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House Public Education Committee hears 31 bills on playgrounds, pre-K, and more

House Public Education Committee meeting, April 23, 2019

On Tuesday, April 23, 2019, the House Public Education Committee heard 31 bills relating to a variety of topics, including the use of school counselors’ time, special education evaluation notices, the role of the fine arts curriculum, and creating inclusive playgrounds that are accessible to all students.

ATPE supported several bills considered at the hearing, including:

  • House Bill (HB) 142 (Moody, D-El Paso): Would require TEA to develop a notice for distribution and internet posting that includes reporting changes for special education indicators and the rights of children to special education evaluation. Would also require districts to include additional information on the notice about initiating a referral for special education services. Rep. Moody stated that there is money set aside in the proposed state budget to accomplish the goals of his bill.
  • HB 727 (Gonzalez, M., D-Clint): Would require that school boards adopt a policy requiring school counselors to spend at least 80% of their time on core counseling duties. If the district can’t meet this requirement, the policy must include reasons why, duties the counselor will have to do, and set the actual percentage in the policy.
  • HB 1763 (Blanco, D-El Paso): Would add children of educators employed by school districts to the eligibility list for free pre-kindergarten.
  • HB 4030 (Dominguez, D-Brownsville): Would provide funding for school districts to provide at least one playground in the district that is inclusive and accessible for students with disabilities.
  • HB 4414 (Allison, R-San Antonio): Would require TEA to develop a rubric for Regional Education Service Centers (ESCs) to use for identifying resources related to student mental health. ESCs would be required to use the rubric and report back to TEA. TEA would also have to create a statewide inventory of mental health resources and a statewide plan for student mental health.

During Tuesday’s hearing, ATPE also provided written testimony against HB 3623 by Rep. Matt Schaefer. The bill would affect teachers employed under continuing contracts, making them eligible to stay in their jobs only if the majority of their students meet a “minimum growth standard” to be determined by the district and approved by the Commissioner. ATPE testified that HB 3623’s reliance on an unspecified “minimum growth standard” hints at the use of value-added modeling (VAM), which has been widely criticized as a tool that improperly uses students’ standardized test scores for high-stakes purposes. ATPE also pointed out that many teachers do not teach tested subjects or grades. ATPE’s testimony also questioned what the due process protections would be for affected teachers whose students do not meet the standard. In the hearing, Rep. Schaefer faced questions from Reps. Allen, Gonzalez, and Talarico on the vagueness of what “growth” means in the bill and on the importance of other non-academic factors. Read ATPE’s written testimony on HB 3623 here.

The following bills were also heard by the House Public Education Committee on Tuesday:

  • HB 535 (Neave, D-Dallas): Would require students to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) or Texas Application for State Financial Aid (TAFSA), in order to graduate, with some exceptions. Rep. Neave noted that this was recommendation #27 in the Texas Commission on Public School Finance final report issued last year.
  • HB 2217 (Raymond, D-Laredo): Would provide that school boards do not have to hear complaints concerning parent participation in extracurricular activities that do not involve a violation of a right.
  • HB 2526 (Leach, R-Plano): Would enable students whose parent(s) reside within the school district to be granted automatic admission. Rep. Leach shared that this bill would fix the predicament of his constituent who had the district boundary line in her backyard.
  • HB 3005 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would open college preparatory math and English language arts courses to 11th graders who demonstrate that they would otherwise be unable to take it in their 12th grade year and complete the requirements for high school graduation. Rep. Talarico said the bill was requested by Pflugerville ISD.
  • HB 3025 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would allow districts or schools to provide parents with a facilitated meeting with the school counselor regarding accepting or declining a special education evaluation on behalf of the student, should the parent dispute the referral. Rep. Talarico said this bill was brought to him by special education advocates.
  • HB 3026 (Talarico, D-Round Rock): Would require that school districts with 400 or more students have a ratio of 400:1 students to behavioral health professionals (which includes school counselors, licensed specialists in school psychology, social workers, and licensed professional counselors). The bill also outlines duties of the mental health professional within the school setting.
  • HB 3153 (Raymond, D-Laredo): Would allow a nepotism exception for a teacher in a subject or geographic area certified as a critical shortage area.
  • HB 3179 (Stucky, R-Denton): Would require the Commissioner to adopt rules to allow districts to submit information in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) on the cost of assessments, including administration, participation, preparation, and training.
  • HB 3316 (White, R-Hillister): Would expand the campus crime stoppers program by adding school districts and charters to the entities that a crime stoppers organization reports to, as well as adding threats to public safety or an individual to the activities that the crime stoppers report on. This bill would also add a student advisory member to the program.
  • HB 3344 (Bucy, D-Austin): Would add fine arts to the required foundation curriculum. Rep. Bucy stated that students in fine arts have better educational outcomes.
  • HB 3452 (Dutton, D-Houston): Would require the Commissioner to evaluate all dropout recovery schools under the alternative education accountability system, and to only consider performance at the level of “approaches grade level.” The “closing the gaps” domain would be used for reporting purposes only.
  • HB 3489 (Cole, D-Austin): Would require TEA to create a task force on sex-based harassment in schools to evaluate and provide recommendations and best practices, including school district professional development.
  • HB 3651 (Davis, Y., D-Dallas): Would require the Commissioner to conduct a study on the relationship between district size, cost, and academic effectiveness.
  • HB 3851 (Lang, R-Granbury): Would require the Comptroller to publish and maintain a list of unfunded mandates and report to the legislature on findings about the benefits and costs of each mandate.
  • HB 3880 (Wilson, R-Marble Falls): Would transfer the duty to develop and provide information to students about steroids from the State Board of Education (SBOE) and TEA to the Department of State Health Services Mental Health and Substance Abuse, in conjunction with the University Interscholastic League (UIL).
  • HB 3888 (Ramos, D-Richardson): Would add suicide to the conditions addressed by the school health advisory council (SHAC). Would also add require SHACs to provide strategies to increase parental awareness regarding risky behaviors, early warning signs of suicide risks, and available community programs and services to address these. The bill would require districts where at least 70% of the students are educationally disadvantaged, homeless, or in foster care to develop and implement a plan to increase parent and student knowledge of behavioral health disorders and treatment options.
  • HB 4094 (Beckley, D-Carrollton): Would require districts to make at least one attempt by phone or e-mail during each week of a student’s meal account grace period to make arrangements with the parent for payment of a negative balance and help the parent complete an application for free or reduced price lunch (FRPL). After the grace period ends, the district may allow the student to continue purchasing meals or provide alternative meals at no cost. The bill would also allow districts to pay a negative balance using donations.
  • HB 4186 (Sanford, R-McKinney): Would create the “Next Generation Commission on Digital Learning” to make recommendations for a framework for digital teaching and learning in public schools following the same structure as last year’s school finance commission.
  • HB 4302 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would prohibit issuance of subpoenas for audio/video surveillance of special education settings unless they meet under Texas Education Code (TEC) Section 29.022. Rep. VanDeaver cited a case  in which video was subpoenaed to observe the “educational record” of a student that did not involve complaints of abuse or neglect. Only cases of abuse or neglect were the focus of the original intent of the video camera law enacted in 2015.
  • HB 4313 (Dominguez, D-Brownsville): Would require the UIL to create an adaptive sports program for students with disabilities.
  • HB 4324 (VanDeaver, R-New Boston): Would allow the Commissioners of both TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to approve a format of electronic submission of student records, such as the Texas Records Exchange (TREx), that allows for the transfer and efficient and effective extraction of data elements from student transcripts.
  • HB 4383 (Bohac, R-Houston): Would require school districts and charters to prepare a list of instructional materials provided to students that cover each Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) element. This list would be part of an existing annual certification that each district and charter school must submit to the SBOE and Commissioner.
  • HB 4578 (Gervin-Hawkins, R-San Antonio): Would require the SBOE, TEA, and stakeholders to enter into a memorandum of understanding on the development of culturally inclusive instruction.
  • HB 4589 and HJR 150 (Anchia, D-San Antonio): Would add a “global competitiveness” objective to the public education mission in the Texas Constitution by stating that students will earn a post-secondary credential after high school. This bill would also require that each legislature establish standards that public schools must satisfy and align then with the state’s “60×30” plan, which provides that by 2030, at least 60 percent of Texans ages 25-34 will hold a certificate or degree.

At the end of Tuesday’s House Public Education Committee hearing, Chairman Huberty announced that the committee will meet again on Wednesday afternoon, April 24, to vote on pending bills that have already been heard. He added that next week the committee will meet to hear mainly Senate bills that have made their way over to the House and been referred to House Public Education. Up to this point, the committee has not yet heard any public testimony on Senate bills, so stay tuned!

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.

Commissioner briefs SBOE on teacher pay issues

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath addressed the State Board of Education (SBOE) Tuesday morning, kicking off the second day of the board’s week-long January meeting.

Commissioner Mike Morath addressing SBOE, January 29, 2019.

Morath began with a high-level review of the 2018 State of the State of Public Education annual report. Members asked the agency to produce a report detailing state scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test.

The commissioner walked members through efforts by the agency to create Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) guides to help educators and parents better understand the standards and alignment, as well as resources to help understand assessments and student expectations.

Commissioner Morath briefed members on efforts to review the assessment process, including organizational restructuring to embed the STAAR team within the agency’s curriculum department, which ensures that staff who participate in the TEKS review process are the same staff developing questions for the assessment.

Morath also responded to a question about the state of teacher pay legislation in the 86th Texas Legislature. The commissioner noted that a bill has already been filed to give teachers a $5,000 across-the-board raise. There is also legislation in the works to create a differentiated pay program. Morath discussed the impact of higher compensation on teacher quality, and explained that this is primarily aimed at increasing retention and attracting higher quality candidates who may otherwise be turned off by the limited salary potential of teaching.

Tuesday’s meeting included an update from Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, on which Ellis sat as the board’s sole representative. The final report can be found here.

Ellis said the commission’s goals included balancing the state and local share of funding for public education, restructuring the system by reallocating outdated or otherwise inefficient weights and programs, and substantially increasing the level of equity with significantly greater investment in low-income, underperforming student groups. Goals also included reducing the growth rate of property taxes and reliance on recapture, as well as infusing significant state funds into public education.

The commission contemplated proposals to slow recapture and property tax growth, including the governor’s plan, a plan by the Texas Taxpayers and Research Association (TTARA), and a share recapture plan. Ellis noted that the commission decided to allow the current legislative session to take up the discussion of revenues.

Responding to questions from other board members, Ellis suggested that the commission’s findings will likely involve at least one large package, with additional pieces filed individually. New board Member Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) asked about the sustainability of Dallas ISD’s “ACE” differentiated pay program. Ellis pointed out that the district’s superintendent testified to the program’s enormous cost.

The board will spend Wednesday hosting a learning roundtable at the Austin Convention Center, and will return to the TEA building on Thursday to break up into committees and elect committee chairs.

From The Texas Tribune: Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers

By Aliyya Swaby, The Texas Tribune
Dec. 19, 2018

Texas Commission on Public School Finance member Todd Williams of Dallas, left, speaks with Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath and state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, on Jan. 23, 2018. | Photo by Bob Daemmrich for the Texas Tribune

Texas school finance panel approves final report to lawmakers” 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.

After hours of discussion Wednesday, a state panel studying school finance stripped its final report of language that blamed the state for inadequate education spending — and that added urgency to a need for more money to improve student performance.

The original version of the report, unveiled last Tuesday, included stronger language that held the state accountable for the lack of education funding and urged lawmakers to immediately inject more than a billion dollars of new funding into public schools. Scott Brister, the panel’s chairman and a former Texas Supreme Court justice, led the charge to make those changes, which he said would be more palatable to lawmakers and keep Texas from being sued in the future.

“I do have a problem several places where it says our school system has failed. I do think that’s asking for trouble,” he said.

Some lawmakers and educators on the panel pushed back before agreeing to compromise.

“I think we have failed our schools and we haven’t funded them, in my view, adequately or equitably,” responded state Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Houston, who chairs the House Public Education Committee.

Despite the conflict, the 13-member commission unanimously approved more than 30 recommendations on Wednesday aimed at boosting public education funding, improving student performance, cleaning up a messy funding distribution system — and providing property tax relief for Texans.

A final report will be sent to lawmakers, who are convening next month amid calls from state leadership to overhaul a long-embattled school finance system. Gov. Greg Abbott supported the panel’s vote in a statement Wednesday afternoon: “Today’s school finance commission report made clear that the state must reform the broken Robin Hood system and allocate more state funding to education. This session, we will do just that.”

The vote was the culmination of nearly a year of meetings and hours of testimony from school superintendents, education advocates and policy experts.

Panel members have bickered for months about basic foundational concepts, including whether the state had been underfunding public schools and whether they actually need more money in order to improve. The report takes a middle ground approach, promising more money to school districts that meet certain criteria or agree to offer specific programs such as dual language or merit pay for teachers.

Many of the debates among panel members Wednesday reflected their political divisions, with Brister — a conservative and Abbott appointee — arguing against citing a specific amount lawmakers should infuse into the public school funding system and school officials saying the panel should take an explicit stand based on its research.

An earlier version of the report said lawmakers should take the “important first step” of approving more than $1.73 billion in “new funding” for “the vast majority (if not all)” of the proposed programs.

The recommendation the commission approved Wednesday dropped that dollar figure.

Brister said he was uncomfortable sending a report to lawmakers that pressured them into making specific financial decisions.

“I am willing to say we will have to add new money to do these things. I am not willing to say, ‘And the first step is, every dime has to come from new money,” he said.

Nicole Conley-Johnson, chief financial officer of the Austin Independent School District, unsuccessfully argued to keep the paragraph in its original form.

“The spirit by which we were convened is to establish the changes and make recommendations,” she said. “I feel like we need to have the foresight to put in the estimated cost.”

Education advocacy groups criticized Brister’s decision. “There can be no real school finance reform that fails to address adequacy,” said Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Public Educators, in a statement after Wednesday’s vote. “ATPE is disheartened that some members on the commission were unwilling to acknowledge the reality of the limitation of our state’s current funding levels out of fears of sparking litigation.”

The report still includes cost estimates for recommended programs and changes to how funding is divvied up among schools. But it no longer implores state lawmakers to pay for them.

Among the recommendations the commission plans to send to lawmakers are:

  • $100 million a year to school districts that want to develop their own teacher evaluation metrics and tie pay to performance. The total amount available should increase $100 million each year until it reaches $1 billion.
  • Up to $150 million to incentivize school districts to offer dual language programs, which instruct students in both English and Spanish, and to improve their dyslexia programs.
  • $800 million to incentivize school districts to improve students’ reading level in early grades and to succeed in college or a career after graduating high school.
  • $1.1 billion to improve education for low-income students, with school districts that have a higher share of needy students getting more money.
  • Create a new goal of having 60 percent of third-grade students reading on or above grade level and 60 percent of high school seniors graduating with a technical certificate, military inscription, or college enrollment without the need for remedial classes.
  • Cap local school district tax rates in order to offer property tax relief and a small amount of funding for schools —a proposal from Abbott.
  • No extra funding for special education programs until the state has completed overhauling those programs in line with a federal mandate.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2018/12/19/texas-school-finance-panel-approves-final-report/.

 

Texas Tribune mission statement

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

School finance commission approves final recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Wednesday for the final time to unanimously approve the final recommendations and findings to be included in the commission’s final report due to the Texas Legislature by December 31.

School finance commission meeting December 19, 2018.

The commission was created by House Bill (HB) 21 during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature in August of 2017 after school finance reforms and additional funding proposed by the House were rejected by the Senate. The commission was charged with examining the school finance system and recommending potential reforms.

Members were appointed in the fall of 2017, but the commission did not meet until January 2018. Members heard roughly 80 hours of testimony from more than 150 witnesses, including ATPE. Progress on the final report had been stalled awaiting the product of a working group on revenues led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston).

The final report contains 34 separate recommendations, which members spent hours wordsmithing Wednesday. Chair Scott Brister, who was appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott, resisted wording that would have called for “adequate” school funding or described current funding levels as “inadequate.” The chair’s suggestions centered on insulating the state against any potential for future school finance litigation, while other members of the commission argued for more explicit and specific funding increases.

Changes to the final draft considered on Wednesday included a new section containing significant and previously undiscussed suggestions for the construction of local teacher evaluation systems for implementing the differentiated pay program proposed by the commission. The suggestions outline the required components of district plans, which include student achievement as determined by test scores, administrator observations, and student perception surveys. Furthermore, the suggestions included minimum percentages for each category, requiring test scores to account for a minimum of 25 percent of an educator’s overall evaluation rating.

ATPE successfully lobbied for the commission to remove the percentages from its final report in order to avoid starting the legislative conversation with artificially predetermined weights for each of the recommended components. Despite the language in the report labeling these components as mandatory, they will in actuality serve as the starting point for bills that will be drafted and debated when the 86th Texas Legislature convenes in January. The same goes for all of the recommendations contained within the commission’s report.

The full report is titled “Funding for Impact: Equitable Funding for Students Who Need It the Most” and can be found here. ATPE responded to the final report with a press statement, which recommends the following additional considerations in light of the report:

1. Current public education funding levels are inadequate to meet the state’s education goals
and the needs of our 5.4 million students enrolled in public schools in pre-kindergarten
through 12th grade. Texas remains among the bottom one-third of states in per-student funding
despite educating a disproportionate level of students who are economically disadvantaged
and/or English language learners, both of which require significantly more resources to educate.
There can be no real school finance reform that fails to address adequacy. ATPE is
disheartened that some members on the commission were unwilling to acknowledge the reality of
the limitations of our state’s current funding levels out of fears of sparking litigation.

2. ATPE rejects the implication that school districts do not efficiently allocate the money they
receive under the state’s current funding system. In 2015-16, school administration counted
for little more than three percent of district expenditures, while instruction and direct student
supports combined accounted for more than 70 percent. The state’s share of public education
funding also has fallen dramatically. A decade ago, there was a roughly even split between state
funding and local taxpayers; in 2021, it is projected that state funding will be as low as 32
percent.

3. Texas teachers should be paid a salary that acknowledges their excellence in the classroom and
contributes to statewide efforts at recruitment and retention of outstanding educators. Focusing
on initiatives that would provide a premium salary only for “top teachers,” as the commission has
suggested, would address compensation concerns only for an estimated two to five percent of
our state’s teachers. A large percentage of the remaining educators serving our state’s students
are doing so effectively and deserve additional compensation. In order to achieve the stated goal
of providing all Texas students with an effective teacher, ATPE recommends that the
legislature set a statewide goal of paying all effective teachers a salary that is suitably
competitive and commensurate with the work they are doing—in addition to rewarding the
top teachers in the field.

4. The commission has recommended an educator effectiveness allotment to help school districts
boost salaries of their most effective teachers with state funding that would commence in the
2019-20 school year. However, the final report also suggests new and prescriptive criteria that
school districts would be forced to meet in order to receive the allotment, which would amount to
a major restructuring of teacher evaluation systems without appropriate vetting or study.
Considering the years of research and piloting that have gone into previous design changes to
teacher evaluations in Texas, ATPE strongly cautions legislators against mandating any
rapid, wholesale changes to teacher evaluation laws based solely upon a four-page
excerpt in this school finance commission report that did not receive adequate vetting by
commissioners or stakeholders prior to its adoption.

“ATPE appreciates the long hours devoted by commission members to researching the complexities of school finance and listening to the many concerns by our association and other stakeholders,” said ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes.

In particular, ATPE members have expressed gratitude for those who stood up for Texas students during the commission’s deliberations by arguing for the inclusion of additional public education funding. State support for public education has been inadequate to fully overcome the growing list of challenges that Texas schools face. How to address these challenges became a key issue during the 2018 election cycle.

“Texas voters have sent a strong message,” said Holmes. “The state must do a better job funding our
schools, and Texans will no longer accept excuses for failing to act.”

ATPE looks forward to forging real solutions on school finance when the 86th Texas Legislature
convenes in 2019. The association pledges to continue working with legislators to implement policies that will benefit all 5.4 million Texas schoolchildren.

School finance commission discusses initial recommendations

School finance commission meeting Dec. 11, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin to discuss recommendations for the commission’s report, which is due to the legislature by the end of the month. The initial draft recommendations can be viewed here, and additional resources can be found here.

The draft report includes a recommendation that the 86th Texas Legislature “inject significant additional annual state revenue” through new strategic allotments and weights outlined in the commission’s report, including about $1.7 billion in specific areas. The report adds that for the purposes of new funding, members should note that an increase of $500 million in state funding is equal to a roughly 0.9 percent increase over the last budget biennium. This would be formula funding, targeted at the neediest studies, and tied to specific outcomes.

Commission Chair Scott Brister voiced reservations, suggesting that asking the legislature for significant additional funding is not the commission’s job. He later clarified that his chief opposition was to placing a dollar figure on additional funding. Several members pushed back, including House Public Education Committee Chair Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who said he would not sign a report that does not call for additional school funding.

The report also calls for reallocating $5.34 billion in existing funds to more impactful spending and greater system-wide equity. The commission recommends significant investment to substantially increase third grade reading levels. Outcomes-based funding would be targeted toward early literacy and post-secondary access of career, military, or higher education without remediation.

The commission is recommending a high-quality teacher allotment, initially funded at $200 million, for districts wishing to offer differentiated compensation to pay their most effective educators higher salaries sooner in their career. This would be contingent on districts creating locally-developed, multi-measure evaluation and compensation systems based on an outline created by the legislature. This includes the state setting a goal that top teachers have a path to a $100,000 salary and incentivizing districts to assign top teachers to the most challenging campuses.

Finally, the draft report calls for statutorily increasing the basic allotment, though it does not specify a specific amount. It calls for increasing the yield on “copper pennies” and compressing the rate in order to provide tax relief, as well as reducing the role of recapture in the school finance system. The report makes no recommendations regarding special education, instead suggesting that the current corrective action plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education should be completed before any additional reforms are discussed.

Discussing the commission’s major findings, Brister acknowledged that schools are being asked to do more than ever before. This includes higher security standards and providing for the physical and mental well-being of students in addition to educating them. He then asked to strike language from the report that says the state has failed to adequately fund public education.

After breaking for lunch, the commission returned for more in-depth discussion on individual recommendations. Commission member Todd Williams of the Commit Partnership in Dallas pointed out that the teacher compensation portion of the plan (Section D) does not include specific funding for strategic staffing such as that implemented by the Dallas ISD ACE program, which is intended to incentivize top teachers to teach at the highest-need campuses. Williams argued the evaluation system and strategic staffing system should be treated as separate and funded accordingly.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) then laid out the recommendations from the working group he chaired on revenues. The group’s primary recommendation is to adopt Gov. Greg Abbott’s plan to cap local property tax revenue growth. The plan suggests capping growth at 2.5 percent annually, and replacing revenue lost by school districts with state funding. The governor’s office does not specify how much this would cost or from where the replacement funding would come.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez presented a chart addressing the three plans endorsed by Bettencourt’s group, which suggests that the governor’s plan would reduce local maintenance and operations (M&O) tax collections by nearly $1 billion and increase school district revenue by $300 million in 2020 at a cost of roughly $1.3 billion. By 2023, the governor’s plan is projected to reduce M&O tax collection by $3.7 billion while increasing school district revenues by $74 million. Lopez pointed out that this is primarily a tax relief plan, as opposed to a school finance plan, which explains why future funding is projected to flatten out.

The commission discussed the level of emphasis that should be placed upon the governor’s revenue cap plan. Members pointed out the interrelation of property taxes and school finance, as well as the need to focus on the commission’s statutory charge, which is to fix the school finance system. The governor’s plan alone would not change the fundamental mechanics of the school finance system.

Sen. Bettencourt has argued that the state’s coffers will be flush heading into the next budget cycle based on tax revenue from booming oil and gas production, but the state comptroller has yet to release a formal biennial revenue estimate (BRE) with hard numbers upon which to base a budget. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who represents oil and gas-dependent west Texas, cautioned against relying on oil and gas as a reliable, long-term funding source. A combination of the governor’s plan and the commission’s recommendations for additional public education spending could add up to a price tag north of $5 billion for the upcoming budget biennium.

The commission is scheduled to meet next Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2018, to vote on final recommendations. The commission is required by law to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

ATPE’s Shannon Holmes facilitates teacher pay discussion

ATPE Executive Director Dr. Shannon Holmes moderated a panel discussion on teacher compensation Thursday at a conference for the Texas Association of Midsize Schools (TAMS). The discussion included state Reps. Gary VanDeaver (R-New Boston), who is a member of the Texas House Public Education Committee, and Travis Clardy (R-Nacogdoches), who filed a high-profile teacher compensation bill in 2017 during the 85th Texas Legislature.

Both representatives agreed about the need to increase teacher compensation, which has become a major topic of discussion heading into the 86th Texas Legislature. Some of the most serious plans proposed thus far have featured differentiated pay, in which top-performing teachers are eligible for higher paychecks. Rep. VanDeaver noted that the major concern with these plans revolves around how top-performing teachers are identified. ATPE has consistently warned that student test scores should not be the primary metric for this purpose.

Rep. Gary VanDeaver, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes, and Rep. Travis Clardy at the TAMS conference on Dec. 6, 2018

Rep. Clardy acknowledged that a critical part of any raise this session will be identifying state funding for that purpose. Legislation addressing teacher pay during the 2017 special session did not include state funding and instead asked districts to pay for raises out of their own pockets, which effectively tabled the discussion.

The conference featured other panels related to public education, including one featuring state Reps. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) and Ken King (R-Canadian), both members of the House Public Education Committee, as well as State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin). All three serve on the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, which was created in part by the failure of a House-sponsored school finance reform bill last session. Rep. Bernal vowed that if the commission fails to come up with a real plan to reform the finance system before the new session begins, the House will come up with its own plan and challenge the Senate to pass it.

Thursday’s event furthered underscored the extent to which the focus will be on public education in the upcoming legislative session. Many lawmakers who have seemed uninterested in addressing school finance in the past are now championing reform efforts. Rep. King and others suggested Thursday that the results of the most recent election sent a strong message that Texas voters want legislators who will advance the interests of public education.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Nov. 30, 2018

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


During the final interim meeting of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, lawmakers discussed mandate relief and innovation, the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-TECH) program, and educator misconduct. Members of a working group of policy stakeholders, which included ATPE, agreed to send 20 recommendations to be considered during the 86th legislative session next year. ATPE member Aletha Williams testified on the need for mentors in the teaching profession in order to help retain employees. The committee also discussed implementation of Senate Bill (SB) 7, an educator misconduct bill passed last session, and discussed the possibility of creating a “Do Not Hire Registry”  for educators who have previously engaged in misconduct. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann provides more information in this blog post.

 


School finance commission working group meeting, Nov. 27, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenue met Tuesday to finalize its recommendations before they’re presented to the full commission. The group debated the merits of recapture, often referred to more commonly as “Robin Hood,” the mechanism by which the state redistributes funds from property-rich districts to property-poor districts. While Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who chairs the group, expressed his desire to do away with recapture, others such as Rep. Diego Bernal (D -San Antonio) and Rep. Ken King (R – Canadian) questioned how equity could be preserved without the program or how Texas could implement a “sharing” system among recaptured funds. Ultimately the working group voted to advance the governor’s tax cap plan, which would increase funding for schools that improve outcomes and cap property tax growth at 2.5 percent, as well as Bettencourt’s recapture “sharing” plan to the full commission.

The full commission is meeting today and will meet at least twice more in December to receive recommendations from the working groups and finalize its report to the legislature. A more detailed account of Tuesday’s meeting can be found in this post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


According to data from the Texas Secretary of State, more than 7 million registered voters in the state did not participate in the midterm elections earlier this month. Members of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, including ATPE, are working to change that.The group aims to create a culture of voting in schools and communities and demonstrate how rewarding and easy it can be to for ordinary people to perform their civic duty. You can help their efforts by participating in this voter registration survey that asks educators to share details on their involvement in get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts and, specifically, efforts to help eligible students become registered to vote. The survey provides information to the Texas Civil Rights Project, which creates a map of high schools where students are registered to vote. Submissions must be completed by 5 pm on Friday, December 7.

 


ATPE Lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann and GR Director Jennifer Mitchell met with visiting education experts from Armenia on Nov. 30, 2019, at the ATPE state office.

Members of the ATPE lobby team had the privilege of meeting today with a delegation from Armenia to discuss education issues, including school funding, recruiting and retaining high-quality teachers, and the role of educator associations in advancing the education profession.

The group is visiting the United States as part of the U.S. State Department’s Visitor Leadership Program, which fosters citizen-to-citizen diplomacy for emerging leaders and coordinates opportunities for cross-cultural sharing between dignitaries from over 90 countries. The program was formed shortly after WWII and boasts such famous alumni as Tony Blair, Anwar Sadat, Margaret Thatcher, Nicolas Sarkozy, Indira Gandhi, and others.

During their visit to Texas, the education experts from Armenia also met with representatives of the Texas Education Agency and visited local schools. Other cities they will visit during their trip to the U.S. include San Antonio, plus Pensacola, Florida, Cleveland, Ohio, Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, DC. Representing ATPE during today’s meeting were Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell and lobbyists Monty Exter and Kate Kuhlmann.

 


Finance commission group finalizes recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenue met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to discuss recommendations to deliver to the full commission. State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), who leads the working group, indicated he is open to using the economic stabilization fund (ESF), which is commonly referred to as the “Rainy Day Fund,” to help fund public education.

School finance commission working group meeting November 27, 2018.

Bettencourt opened the meeting suggesting that state revenues are looking bullish heading into the next budget biennium. Again, Sen. Bettencourt emphasized his priority is phasing out the “Robin Hood” system of wealth equalization through recapture. According to Bettencourt, freezing recapture would cost approximately $2.3 billion.

Before Bettencourt began his presentation, commission member and Austin ISD Chief Financial Officer Nicole Conley Johnson told the group she had identified $14 billion in new programs to propose to the commission.

According to figures Bettencourt provided to the group, the state comptroller increased the revenue estimate for the next biennium to $110.2 billion in July 2018 from $104.9 billion in 2017, a $5.3 billion increase. During the first two months of fiscal year (FY) 2019, sales tax revenues, which represent 58 percent of all state tax collections, are expected to be up ten percent compared to FY 2018.

Bettencourt asserted two point upon which most agree: Without school finance reform, the state’s share of public education funding will continue to shrink, and the amount of funding districts pay into recapture for wealth equalization will continue to increase. Bettencourt emphasized his prediction that increased revenue in FY 2019 will provide additional general revenue (GR) which will be available to help fund schools.

State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), who is vice-chair of the House Public Education Committee, raised a question over how equity would be preserved if legislators make changes to or eliminate the recapture system. State Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian), who is also a member of the House Public Education Committee, also raised a concern that any increase in school funding will need to be sustainable.

Bettencourt presented the governor’s tax cap plan as the solution. The plan would increase funding for districts that increase teacher pay and improve student outcomes, however Rep. Bernal noted that outcomes-based funding threatens to reward districts that already have the resources necessary to improve while neglecting districts that have failed to improve precisely because they lack the necessary resources. The plan would also limit property tax revenue growth to 2.5 percent per year, which the plan promises to make up for with state funding.

Another proposal discussed by Bettencourt is one presented by the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), a far-right pro-voucher organization, which would aim to eliminate all school district maintenance and operations (M&O) property taxes. This would cost roughly $51.3 billion for the 2018-19 biennium. The TPPF proposal claims to be able to pay for itself by dedicating future increases in state revenues to public education, but Bettencourt conceded that this is an optimistic view.

Bettencourt also briefly discussed the idea of “sharing” recapture. In this plan, property value growth would be divided by thirds, and the benefits from the growth in property values would ostensibly be shared. Additionally, Bettencourt suggested using the increase in production severance taxes – largely due to oil and gas activity in the Permian Basin – to help fund public education. This funding stream currently already flows to public education and general revenue, with an overflow stream that is bifurcated between highway funding and the ESF. Despite the Senate’s opposition to spending ESF dollars in previous legislative sessions, Bettencourt indicated he’s now open to spending ESF money to help fund public education. Johnson argued that this represents a redirection of existing revenues and does not represent the new revenue necessary to improve school performance.

The working group voted to advance each of the proposals except the plan offered by TPPF to be considered by the full commission. Rep. King made the motion to table the TPPF plan, which he declared nonsensical. Several members expressed similar concerns. Closing the meeting, commission chair Scott Brister suggested that legislators should feel less constrained by court rulings enforcing equity. As a justice, Brister was a dissenting voice in the West Orange-Cove school finance ruling.

The full commission will meet Friday, again on December 5, and at least once more during the third week of December. The commission will get a chance to react to Tuesday’s recommendations and will arrive at a decision by the December 5 meeting on what the final report should look like. The following meeting will focus on what the report should say. The commission is required to submit its report to the legislature by December 31.

Brister asked commission members to do their best to reach a unanimous consensus on recommendations, and said that in lieu of a minority report, individual members will be allowed to place letters in an appendix to the final report.

 

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: November 16, 2018

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


TEA Commissioner Mike Morath addresses SBOE, November 14, 2018.

The State Board of Education (SBOE) met this week to discuss a variety of topics in what would be its last series of meetings before the year’s end.

On Wednesday, the board voted to increase its distribution from the Public School Fund to 2.9%.  This action takes place after a dispute earlier this year between the SBOE and the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB). Both the SBOE and the SLB manage investment portfolios that fund public education, but an unusual move by the SLB to bypass the SBOE and put funding directly into the Available School Fund (ASF) means that the SBOE will have less money to support classrooms directly.

Other topics of discussion this week included the streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, the board’s final discussion on the Long Range Plan (LRP) for public education, and the SBOE’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session in 2019.

The Board also heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner addressed concerns that the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) seeks less state funding than in previous years, telling the board the agency is simply following the funding formulas established by the legislature.

During the Board’s discussion with Commissioner Morath, members also requested updates on issues such as Senate Bill (SB) 1882, a bill passed during the 85th legislative session that allows public school districts to partner with privately-run charter schools; the recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the U.S. Department of Education’s punitive actions against Texas for underfunding special education programs; and transparency regarding the instructional materials portal launched in 2017.

 


In a press conference earlier this week, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced that the race for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives was “over,” as he had secured enough pledges for votes to make him the definitive winner. While the Speaker’s race won’t officially be over until January, when the House convenes for the 86th legislative session and formally votes for the next speaker, that hasn’t stopped Bonnen from proceeding as the presumptive speaker-elect, hiring key staff and putting in place a transition team.

Rep. Bonnen suggested that school finance will be the top priority of the Texas House in the upcoming legislative session, and he has vowed to work with his counterpart across the rotunda. Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a joint statement this week affirming their commitment to unity and working together in the upcoming session. Rep. Bonnen wrote, “The Lieutenant Governor and I share a strong commitment to doing the people’s business.”


School finance commission working group on revenues meeting, November 13, 2018.

On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues discussed the issue of wealth equalization through recapture, which is commonly referred to as “Robin Hood” under the current school finance system.

Led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the group heard testimony from a variety of stakeholders, including former state Sen. Tommy Williams, who testified on behalf of the governor’s office. Williams delivered the first public explanation of the governor’s plan to cap local tax revenue. A detailed account of the meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.