Tag Archives: school finance

TEA rolls out resource website for HB 3, school finance changes

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) is rolling out a new website and video series to try and explain the various components of House Bill (HB) 3, the major school finance bill passed by the 86th Texas Legislature this year.

At more than 300 pages in length, HB 3 sets in motion a significant number of policy changes that will have marked effects on schools and classrooms. Among these changes is language in the bill that directs school districts that see a substantial increase in school funding as a result of HB 3 to dedicate some of that new funding to increasing compensation for school employees, with priority given to classroom teachers with more than five years of experience.

In the month that passed since HB 3 became law, some districts have awarded raises for school employees, although it’s unclear whether HB 3 was the catalyst. Many districts will await further guidance from TEA before implementing the compensation sections of HB 3 in order to know exactly how they are expected to distribute any new funding and what form the additional compensation may take — i.e. salary, healthcare and retirement contributions, or other benefits that carry a dollar value.

To answer questions like these for the general public, TEA has set up an HB 3 information website that can be found here. The website currently hosts an introductory video by Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath. The agency plans to release a series of 30-minute videos entitled “HB3 in 30,” each of which is intended to explain specific components of HB 3. According to a press release from the agency:

“Videos will be released every Thursday and will be accompanied by supporting documents available for download. A full schedule of weekly release dates, a summary of HB3, frequently asked questions, and implementation guidance for school districts can be found on the TEA House Bill 3 information site.

The first video in the series, an overview of Budget Planning for Teacher Compensation, is scheduled for release on Thursday, June 26.”

Districts will continue to receive formal guidance documents from TEA, the first round of which was released earlier this month. Links to these documents are also provided at the bottom of the HB 3 information site.

For more on the anticipated impact of HB 3, be sure to check out the ATPE Governmental Relations team’s comprehensive analysis of the bill here on Teach the Vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 14, 2019

Here’s a look at this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations:


This week, Gov. Greg Abbott signed the school finance and property tax reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3, into law. This bill modifies how public schools are funded and attempts to shift some of the burden of paying for public education that has fallen heavily on the shoulders of local property taxpayers closer toward a balance point with the portion financed by the state. The bill also affects teacher compensation. Read a recap of the governor’s signing ceremony, as well as links to our analysis of what HB 3 does, in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

Gov. Abbott also signed Senate Bill (SB) 12 into law on the same day. The bill improves funding for the state’s pension system for educators. As a result of the bill’s signing this week, the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) expects a 13th check to be sent to retirees this fall, with a more specific date to be discussed at the TRS board’s next meeting in July.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as this legislation is implemented, and don’t forget to check out ATPE’s full recap of all the education legislation that passed this session.


ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes discussed HB 3 with CBS Austin.

Speaking of HB 3, your ATPE lobbyists have been busy taking to the airwaves over the last two weeks to talk about the bill and its consequences for school finance and teacher pay.

ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes joined state Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock) and Austin education leaders on CBS Austin to take part in an hour-long panel on school finance last week. You can watch the entire panel’s discussion here on the CBS Austin website.

Also discussing HB 3 on TV and radio programs this week was ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. He joined the statewide politics program Capital Tonight on Spectrum News this week to discuss how teacher compensation is affected by the bill. You can watch the segment here on the Spectrum News website.


The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week in Austin, where a handful of applications for new charter schools came under scrutiny. On Thursday, a board committee voted to exercise the board’s statutory authority to veto four of the five proposed new charters. Members expressed concerns over the fiscal impact, qualifications of the applicants, and accuracy of the applications. On Friday, the full board reversed course and voted to approve the new applications with one notable exception. Members voted 8-5 to reject the application for a new charter by the founder of Harmony Public Schools. Read ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins’s recap of Friday’s SBOE meeting here.

Commissioner of Education Mike Morath also updated the board this week on legislation passed by the 86th Texas Legislature that will affect public education, including HB 3 and changes to the STAAR assessment. Several of the education bills that passed this session will also require rulemaking by the commissioner before they can be fully implemented. Read a recap of the commissioner’s comments here.



A group of ATPE state officers and lobbyists were in Washington, DC this week to discuss federal education issues with elected officials and their staffs. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand and Vice President Tonja Gray were accompanied by ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes and Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on the fly-in, which was organized by ATPE’s longtime Washington-based lobbyist David Pore.

Issues discussed included education funding and the repeal of Social Security offsets like the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) that negatively impact educators and other public servants throughout the country. Stay tuned to our Teach the Vote blog next week for a complete report on these ATPE meetings in the nation’s capital.

If you are an ATPE member who’ll be attending the ATPE Summit in July, make plans to attend our legislative update session where the lobby team will brief members on these federal issues and the results of the recent Texas legislative session.

Commissioner updates SBOE on HB 3 and other education bills

Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath updated the State Board of Education (SBOE) today, June 12, 2019, on recent bills passed by the 86th Texas Legislature affecting public education. His remarks included comments on the major school finance and reform bill, House Bill (HB) 3.

Commissioner Morath began with a review of HB 3906, which makes several changes to how state assessments are delivered. Intended do reduce test anxiety, the bill bthis blog post from the ATPE lobby team.

Under HB 3, TEA is required to enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with a public institution to study the STAAR and ensure that the assessment meets certain criteria: It is to be written at the appropriate reading level; should only include content aligned with the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for that grade level or earlier grades; and should only include passages written at or below the reading level of the grade level for the assessment. This report is due to the legislature by December 1, 2019.

Commissioner Mike Morath addressing SBOE members on June 12, 2019.

The commissioner provided the board with a high-level review of the main components of HB 3, which the agency estimates will provide an average increase of $635 per student in average daily attendance (ADA). You can read the full analysis of HB 3 by ATPE’s lobbyists here.

Aside from new legislation, Commissioner Morath indicated that the agency has found the financial resources to follow through with the SBOE’s request to create a charter school transparency website, which will provide easy access to more information on charter schools. A beta version of the website will be available by spring 2020. This segued into a discussion on TEA’s process of reviewing applications for new charters, and the commissioner walked the board through the five applications he has recommended for approval, which were announced late last week. SBOE member Ruben Cortez (D-Brownsville) pointed out the short notice and requested that the agency provide its charter recommendations further ahead of time.

SBOE member Barbara Cargill (R-The Woodlands) asked the commissioner to review the incentive pay program created under HB 3. Morath noted that local school districts will be able to develop programs based upon the current T-TESS evaluation system, with Texas Tech University tasked with reviewing districts’ programs for quality control. The commissioner added that while “master” teacher designations were envisioned as roughly the top five percent of teachers based on performance, the bill requires that the system enable all teachers to be mathematically able to qualify for the designation. Commissioner Morath pointed out that HB 3 requires that 90 percent of a district’s incentive pay funding must be used to increase the salary of teachers working on the campus at which the incentive pay program is in place, though not necessarily each teacher. With that in mind, Morath suggested that districts could “craftily invest in a teacher group.”

After the commissioner spoke, TEA’s governmental relations team updated the board on how the SBOE’s legislative recommendations fared during the 2019 legislative session. Hunter Thompson walked members through changes the legislature made to governance of the Permanent School Fund (PSF), which the board oversees, as well as incentives to hire and retain teachers, which Thompson suggested were included in the provisions of HB 3. Thompson also credited HB 3 with accomplishing a number of objectives laid out in the board’s Long-Range Plan (LRP) for Public Education. SBOE chair Donna Bahorich (R-Houston) and member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) suggested in the future that the board may consider drafting legislative recommendations earlier in order to spend more time educating legislators about those issues in the run-up to a legislative session.

School finance and property tax reform bill signed into law

Gov. Abbott signs HB 3 into law at a ceremony at Parmer Lane Elementary in Pflugerville ISD, June 11, 2019.

Just before noon today, Gov. Greg Abbott signed House Bill (HB) 3 into law. The bill signing took place in front of a crowd of reporters at an elementary school in Pflugerville ISD. The governor was flanked by his fellow members of the “Big Three,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). Also up on stage were members of the House and Senate education and finance committees, the superintendents of San Antonio ISD and Longview ISD, and Texas Commissioner of Education Mike Morath.

The ceremony began with remarks from Gov. Abbott about the importance of this legislation in improving school finance and reducing property taxes, with emphasis on the success of the legislature in working together on a solution in the absence of a court order. Lt. Gov. Patrick, Speaker Bonnen, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), and the bill’s author, House Committee on Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston), also spoke at the bill signing ceremony, giving thanks and praise for the efforts of those who collaborated on HB 3.

Notably, Speaker Bonnen thanked the people of Texas, for whom he said the school finance and reform bill had been passed. This remark is a testament to the power of educators and public education supporters across Texas who have made their voices known through voting and advocacy. As we watch the implementation of HB 3, some parts of which take effect immediately while others are delayed, ATPE will stay vigilant in ensuring the integrity of the promises made by our leaders. Stay tuned for more updates as implementation rolls out over the next several months. To learn more about what’s in the bill, check out our detailed HB 3 blog post here.

86th Legislative Session Highlights from ATPE

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

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

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

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


School Finance:

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Educator Pay: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Teacher Retirement System (TRS):

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

School Safety and Student Health: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Student Testing:

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Special Education:

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Payroll Deduction:

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

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

[Return to Index]

Class Sizes:

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

[Return to Index]

Private School Vouchers:

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Charter Schools:

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

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Student Discipline:

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

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

[Return to Index]

School Turnaround:

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Political Speech:

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

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

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

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

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

[Return to Index]

Changes to student testing are coming in light of legislation passed

The 86th Texas Legislature passed a number of measures that will have an impact on standardized testing of students in our public schools.

First, House Bill (HB) 3, the omnibus school finance and tax reform bill carried by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) contains some sections related to student testing. Most notably, the bill calls for an “assessment instrument study,” which requires the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to work with a public institution of higher education to determine if each State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) test is written at the appropriate grade level. Commissioner of Education Mike Morath is required to submit a report on the findings of this study by December 1 of this year.

HB 3 also included changes to testing that will affect districts, such as an outcomes-based funding mechanism that relies on indicators of college, career, and military readiness of each annual graduating class within a district. These indicators include student performance on assessments such as the SAT, ACT, and the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. HB 3 also includes district reimbursement for college prep assessments and requirements for districts to create an early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency plan, which would include annual, quantifiable goals for student performance in reading and math.

Fortunately, the final version of the school finance bill that passed does not include earlier language proposed by the Senate that would have tied a merit pay program for teachers more directly to the performance of their students. In fact, the final bill expressly prohibits the commissioner from requiring districts to use assessments to evaluate teacher performance in local teacher designation systems. ATPE and others urged lawmakers to remove such merit pay language from HB 3, fearing that it would lead to a statewide ranking of teachers based largely on data drawn from student scores on high-stakes tests that were never designed to be used as measures of educator effectiveness.

A major stand-alone testing bill, HB 3906, was also unanimously passed by the legislature and is awaiting a signature by Gov. Greg Abbott. The bill, similarly carried by Rep. Huberty, maintains the concept of a maximum time limit on STAAR tests in grades 3-8, but allows for the tests to be broken into smaller sections that would be administered during the school year rather than on a single day. Backers of the bill hope that multiple smaller tests will give the assessment more of a formative approach rather than forcing students to take a single, summative high-stakes test that has been cited as creating undue stress for students. Opponents, on the other hand, are concerned that breaking up the tests increases the overall number of testing days.

HB 3906 left the Senate with provisions that created a combined reading and writing “language arts” test. However, this concept was stripped from the final version of the bill, which simply eliminates the STAAR writing tests given in grades 4 and 7. This change will not take effect until September 1, 2021. The bill also prohibits giving STAAR tests to students on the first instructional day of the week, and requires a transition to electronic assessments after TEA conducts a study of how feasible this transition might be.

Under HB 3906, TEA is also required to develop non-multiple choice questions to round out STAAR tests due to the bill’s new 75% limit on multiple choice questions. Additionally, TEA will be required to establish an integrated formative assessment pilot program that districts can opt in to, which will be used to determine if these assessments improve instructional support and if they could potentially replace current assessments. TEA is also required under HB 3906 to develop interim assessments for districts to use, presumably as test prep, and to create both a technical and educator assessment advisory committee that would provide recommendations to the commissioner and TEA on assessment development.

The legislature also passed a few smaller bills related to testing this session, such as Senate Bill (SB) 213 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), which extends the use of individual graduation committees for another four years, until 2023. This ATPE-supported bill has already been signed into law by Gov. Abbott and takes effect immediately.

Additionally, HB 1244 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and HB 1891 by Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton) have passed the legislature and await the Governor’s action. HB 1244 changes the U.S. History end-of course exam by requiring it to include 10 randomly selected questions from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services civics test. TEA is required to ensure that these questions are aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and will provide annual reports with the answers to the questions and student performance. HB 1891 allows students who meet the required score on a high school equivalency exam, such as the General Education Diploma (GED), to be exempt from the Texas Success Initiative Assessment (TSIA). The required score will be set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

ATPE will be watching the implementation of these bills as they roll out and begin to affect districts, teachers, and students. Stay tuned!

Here’s how TRS legislation ended up in the 86th legislative session

As the 86th legislative session came to a close yesterday, there were some significant changes made to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) that warrant a closer look.

TRS Pension Reform

Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R – Houston), sponsored in the House by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R – League City), was passed 31:0 in the Senate and 145:1 in the House on the last day to pass bills. The bill will immediately reduce the funding window on the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension from over 90 years to pay off the unfunded liability to under 30 years. Reducing the time frame to less than 30 years also allowed the legislature to provide current retirees with an additional pension payment during the current fiscal year. The 13th check, as the supplemental payment is often called, will be the amount of the retiree’s regular monthly annuity payment up to a maximum amount of $2,000.

ATPE was strongly in support of shoring up the TRS pension fund as it will ensure that the primary retirement income for many Texas educators will be viable for decades to come. The passage of SB 12 also saves the state and taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars in interest on the pension fund’s liabilities, and it puts the TRS fund in a position for policymakers to begin considering a permanent cost of living adjustment for retired educators as early as the next legislative session in 2021.

SB 12 calls for the state’s contribution to immediately increase from 6.8% to 7.5% in the 2020 fiscal year, which begins on Sept. 1, 2019. The state contribution rate will then continue to increase over time until the rate reaches 8.25% in 2024. School districts not paying into Social Security currently contribute 1.5% to the pension fund. Beginning in the 2019-20, all school districts will contribute toward TRS pensions with the district rate increasing by a tenth of a percent each year beginning in the 2021 fiscal year, until the district rate reaches 2% in 2025.  Active school employees’ contributions to TRS will remain at their existing rate of 7.7% for the next two years. Employee contributions will increase to 8% in the 2021-22 school year and 8.25% the following year.

Aside from injecting more money into the TRS pension fund, SB 12 contains a few additional provisions that are worth noting. For one, the bill maintains a provision that ensures that if the state’s contribution to TRS should decline in the future, then school district and active employee contributions to the fund would be reduced by the same percentage. It is worth noting, however, that any future legislature could vote to change this. SB 12 also includes a change for the handful of school districts that currently pay into Social Security on behalf of their employees. As noted above, those districts that opt to make Social Security contributions will no longer enjoy an exemption from paying into TRS, which Rep. Greg Bonnen said would add about $20 million per year to the fund. Only institutions of higher education will now be exempt from participating in contributing into the TRS pension fund for their covered employees.

Here is a summary of the details provided by TRS staff on how the final adopted version of SB 12 is funded over time:

 

TRS Healthcare

ATPE hoped that the conference committees for SB 12 and House Bill 3, the omnibus school finance bill that also passed, would find better ways to help active and retired teachers deal with the rising costs of their healthcare. There were internal discussions about increasing the state share of active employee health insurance costs. Currently, the state pays $75 per month toward premiums and requires school districts to pay a minimum of $150 per month on behalf of their staff. Employees cover the rest of the cost of their health insurance premiums. SB 12 significantly increases the state’s share of contributions going into the TRS pension system, and the final version of HB 3 does require districts to spend additional dollars on employee compensation (which could include increasing the district’s share of health insurance costs). Despite these improvements, neither bill addressed the inadequacies of the state’s share of active employee premiums in the end.

State lawmakers did make good on their pre-session promises not to raise TRS-Care rates for retiree health insurance. The state budget in House Bill 1 includes $230 million in supplemental funding to cover the projected shortfall in the TRS-Care trust fund. State leaders pushed TRS not to raise rates last fall when it became apparent that the amount of the shortfall for the upcoming biennium was going to be less than originally projected. The savings were largely due a combination of successful TRS contract negotiations and favorable provisions of the federal Affordable Healthcare Act taking effect. Unfortunately, barring a substantial change in the healthcare landscape, the projected shortfall for the 2022-2023 biennium is much larger than what lawmakers had to deal with this session to address the shortfall expected for the next two years.

86th Texas Legislature passes school finance bill

Tonight, the Texas House and Senate both gave final approval to compromise legislation that will spend more than $11 billion over the next two years on public education and providing property tax relief to Texans.

The House first passed the conference committee’s version of House Bill (HB) 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), who chairs the House Public Education Committee and has spearheaded efforts to reform the state’s school finance system over the course of several years. The vote in the House was 139 to zero. About two hours later, the Senate followed suit, passing the HB 3 conference committee report by a vote of 30 to zero. Now the bill heads to the desk of Gov. Greg Abbott for signing.

Read ATPE’s statement on the passage of HB 3 here. For analysis of the bill from ATPE’s lobby team, check out our blog post from yesterday. ATPE congratulates Chairman Huberty and all those who worked on this major effort to improve funding for Texas public schools.

Tomorrow is the last day for the House and Senate to take substantive action on remaining bills, and they are expected to vote on the state budget, school safety legislation contained in Senate Bill 11, and Senate Bill 12, a bill to increase contributions to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) and provide a 13th check to retied educators. Stay tuned to our blog here and follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the very latest updates.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: May 24, 2019

We’re down to the final stretch of the 86th legislative session, and there’s been major breaking news about education bills in the last 24 hours. Here’s a look at this week’s headlines from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Legislators have reached a deal on priority legislation to address school finance, property tax relief, and teacher retirement funding. The deal was announced in a press conference yesterday afternoon by, Governor Greg Abbott, Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick (R-Houston), and Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton), along with the House and Senate conferees on House Bill 3 (Senators Larry Taylor, Donna Campbell, Jane Nelson, Kirk Watson, and Royce West and Representatives Dan Huberty, Trent Ashby, Diego Bernal, Mary Gonzalez, and Ken King). They happily announced that negotiations had concluded and a compromise had been made on the school finance bill, House Bill 3; the property tax bill, Senate Bill 2; and Senate Bill 12 pertaining to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS).

Architects of the compromise provided reporters with an explanatory flyer highlighting its elements, which can be viewed here, and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell reported on the announced deal on our Teach the Vote blog yesterday, and we’ve got updated information about the bill posted on our blog today.

As of this Friday afternoon, the final conference committee reports on these bills had not been released to the public, so many of the finer details about the agreement remain unknown. Meanwhile, we know that the school finance bill raises the basic allotment, aims to reduce recapture by 47% over the next two years, and caps the rate of local school district property tax increases at 2.5% starting in the year 2021. The plan is said to raise the state’s share of education funding from its current level of 38% up to 45%.

The final version of HB 3 also aims to increase pay to some educators by providing additional funding to districts through a $140 million merit pay program and various other allotments. Teacher pay was another of Gov. Abbott’s emergency issues so declared earlier this session, along with school finance reform. To the extent that the compromise bill raises funding for school districts generally, HB 3 requires school districts to spend a significant portion of those increases to improve compensation. The final version of HB 3 does not include any across-the-board pay raise requirements, however.

The agreement on SB 12 is expected to raise the state’s contribution to the TRS pension program in order to make it actuarially sound and provide current retirees with a 13th check. While the amount of the 13th check will vary, it is believed that the average amount of this payment will be around $2,000. The state is also increasing funding for TRS-ActiveCare, which will help active school employees with their healthcare costs.

Check out our lobbyists’ latest comprehensive blog post here for more detail on what is in the final versions of these high-profile bills. As we enter the final days of the session, don’t forget to follow the Teachthevote.org blog and our Twitter account for the most up-to-date information about the bills.


Legislation aimed at improving school safety and providing for mental health interventions for students is one step closer to passing. The issue was one of the emergency items Governor Abbott declared during his State of the State address in January.

After dying on a technicality earlier this week, a major mental health bill, Senate Bill 10 by Rep. John Zerwas (R- Richmond), was brought back to life when major portions of it were grafted onto another bill late on the night of the House’s deadline for passing bills on second reading. The carrier bill is Senate Bill 11, this session’s major school safety bill. SB 10 which would create a Texas Mental Health Consortium of mental health professionals from universities and health care providers around the state in order to identify children with mental illness and connect them to resources. SB 11 requires more training for school resource officers and encourages teaching students about how to prevent domestic violence, in part.

Yesterday afternoon both the House and Senate voted to send the newly expanded SB 11 to a conference committee.


Aside from House Bill 3, another bill pertaining to student testing remains pending and is generating a lot of attention among educators this week. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that HB 3906 by Rep Dan Huberty (R – Kingwood) as amended by the Senate dramatically impacts STAAR and remains pending at this late stage of the session.

As originally filed, HB 3906 primarily broke what are large, single day, tests into smaller tests that could be administered over multiple days, with those days falling over a number of weeks or even months. All of the mini-tests would have to fit within the same time frame as the current STAAR test they are meant to replace. The goal was to reduce student stress, allow for the test to be closer in time to the content being taught, and make the information gleaned from the test more useful to students and teachers during the school year in which the test is given.

The Senate put a number of additional provisions into the bill. The most controversial provision is a move from third through eighth grade reading tests, which do not include an integrated writing test, to third through eighth grade language arts tests, which do include embedded writing tests. There are currently stand-alone writing tests in fourth and seventh grades. The new format could certainly be viewed as an increase of four additional writing tests.

There have been conflicting reports on tests that are required by federal law. The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) does not require ANY state-level writing tests. In fact, the US Department of Education sent the Texas Education Agency (TEA) a letter informing the agency that Texas was out of compliance with federal law because it included two standalone writing tests as requirements.

In addition to the new writing tests proposed in HB 3906, the Senate also added the following provisions to the bill:

  • Third-grade STAAR results as disaggregated by Pre-K attendance to be added to the state’s early education report;
  • A prohibition against STAAR testing on a Monday;
  • A limit on multiple choice questions to no more than 75 percent;
  • State-developed benchmark tests;
  • A requirement to administer the vast majority of the STAAR test electronically by the 2022-23 school year, as well as a transition plan;
  • Creation of a new Assessment Advisory Committee; and
  • A study on STAAR testing.

Due in large part to what they see as in an increase in testing, parents and teachers alike have been calling on their legislators to oppose this bill. As a result, the House voted on a motion from Rep. Huberty to send HB 3906 to a conference committee today.

ATPE encourages those who are willing to continue advocating with regard to HB 3906 to consider calling out specific provisions, such as the additional writing assessments for deletion from the bill while recommending that more favorable components be passed into law. ATPE members are reminded that they can use Advocacy Central to easily contact their legislators by phone, email, or social media.


 

More detail on the legislative deal to address school finance, property taxes, and TRS

As the ATPE lobby team reported here on our blog yesterday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, collectively known as the “Big Three” heads of government, held a press conference Thursday afternoon to announce that negotiators had finalized a grand bargain to address property tax relief, school finance reform, and funding for the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). Gov. Abbott told media that lawmakers had reached agreement on the budget, House Bill (HB) 1; the property tax relief bill, Senate Bill (SB) 2; HB 3, which deals with a combination of property taxes and school finance; and SB 12 addressing TRS funding. Each of the three leaders took turns explaining parts of the final compromise.

The only details available yesterday were in the form of a handout given to members of the media and the comments made by the elected officials. As of Thursday afternoon, most legislators had not even seen the actual text of the final plan. Even though the bills have not yet been made available to the public as of 5:30 this Friday afternoon, ATPE’s lobbyists have had their first “unofficial” look today at the new bill language proposed for HB 3 and can provide some additional insights and observations.

SCHOOL FINANCE

The price tag of the newest version of the school finance legislation has expanded to more than $11 billion. According to the handout shared with reporters yesterday, the compromise plan includes $4.5 billion intended to:

  • Increase the basic allotment from $5,140 to $6,160 per student.
  • Fund full-day pre-K for low-income students
  • Adopt high-quality reading standards for grades K-3
  • Create a dyslexia identification program
  • Support dual-language programs and extended year summer programs for economically disadvantaged students
  • Provide outcomes-based bonuses for college, career, and military readiness (CCMR)
  • Fund transportation at a rate of $1.00 per mile, as opposed to on a per-student basis
  • Quadruple funding for building and equipping new facilities
  • Direct more funds to schools with higher concentrations of under-served students, including dropouts, students in special education, and students in residential treatment facilities

Here are some additional details gleaned from the previewed language of the final bill:

Outcomes-based funding:

  • Controversial outcomes-based funding tied to third-grade reading performance was removed from the final bill.
  • The bill includes outcomes-based bonuses for college, career, and military readiness that are tied to the number of graduates who exceed a minimum threshold to be determined by the commissioner.
  • The bonuses paid to the school district would be weighted based whether or not the graduating students are educationally disadvantaged (either $3,000 or $5,000 per student above the minimum number of students established by the commissioner for each group).
  • The bill also defines the readiness standard for each category of college, career, or military, with commissioner authority for setting some criteria.
  • School districts will be required to spend at least 55 percent of the bonuses they receive in grades 8 through 12 to improve readiness outcomes.
  • The bill calls for TEA to conduct a study on alternative career readiness measures for small
    and rural school districts with results to be reported to the legislature by January 1, 2021.

Bilingual education funding:

  • In addition to other uses already outlined in current law, districts will be allowed to use funding associated with bilingual education for “incremental costs associated with providing smaller class sizes.”
  • Districts must now use at least 55 percent of the bilingual allotment to provide bilingual education or special language program, and the bill authorizes the commissioner to reduce a district’s FSP amount in subsequent years by an amount equal to the amount of bilingual education or
    special language funds the commissioner determines were not used in in this manner.

Career and technology:

  • The Career and Technology Allotment is expanded to cover students in grades 7 through 12, rather than just high school students.
  • The bill adds funding for students enrolled in a campus designated as a P-TECH school or a campus that is a member of the New Tech Network and focuses on project-based learning and work-based education.
  • For purposes of the allotment, the definition of “career and technology education class” is broadened to include technology applications courses generally (rather than being restricted to approved cybersecurity courses).
  • Similar to the bilingual allotment, districts must use at least 55 percent of the career and technology allotment for providing CTE programs in grades 7 through 12.
  • Districts will be entitled to reimbursement if they pay a subsidy for a student in a special education or career and technology program to earn a license or certificate, as allowed under current law.

Early education:

  • The bill adds an early education allotment for students in grades K-3 where funding is increased for educationally disadvantaged students and students of limited English proficiency who are enrolled in a bilingual or special language program. The funds must be used to improve student performance in reading and math in Pre-K through through third grade.
  • While not tied specifically or directly to funding, HB 3 calls for school boards to adopt five-year plans for early childhood literacy and mathematics proficiency that include annual goals for student performance. The plans should include goals for aggregate student growth on certain assessment instruments and targeted professional development for teachers in these early grades.

Miscellaneous:

  • HB 3 calls for using current year property values to determine school districts’ available tax revenue, as opposed to the prior year’s values under current law. This change has been highly controversial, with several districts complaining that they will lose money with this change.
  • School districts or charter schools that offer an additional 30 days of half-day instruction for students in grades pre-K through 5 will be entitled to additional incentive funding.
  • The bill’s new Fast Growth Allotment applies to school districts in which enrollment for the past three school years is in the top quartile of student enrollment growth for the entire state. These districts will be entitled to additional funding equating to the basic allotment multiplied by 0.04 for each student in average daily attendance.
  • Districts will be entitled to reimbursement of fees they pay under existing law for the administration of college-prep assessments to high school juniors and seniors.
  • The bill calls for TEA to partner with a public institution of higher education to study and report to the legislature on geographic variations in the cost of education and transportation costs. Results of the study must be reported by Dec. 1, 2020.

TEACHER PAY & BENEFITS

The plan announced yesterday aims to spend $1.6 billion over the next two years to provide what state leaders have described as “dynamic pay raises” for teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses, while prioritizing veteran educators. They also indicated in yesterday’s press statements that the state would contribute $922 per teacher over the next two years to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas in order to make it actuarially sound. The plan includes $140 million for a merit/incentive pay program, $30 million annually for an extended year program that rewards teachers who work an additional 30 days during the summer, $8 million for mentoring new teachers, and $6 million toward professional development for teachers in blended learning instruction. Here are some additional details based upon ATPE’s reading of the bill.

Educator compensation:

The increase in the basic allotment will also cause an increase in the state’s minimum salary schedule that applies to teachers and some other educators. This will have the effect of increasing the floor for many educators, providing raises for some, and increasing the state’s share of TRS pension contributions while lowering the district’s share.

According to ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier, HB 3 also includes a mechanism to automatically require districts to increase some educators’ pay under certain circumstances. Here are some more details:

  • If the basic allotment of a district increases from one year to the next, the district must use at least 30% of the difference in the funding level to provide pay increases to certain full-time school employees who are not administrators. (For instance, if a district had an increase in student funding from one year to the next of $100,000, the district would need to spend at least $30,000 on increased compensation.)
  • Of this “at least 30%” amount, 75% of that funding must be used for compensation increases for full-time classroom teachers, counselors, librarians, and school nurses. However, districts must prioritize using this money for increasing the compensation for classroom teachers with more than five years of experience.
  • The other 25% of the “at least 30% amount” may be used as determined by the district to increase compensation for full-time district employees.
  • Unlike the earlier versions of HB 3, there is no requirement that these compensation increases be made in an across-the-board manner with each eligible employee receiving the same amount. There is also no guarantee that all of the employees in these categories would receive a salary increase under this bill.
  • It is unclear but presumed that the compensation increases allowed under this section of the bill would be in addition to potential stipends provided by districts’ participation in extended school year, mentoring, or merit pay programs that are also in HB 3.

Merit pay:

ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell provided additional insights on the bill’s merit pay language. The new “Teacher Incentive Allotment” is structured in a manner similar to the Senate’s adopted proposal for merit pay, but the final HB 3 proposal will give districts more flexibility, reduce the commissioner’s authority to set criteria compared to what was in the Senate plan, and place less emphasis on student performance and test scores compared to the Senate plan. While the allotment does provide districts with new funding that is specifically allocated for teacher compensation, there are few guarantees that the teachers who demonstrate the merit as defined by this bill will receive substantially higher pay. Still, we are pleased that legislators listened to our requests that they remove troubling test-based criteria from the merit pay plan.

  • School districts would be eligible for additional funding through this allotment for certain teachers who are designated as recognized, exemplary, or master teachers. It is important to emphasize that these funds do not flow directly to the teachers who earn the designations but are paid to the districts instead.
  • The designations are defined in a new statute under which a school district or open-enrollment
    charter school has the local option of designating a certified classroom teacher as a master, exemplary, or recognized teacher for a five-year period. Designations would be noted on the teacher’s virtual certificate maintained by SBEC. Teachers will have no vested property right in the designation according to this bill, and any designation found to have been made improperly will be voided. HB 3 repeals various older “master teacher” statutes that are being replaced with this program.
  • Districts are not required to participate in this new local optional teacher designation program, but we assume that most will want to participate in order to qualify for the additional state funding that is tied to it.
  • The bill requires the commissioner to set “performance and validity standards” that will mathematically allow for all eligible teachers to earn the designation. The bill adds that these standards “may not require a district” to use a state assessment instrument like the STAAR test “to evaluate teacher performance.”
  • Districts may designate a nationally board-certified teacher as recognized even if the teacher does not otherwise meet the performance standards set by the commissioner.
  • The teacher designations will be based on the results of single year or multiyear appraisals of the teachers pursuant to the existing T-TESS statutes. Unlike the Senate’s merit pay proposal that called for a competitive statewide ranking of teachers based on student performance, districts will determine eligibility for the new merit designations using evaluation criteria, which under the existing T-TESS statutes incorporate observations of teacher performance and the performance of teachers’ students. These determinations will be subject to the performance standards set by the commissioner, however, and the local designation system must be validated.
  • For the validation element, Texas Tech University is tasked with monitoring the quality and fairness of the local optional teacher designation systems. The commissioner is required to ensure that the local optional teacher designation systems “prioritize high needs campuses.” TEA will be required, with cooperation from the participating districts, to evaluate the effectiveness of the local optional teacher designation systems and report their findings to the legislature.
  • The commissioner may adopt fees and rules to implement this program.
  • The amount of the funding paid to districts through this allotment will vary. Districts may receive between $3,000 and $9,000 for each recognized teacher; between $6,000 and $18,000 for each exemplary teacher; and between $12,000 and $32,000 for each master teacher. We presume that specific amounts paid within these ranges will be determined by the commissioner and outlined more specifically in commissioner’s rules to be adopted later.
  • If the recognized, exemplary, or master teacher works at a rural campus or one that serves a higher number of disadvantaged students, a funding weight is applied to the allotment that entitles the district to higher funding.
  • Districts must certify annually that they are spending the allotment in compliance with the law. They are required to show that they have “prioritized high needs campuses” in their use of the allotment.
  • The districts will be required to spend at least 90 percent of the allotment “for the compensation of teachers” who are employed at the same campus as the campus where the teacher who earned the designation and enabled the district to receive the additional funding is employed. Note that this does not specifically require the teacher who earned the designation corresponding to the allotment to receive any additional funding. In other words, districts will have discretion on how they spend these funds for teacher compensation.
  • Beyond the 90 percent requirement, districts may use the allotment for costs associated with implementing the teacher designation program.
  • Unfortunately, there is no language in the bill ensuring that this allotment cannot be used by school districts to supplant other district funds for teacher compensation.

TAX RELIEF

The proposal includes $5 billion for tax relief that is intended increase the state’s share of education funding to 45 percent from 38 percent. The governor’s office claims the plan will lower school property tax rates by an average of eight cents per $100 of property valuation in 2020 and 13 cents in 2021, and provide an additional 2.5 percent tax compression starting in 2021. The plan also requires efficiency audits before holding a tax election.

RECAPTURE

Part of the plan addresses recapture, often commonly referred to as a “Robin Hood” system, which seeks to ensure equity by transferring tax revenue from property-wealthy districts to those that are property-poor. The promotional materials indicated that recapture would be reduced by $3.6 billion as part of the $11.6 billion investment made in HB 3 to buy down property taxes and reform school finance formulas.

OTHER PROVISIONS

The negotiated version of HB 3 contains a number of provisions that bear little relation to “school finance.” For instance, the bill requires the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) to adopt rules that that will pertain to new certificates issued after Jan. 1, 2021 and will require teachers to demonstrate proficiency in the science of teaching reading before they can be assigned to teach any grade level from prekindergarten through grade six.

The bill also adds new reading standards for kindergarten through third grade students. Under these standards, school districts and open-enrollment charter schools must use a phonics curriculum that
uses systematic direct instruction to ensure all students obtain necessary early literacy skills. Districts must also ensure that teachers of grades K-3 and principals at the campuses serving those grades have attended a literacy achievement academy by no later than the 2021-2022 school year. Additionally, the district or charter school must certified that it has prioritized placement of “highly effective” teachers in classrooms for grades K-2. The commissioner will adopt rules to implement these new provisions.

Other non-finance related provisions of the bill include measures related to educator misconduct and eligibility to work in a public school.

  • The bill will create a “do not hire” registry of educators who are ineligible for employment. HB 3 adds requirements for reporting alleged misconduct to TEA and SBEC. To facilitate such reporting, SBEC will be required to set up a new internet portal that superintendents will use to share such information.
  • The bill gives the commissioner of education authority to investigate and sanction non-certified employees in a manner similar to SBEC’s current disciplinary authority over certified educators.
  • The commissioner will also have broad access to school district records, the criminal history record clearinghouse, and law enforcement records from criminal cases to ensure compliance with the requirement to report allegations of misconduct.
  • For Districts of Innovation (DOI), failure to comply with the reporting requirements can invalidate their designation as a DOI.

ATPE’s Governmental Relations staff members are continuing to analyze the newly designed versions of these bills and will provide additional details throughout these final days of the session. We expect the House and Senate to vote on them either Saturday or Sunday, and we hope that the new bill text for HB 3 and SB 12 will be shared with the public this evening. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote on Twitter for the latest rapidly developing updates.