basic allotment. He expressed concerns with outcomes-based funding and suggested an adequate base increase for teachers and others on the education team first. Exter also offered that inputs should be incentivized as well, in a similar way to how high-quality Pre-K was incentivized through the HB 4 grant program. Lastly, Exter testified that teacher quality is related to educator preparation, another topic that cannot be forgotten when discussing increasing teacher effectiveness.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 27, 2018

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


This May, many Texans will be making not one, but two trips to the ballot box. ATPE wants to ensure that all educators are aware of the two important elections taking place next month.

Saturday, May 5th is the uniform election date when municipal propositions, elections, and issues will be decided. Meanwhile, Tuesday, May 22nd is when state level primary runoff elections will be held. While any registered voter can participate in the May 5th municipal election, participation in the primary runoffs depends on whether you previously voted in the March primaries and in which primary election you voted.

For more information about the candidates and your eligibility to vote in the upcoming primary runoffs, check out this new blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.

 


Texas has a new “Grow Your Own” grant program designed by the Texas Rural Schools Taskforce to address  challenges faced by rural school districts and foster a more robust and diverse teaching force. This week, TEA released the names of the 25 school districts that received the 2018-19 “Grow Your Own” grant. Read more about them in this blog post from ATPE Governmental Relations Specialist Bria Moore.

 


The Texas Education Agency has finalized its plan to address special education. Professional development for special education teachers; resources and outreach for parents of special needs children; funding at the district level for students previously denied access to special education services; and additional staffing and resources were the four final measures proposed by TEA in its efforts to redress issues plaguing special education in the state. While the proposed measures would cost the state $212 million over the next five years, TEA is unable to commit additional funds to support the plan leaving the burden to fund these measures on the shoulders of the 86th Legislature which is set to reconvene in 2019. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann explains more about the plan in this blog post.

 


Houston ISD has notified district teachers of its plan to begin staff layoffs. As reported by the Houston Chronicle this afternoon, district employees received correspondence informing then that an unspecified number of layoffs would begin shortly due to budget constraints in the district. The financial strain of Hurricane Harvey coupled with new recapture woes have resulted in a projected deficit of $115 million for the district. The HISD administration has said that the number of layoffs will depend on how many teachers leave the district through attrition at the end of this school year.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a highly contentious HISD board meeting earlier this week that was shut down when protests broke out over a planned vote to turn over management of some of the district’s struggling campuses to a charter school operator. That move is part of a plan authorized by new legislation that ATPE opposed in 2017. Schools otherwise facing closure have an option to partner with charter holders for a temporary pause in their progressive sanctions, and HISD has proposed this course of action for 10 of its campuses despite heavy opposition from the community. Waco ISD also took similar action this week, opting to partner with a charter operator to avoid the closure of five struggling campuses in that district.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates on this developing story.

 


TEA seeking public input on special education plan

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) announced Tuesday it is accepting public comments on the draft strategic plan for special education through noon, April 18.

As reported previously at Teach the Vote, the agency released its Draft Special Education Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Response last month to fix critical failures in the state’s special education system. The draft plan varies little from an initial draft the agency circulated in January, and the agency is seeking additional input on the latest version. You can e-mail feedback to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov.

The plan carries a $211 million price tag, which does not include a substantial cost anticipated to be incurred by local school districts. The districts will be expected to perform the bulk of the work meeting the needs of children who were wrongfully denied special education services in the past due to districts’ following a TEA directive to limit special education enrollment. Because of this funding challenge, many school administrators are warning they will need additional financial support from the state in order to properly serve qualifying children. The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education (TCASE) noted this in a press release last month, saying the TEA plan “is rich with school district monitoring and compliance measures, but fails to offer adequate financial and other support to districts.” Read the full TCASE press statement here.

The TEA will aggregate feedback and send a final version of the special education improvement plan to the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) at the U.S. Department of Education by April 23, 2018.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 19, 2018

The snow and ice have melted, and here’s the latest education news from ATPE’s Governmental Relations team:


After federal officials criticized Texas for failing to meet the needs of students with disabilities, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) has released a draft of its plan to take corrective action to improve special education. Gov. Greg Abbott gave the state agency one week to develop the plan after findings of the federal investigation were announced last week. The proposed corrective actions by TEA include hiring additional staff to monitor the identification and evaluation of students who may need special education services and creating professional development opportunities and resources for educators.

Read more about TEA’s plans in this new blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


On Wednesday, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an advisory opinion about certain get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts in public schools. The opinion was requested by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who has complained about activities promoted by the Texas Educators Vote coalition, of which ATPE is a member, to increase voter turnout among school district employees and eligible students. The senator suggested in his opinion request and related press statements that school district resources, including school buses, were being used to promote  partisan activities in support or opposition of specific candidates. The attorney general wrote in his opinion that using school buses to transport school employees to the polls might run afoul of the Texas constitution, and he also noted that school districts should not use public funds to promote websites that support particular candidates.

ATPE has pointed out in media statements following the release of the opinion that all of the coalition’s GOTV initiatives and website resources, including ATPE’s own TeachtheVote.org website, have been nonpartisan. Read more about the opinion in this week’s blog post.

 


State grants are being made available to school districts to encourage high school students to enter the teaching field and to prepare future principals for certification. TEA has announced its launch of the “Grow Your Own” and “Principal Preparation” grant programs for the 2018-19 school year. The first of the two programs is a grant that can be used to interest high school students in the teaching profession and to support student teachers, paraprofessionals and classroom aides in their pursuit of certification. The latter grant program is for educators pursuing certification as a principal.

The application deadline for both grants is March 13, and potential applicants may learn more about the grant programs through webinars to be offered by TEA on Feb. 1. For additional information, check out the information on the TEA website here.

 


The Teacher Retirement System (TRS) announced today a grace period it is offering for retirees or dependents who recently left the TRS-Care program but would like to return. From now through Feb. 28, TRS will allow former participants to re-enroll in TRS-Care if they terminated coverage or dropped a dependent due to the 2018 plan changes.

For additional information on the announcement from TRS, check out today’s blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter.


 

SBOE long-range planning process to include regional meetings

SBOE logoThe Texas Education Agency (TEA) and State Board of Education (SBOE) released the following statement this week about upcoming regional meetings to gather input for the purpose of updating the SBOE’s Long-Range Plan for Education:

Oct. 31, 2017

Regional meetings to gather input for Long-Range Plan 

AUSTIN – Regional meetings begin this week to gather input for the new Long-Range Plan for Public Education now being developed by the State Board of Education.

The first of at least eight community meetings will be held from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 2, at the El Paso Community College in El Paso. The meeting will occur in the Administration Building auditorium located at 9050 Viscount Blvd.

Register to attend this free event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/community-conversation-el-paso-november-2nd-tickets-38839842013 .

Community meetings are also scheduled for 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m. on the following dates:

  • Nov. 14 – Region 7 Education Service Center, 1909 North Longview St., Kilgore
  • Dec. 5 – Region 11 Education Service Center, 1451 S. Cherry Lane, White Settlement
  • Dec. 6 – Dallas County Community College, El Centro West – Multi Purpose Room 3330 N. Hampton Rd., Dallas
  • Feb. 8 – Region 4 Education Service Center, 7145 West Tidwell, Houston

Additional community meetings will be scheduled in 2018.

“State Board of Education members are meeting with Texans around the state because we want to hear firsthand what their concerns and hopes for the Texas public schools are going forward. Our goal is to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. Information gained through these community meetings, a statewide online survey, and the work of the Long-Range Plan for Public Schools Steering Committee will be used to craft a strategic plan for schools through the year 2030, corresponding with the Texas Higher Education 60×30 Strategic Plan,” said SBOE Chair Donna Bahorich.

The 18-member steering committee, made up of educators, parents, state and local board members, business officials, college professors, state agency representatives and a student, will meet at 9 a.m. Nov. 6 to discuss two topics: family empowerment and engagement and equity and access to both funding and advanced courses.

The public meeting will occur at 4700 Mueller Blvd. in Austin at the headquarters of the Texas Comprehensive Center at the American Institutes of Research, which is assisting the board with the development of the long-range plan.

Debbie Ratcliffe, Interim Director
SBOE Support Division, Texas Education Agency
debbie.ratcliffe@tea.texas.gov

Texas Tribune Festival begins today

The Texas Tribune’s annual “TribFest” event has become a regular gathering spot for folks who live and work around the Texas Capitol. This year’s festival, which kicks off today and runs through Sunday, will feature more than 60 sessions and 250 speakers. Panels will cover just about every active policy area at the state and federal level, with education once again among the issues expected to generate the most interest.

The public education discussion will get in gear Saturday morning with a panel on higher education funding, followed by a discussion on testing, accountability, and college readiness featuring the superintendents of Austin ISD, Round Rock ISD, Grand Prairie ISD, Harlingen CISD, and Alief ISD. Public school finance will come front and center Saturday afternoon with a panel that will include House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), Vice-chair Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), and pro-public education state Reps. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso) and Donna Howard (D-Austin). Finally, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath will discuss ways to improve Texas schools late Saturday afternoon.

Over the years, these TribFest discussions have offered interesting public insight into how these policies are viewed and discussed behind the scenes. The media spotlight generated by the festival means these panels often provide a chance to set the narrative heading into elections or a legislative session.

In addition to the public education track, the festival will feature keynote remarks from Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), U.S. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Cornyn (R-Texas), U.S. Congressman and Cruz’s Senate challenger Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso), as well as Congressmen Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) and Will Hurd (R-San Antonio). ATPE will be covering the weekend’s discussions, and I’ll be tweeting from @MarkWigginsTX.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 9, 2017

Here’s your latest news wrap-up from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:

 


IMG_8509On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott announced his plans for a special session beginning July 18. This “overtime” period for the 85th legislature is needed only because lawmakers failed to pass an important, time-sensitive agency sunset bill that affects the licensing of medical professionals, a failure many are attributing to deliberate stall tactics and the “bill kidnapping” approach taken by Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick in the final week of the regular session. Lawmakers could address the sunset issue within a matter of days and head home to enjoy the dog days of summer with their families, but Abbott is calling on them to take up 19 additional issues during the 30-day special session, which is estimated to cost taxpayers about $1 million.

During the governor’s press conference, he led off his laundry list of topics for the upcoming special session with a surprise announcement that he wants lawmakers to mandate a $1,000 annual pay raise for teachers. The catch, as ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins explains in this blog post, is that no additional money would be appropriated for the salary increase. Gov. Abbott made it clear that he intends for school districts to find money within their existing budgets to cover the proposed pay raise. For many districts, that would necessitate cuts in some other area, which would very likely be expenditures for staff pay or benefits, such as healthcare programs that are already becoming increasingly hard for educators to afford. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter added in this video for Twitter that potential offsets could include staff layoffs or higher class sizes, depending on each district’s financial circumstances and priorities.

If the governor planned to use this special session as another shot at meaningful school finance reform, then perhaps legislators could find ways to fund a teacher pay raise and other critical needs of our public schools. Unfortunately, the only school finance-related issue on the governor’s call is legislation to appoint a statewide commission to study school finance during the next interim.

Another surprise topic added to the governor’s agenda for the special session is giving districts greater “flexibility” in their hiring and firing decisions. Teacher contract rights have been targeted in prior legislative sessions, but the topic was hardly broached during the 2017 legislative session.

ATPE representatives testified against a bill to eliminate teachers' payroll deduction rights during the regular session.

ATPE representatives testified against an anti-educator bill to eliminate teachers’ payroll deduction rights during the regular session. The contentious issue is being revived for the upcoming special session.

The remaining school-related items in the special session outline are a trio of controversial, highly partisan scorecard issues from bills that failed to garner enough support to pass during the regular session:

  • One is the anti-educator legislation to do away with teachers’ rights to pay their voluntary professional association dues using payroll deduction. In Tuesday’s press conference, Gov. Abbott revived tired rhetoric from his Jan. 2017 State of the State address that has already been proven false – the claim that taxpayer dollars are being spent to collect “union dues.” We will continue to refute this unfounded claim and fight this harmful, unnecessary measure aimed at silencing educators’ voices by making it more difficult for them to join associations like ATPE.
  • Also on tap for this legislative overtime is yet another push for private school vouchers for students with special needs. With the Texas House of Representatives having already voted multiple times to reject this idea, it is hard to fathom a sudden change of heart that would give this legislation a greater chance of passing during the special session.
  • Lastly, the governor is also asking lawmakers again to try to restrict local school districts’ adoption of policies on bathroom usage. Both chambers passed versions of a bathroom bill during the regular session, but they could not agree on the extent to which the state should infringe on local control over these decisions. In other words, get ready for even more potty talk.

To read the full list of the governor’s priorities for the special session, view ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann’s blog post here. Also, check out ATPE’s press release, and be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for new developments.

 


SBECThe State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) has been meeting today in Austin, and ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann is there. She provided an update in this blog post on the items being discussed today by the board. They include plans to add a new early childhood teaching certificate mandated by the legislature recently, plus how Districts of Innovation are claiming exemptions from certification laws.