Tag Archives: school safety

Senate committee discusses school marshal, safety bills

Senate Education Committee meeting March 5, 2019.

The Senate Education Committee met today, March 5, 2019, to discuss a school safety bill and several bills dealing with school marshals. The hearing follows Gov. Greg Abbott’s declaration of school safety as an emergency issue for this legislative session.

Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 11 yesterday, which includes a number of enforcement provisions addressing school safety plans. The bill also includes a loan repayment assistance program for school counselors in high-needs areas. ATPE supports the bill.

Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) kicked off the meeting by introducing SB 406, which would allow school marshals to carry a concealed firearm on their person. This would eliminate a provision in current law that restricts school marshals who are in regular, direct contact with students from carrying a firearm on their person.

Sen. Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe) then laid out several complementary bills, including SB 243, SB 244, and SB 477. These bills would have the effect of increasing the allowable number of school marshals, allowing greater flexibility in their ability to carry firearms, and implementing a uniform license renewal date.

Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) introduced SB 811, which would extend liability protection to districts that employ school marshals.

Sen. Taylor explained SB 11 as a work in progress and the result of Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety report and action plan, both of which came in response to last year’s deadly school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. The bill includes requiring districts to adopt a multihazard emergency operations plan and create threat assessment teams. It would require additional grief and trauma training for school employees. The bill proposes a $50 per average daily attendance (ADA) allotment for mental health and school safety expenses and a one-time drawdown of economic stabilization fund (ESF) or “rainy day fund” dollars for school hardening.

Santa Fe ISD Board of Trustees President Rusty Norman testified that school hardening is not the only solution to school safety, and things like metal detectors require an enormous amount of ongoing funding. Norman stressed the importance of school counselors and mental health services to prevent tragedies.

The committee is expected to continue to meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays as needed, with the early focus on the emergency items declared by the governor.

 

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

Here’s your chilly edition of this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE Governmental Relations staff:


Andrea Chevalier

ATPE is excited to welcome Andrea Chevalier, the newest lobbyist to join our Governmental Relations team.

Andrea joins us most recently from the office of state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), where she served as Legislative Director and oversaw a host of issues, including public education. She is also a former classroom teacher with experience working in both the traditional public school and charter school environments. Andrea attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she studied chemistry; earned her Masters of Education in Secondary Education at the University of North Texas; and is currently working on completing her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from UT.

Andrea will be lobbying and reporting on a variety of issues being debated by the legislature this session, working closely with the House Public Education Committee, and covering educator quality regulations considered by the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Watch for her blog posts here on Teach the Vote and follow her on Twitter at @ATPE_AndreaC.

 


On Tuesday, Gov. Gregg Abbott addressed a joint session of the 86th Legislature, delivering his traditional “State of the State” address. He outlined his legislative priorities for the session, punctuated by the declaration of six issues as emergency items that would warrant expedited action by lawmakers. All six of the issues bear close ties to public education, including most notably school finance, school safety, and teacher pay. Abbott’s declaration of these school-related emergency issues is a testament to the impact of the 2018 election cycle in which the Texas public education community was much more noticeably vocal and active. Tuesday was also the day for President Donald Trump to deliver his State of the Union address. That speech, which had been postponed due to the recent federal government shutdown, contained far less education-related content. Read more about both the State of the State and State of the Union speeches in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

 


The two legislative committees that oversee public education policy issues in Texas have begun holding regular meetings and hearing testimony. The Senate Education Committee held its first meeting of the legislative session this week, receiving an overview presentation by Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath. The committee also learned about the status of special education programs in Texas. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided this detailed summary for Teach the Vote.

The House Public Education Committee, which began its work a little earlier this session, held two meetings this week, both heavily focused on the topic of school finance. The committee similarly heard from Commissioner Morath, along with members of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance. Read more about those hearings in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. The committee is slated for two more meetings next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the agenda will include testimony by stakeholders about school finance and the recommendations of the commission that studied the issue last year. ATPE has been invited to testify on Wednesday, and we’ll provide details next week here on our blog and on @TeachtheVote on Twitter.

 


On Monday of this week, the House Appropriations Committee announced its subcommittees that will work on various sections of the state budget. Committee members were also briefed by staff of the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins attended the meeting and provided an in-depth report here for our blog. On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee has also been holding several meetings to review the draft budget. Next week, Senate Finance committee members turn their attention to Article III, which contains the education budget. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter will be there for those meetings starting Monday and will provide updates next week for Teach the Vote.

 


SPECIAL ELECTION UPDATE: Voters in San Antonio’s House District 125 will head to the polls Tuesday to elect a new state representative. Early voting has taken place this week for the special election to fill the vacant seat of former Rep. Justin Rodriguez, after he resigned to serve as Bexar County Commissioner. The five candidates vying for the HD 125 seat are Steve Huerta (D)Ray Lopez (D)Fred Rangel (R)Coda Rayo-Garza (D), and Art Reyna (D).

There also remains a vacancy in Houston’s HD 145, where Democrats Melissa Noriega and Christina Morales have advanced to a runoff in that special election. The date of the runoff election for HD 145 has not yet been announced, but is likely to be held in March. Read more about the two runoff candidates in this article from the Houston Chronicle.

 


 

Governor Abbott declares emergency items, includes teacher pay

Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced a total of six emergency items in Tuesday’s State of the State address to a joint session of the 86th Texas Legislature. The State of the State is traditionally delivered by the governor at the beginning of each legislative session, and is the state equivalent to the national State of the Union address delivered by the president.

The governor often uses the State of the State as an opportunity to announce emergency items for the current legislature. The first 60 days of the legislative session are meant for organization and bill filing, and legislators cannot vote on bills until after 60 days have passed. Emergency items declared by the governor are the only exception.

Standing ovation for teacher pay announcement during State of the State address, Feb. 5, 2019.

Governor Abbott listed six emergency items on Tuesday: School finance reform, teacher pay, school safety, mental health, property tax relief, and disaster response.

What does this mean functionally? The legislature may vote on bills under these emergency headings immediately instead of waiting for the March 8 deadline, theoretically granting them a one-month head start ahead of other bills. Yet few of these bills have been filed, and none have begun the committee process that marks the first major step in a bill’s journey to becoming a law. For this reason, the practical impact of designation as emergency items has more to do with sending a signal to legislators and the public that these are the governor’s top priorities.

In addition, each of these items is expected to require a significant amount of state funding. The budget offered by the Texas House would provide $7.1 billion in new revenue for public education, contingent upon spending a significant portion of that money on providing property tax relief, ostensibly by rebalancing the state and local share of education funding. Increasing the state’s share will ease the burden on local property taxpayers, but will not increase overall public school funding. To increase overall school funding will require spending additional money on top of what is required to ease local tax pressure.

Increasing teacher pay will require another tranche of state funds. The Texas Senate has proposed Senate Bill (SB) 3, which would grant teachers a $5,000 annual raise. The bill’s cost is tagged at $3.7 billion for the first biennium. Gov. Abbott’s comments today on teacher pay implied that he prefers a plan under development by House leaders to provide a differentiated pay program that could create a path for select teachers to earn as much as $100,000. This would apply to far fewer teachers than the Senate’s plan and consequently carry a much smaller price tag.

School safety, mental health, and disaster response will each require further funding. Fortunately, the biennial revenue estimate delivered by Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar in January projects legislators will have roughly $12 billion more than they budgeted the previous two years. It’s important to note that some of that money will be taken up by inflation and population growth. Some of the emergency items, such as disaster response, are prime targets for one-time spending from the Economic Stabilization Fund. The state’s “rainy day fund,” as it is often called, is projected to total $15.4 billion by the end of 2021.

House Appropriations hears from TEA and TRS

The House Committee on Appropriations met Monday to hear from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and Teacher Retirement System (TRS) on the issues of school safety, school finance, the teacher pension system, and active and retiree educator health insurance. Before delving into the meat of the hearing, Cmomittee Chairman John Zerwas (R-Fulsher) also announced membership of the subcommittees that will be overseeing separate subject areas of the budget.

The subcommittee on Article III that oversees public education funding will be chaired by Rep. Greg Bonnen, and include Vice-chair Armando Walle and Reps. Mary Gonzalez, Donna Howard, Matt Schaefer, Carl Sherman, Lynn Stucky, and Gary VanDeaver.

House Appropriations Committee meeting Feb. 4, 2019

Other subcommittees include: the subcommittee on Articles I, IV, V; the subcommittee on Article II; the subcommittee on Articles VI, VII, VIII; and a new subcommittee on  Infrastructure, Resiliency, and Investment.

The committee heard first from Texas Education  Commissioner Mike Morath on the topic of school safety, including physical precautions such as metal detectors and alarms. Morath noted there is no single investment in school safety that will address all current weaknesses and that the agency isn’t and hasn’t traditionally been tasked or resourced to help districts with regard to mental health components of school safety.

TEA’s Chief School Finance Officer Leo Lopez followed with a high-level overview of how public schools are funded. Lopez explained how the basics of tax rates, weights, allotments, and adjustments work to together to create a districts M&O entitlement; facilities funding; charter funding; and recapture. Also mentioned during the discussion were statutory quirks and system complexities like the fact that the basic allotment is set in statute, but legislators each session have the option of funding at higher levels through the appropriations bill. The committee also discussed how in 2011 the legislature created a mechanism called the Regular Program Adjustment Factor that allows lawmakers to decrease the entire Foundation School Program (FSP) entitlement for every district with a single adjustment.

TR) Executive Director Brian Guthrie walked committee members through pension fund operations. Guthrie explained the TRS board’s decision to lower the assumed rate of return last summer to 7.25 percent down from 8 percent, which came as a result of market forecasts and input from the fund’s actuary. This caused the funding period for pension fund liabilities to extend from 32 years up to 87 years. Under state law, the TRS fund cannot offer a cost of living adjustment (COLA) to retirees unless the amortization period noted above is within 31 years.

Guthrie noted that the agency is requesting a 1.8 percent increase in the contribution rate in order to achieve a 30-year amortization period, which would allow for the possibility of a future increase in benefits, such as a COLA. This would cost $1.6 billion for the biennium from all funds.

Responding to a question from Rep. Giovanni Capriglione, Guthrie estimated the average pension payment for a TRS annuitant to be about $2,000 per month. This average figure covers all classes of public education employees, including auxiliary staff, such as bus drivers and custodial staff. For classroom teachers who have worked in Texas schools for 30 years, that amount is closer to $4,000 per month.

Guthrie then explained the healthcare programs under the agency’s umbrella: TRS-Care for retired educators and TRS-ActiveCare for active educators. Healthcare costs have skyrocketed in Texas, despite rising at a level slightly below the national average. This resulted in a $1 billion shortfall for TRS-Care heading into the previous legislative session, which was addressed by a temporary infusion of additional state funding, coupled with a significant increase in fees and reduction in benefits. The fund continues to run at a deficit.

Rep. Schaefer asked what impact a pay increase would have on the pension fund. Guthrie indicated that if all teachers saw a raise, there would be a negative short-term impact for TRS as a result of higher salary calculations for retiring members without the benefit of higher contributions. Guthrie suggested this could be mitigated by phasing in the salary increases’ impact on the calculation of a member’s highest five years of earnings. Guthrie suggested the short-term impact on TRS-Care would be positive.

Asked by Rep. Stucky how much it would cost to make TRS-Care sustainable, Guthrie suggested it would take more than $12-15 billion to create a corpus sufficient to produce funding as a result of investment returns. Even then, that process would take some time to get up and running. The deteriorating value of TRS-Care has led many retirees to leave the program, which exacerbates the financial stresses facing it. Guthrie added that the population was beginning to stabilize.

TRS-ActiveCare, which allows smaller and mid-size school districts to enjoy the benefits of group coverage through a combined risk pool, also faces affordability challenges due to statutory restrictions on how that program is funded. Five percent of districts – primarily the state’s largest districts, such as Austin and Houston – have opted out of TRS-ActiveCare. Last session, legislation was considered to allow districts a one-time opportunity to opt in or opt out, but such a bill was not passed ultimately.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: Jan. 11, 2019

Happy New Year! Here’s your first weekly wrap-up of education news from the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Tuesday, January 8, kicked off the 86th Texas Legislative Session amid great fanfare at the State Capitol.

Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was unanimously elected and sworn in as the new Speaker of the House on Tuesday afternoon. For the past 10 years, the House has been under the leadership of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) who retired from the position and the legislature at the end of his term this month. Bonnen announced in November 2018 that he had amassed the requisite number of pledged votes to render the speaker’s race not much of a race at all. After that there was only the vote and ceremonial swearing in, which took place on Tuesday. Read more about Bonnen’s ascent to speaker in this post shared from The Texas Tribune.

On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was missing from Tuesday’s proceedings while visiting with President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, that day on the subject of border security. Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) presided over the upper chamber’s opening ceremonies in his place. The Senate swore in its new members and also elected Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) to serve as President Pro Tempore this session.

Gov. Greg Abbott spoke briefly to welcome the members of each chamber, signaling his intent for the legislature to tackle school finance reform and property tax relief this session. Bonnen and Watson also highlighted the prominence of the school funding issue this session, with new House Speaker going as far as announcing that he had stocked the members’ lounge with special styrofoam cups to remind them of their top priority: school finance reform. Improving the state’s school finance system is also a top legislative priority for ATPE this year.

ATPE Lobbyists Mark Wiggins and Monty Exter snapped a selfie with Humble ATPE’s Gayle Sampley and her husband at the Capitol on opening day.

ATPE’s lobbyists were at the Capitol on opening day and will be there for all of the action this legislative session. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual lobbyists on Twitter for the latest updates from the Capitol.

ATPE members are also encouraged to sign up for free to attend our upcoming lobby day and political involvement training event known as ATPE at the Capitol on Feb. 24-25, 2019. Find complete details here.

 


While the legislative session officially began on Tuesday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar made news the day before with his release of the state’s Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE). The BRE details how much money the state plans to receive and how much of it can be spent in any given legislative session.

Monday’s BRE announcement predicted revenue of $119.12 billion for the 2020-21 biennium. This biennium’s BRE comes with tempered expectations, which Hegar attributed to a drop in oil prices, market volatility, and rising interest rates. “Looking ahead to the 2020-21 biennium, we remain cautiously optimistic but recognize we are unlikely to see continued revenue growth at the unusually strong rates we have seen in recent months.” Hegar said in the report.

Once the comptroller has released the BRE for each legislature, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) meets to set the session’s constitutionally-required spending limit. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that the LBB met today and set a limit of $100.2 billion for spending this session. The constitutional spending limit is set by applying the percentage of growth, which is determined by many factors, to the previous biennium’s spending limit. The constitutional limit applies only to expenditures of general revenue that is not constitutionally-dedicated. By comparison, the non-dedicated-revenue spending limit for the 85th session in 2017 was roughly $91 billion, whereas the total general revenue appropriated by the legislature that year was $106.6 Billion. As Exter explains, neither withdrawals from the Economic Stabilization Fund (the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund”) nor supplemental appropriations for the current biennium will count toward the constitutional limit that was announced today.

The Legislature must now decide what to do with its available revenue. Rest assured, they haven’t been given a blank check to do as they please. According to reporting by the Center For Public Policy Priorities the legislature must immediately spend $563 million as back pay for Medicaid funding that was deferred until this session. The legislature will also have to determine where $2.7 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery costs will come from.

For more detailed reporting on the BRE as well as link to the full report, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


Late last week, the House Committee on Public Education released its interim report covering the committee’s work over the past year on interim charges assigned to it by the House Speaker. The report, which spans 88 pages, includes recommendations on how to approach a variety of education-related issues this session, such as Hurricane Harvey relief, teacher compensation, and school safety.

Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) chairs the committee that produced its interim report. Among the suggestions were recommendations to consider possible legislation to help schools quickly replace instructional materials due to Harvey; creating paths to career growth for educators that would allow them to stay in the classroom, such as a “Master Teacher” certification; and making Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) permanently available for students who have difficulty with STAAR testing.

You can read more about the committee’s interim charge recommendations in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Read the interim report here.

 


In a statement released to the press on Monday, Governor Greg Abbott announced his appointment of Edward Hill, Jr., Ed.D., John P. Kelly, Ph.D., Courtney Boswell MacDonald, and Jose M. Rodriguez to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). The new appointees are replacing retiring SBEC members Suzanne McCall of Lubbock; Dr. Susan Hull of Grand Prairie; and Leon Leal of Grapevine.

ATPE thanks the members rolling off the SBEC board for their years of service and welcomes the new members. We look forward to working together with them to continue to improve the education profession for the betterment of Texas students.

 


House releases public education recommendations

The House Committee on Public Education issued its interim report this month, which serves as a summary of testimony taken during the interim and includes a set of recommendations for the 86th Texas Legislature to take up.

The 88-page report addresses the response to Hurricane Harvey, teacher compensation, student assessment, students with disabilities, charter schools, implementation of legislation passed by the 85th Texas Legislature, educator preparation programs, and school safety.

Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) thanked members of the committee for their work, noting, “the extraordinary events that occurred since the last session adjourned spurred members to delve deeply into what some may view as difficult topics without the time constraints of a legislative session.”

Hurricane Harvey

Recommendations include making local education agencies (LEA) whole for financial losses due to enrollment changes, property value decline, and facility damage. The report suggests the committee consider possible legislation to help schools quickly access replacement instructional materials, provide timely assistance to Chapter 42 districts that experience facility damage, and improve the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) dropout calculation methodology.

Teacher Compensation

Recommendations include creating an additional certification for teachers in leadership positions, such as “Master Teachers,” to allow for career growth without having to leave the classroom and move to administration. The committee also recommends creating new allotments through the Foundation School Program (FSP) to fund mentoring programs and to provide differentiated compensation plans. The report specifies:

TEA should create at least two compensation plan options for use by LEAs that do not have the capacity or desire to develop their own version. While LEAs should be allowed the flexibility to create programs that benefit their own particular circumstances, locally-designed programs should be required to include the following components:

1. a multiple measure evaluation system, such as the state-developed Texas Teacher
Evaluation and Support System (T-TESS);
2. incentives to encourage top performing teachers to work at campuses with the highest
need students;
3. a requirement for top performing teachers to serve as mentors and that at least first and
second year teachers are assigned a mentor; and
4. stipends for teachers or teacher candidates that participate in additional, rigorous training
such as clinical residency programs or the National Board-certification process.

Student Assessment 

Recommendations include supporting efforts by the State Board of Education (SBOE) to streamline the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), limiting STAAR to readiness standards, making individual graduation committees (IGC) for students who have difficulties with the STAAR permanently available, eliminating high stakes testing for elementary and middle school students, splitting the STAAR in early grades into subtests scheduled on separate days, and providing funding to continue the Writing Assessment Pilot Program.

Students with Disabilities

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the corrective action plan and Strategic Plan for Special Education, providing additional funding for dyslexia identification and instruction, monitoring for the potential negative impact of changes under the Student Health and Related Services (SHARS) program, and extending funding for dyslexia and autism pilot programs.

Charter Schools 

Recommendations include requiring expansion amendment requests for additional campuses or sites to be sent to TEA and notice given to districts at least a year before a new campus is openened, ensuring uniformity among which district officials receive expansion amendment notifications, reconsidering current laws that allow charters to exclude students based on disciplinary history, ensuring charters have the ability to fulfill their responsibilities towards students with disabilities before authorization, reducing funding disparities between charters and traditional school districts, and expanding the Texas Partnership program.

Implementation of Legislation 

The report focuses on the implementation of anti-cyberbullying legislation under House Bill (HB) 179, known as David’s Law, and to changes to the accountability system under HB 22. Regarding the accountability system, recommendations include monitoring the inclusion of extra- and co-curricular indicators and local accountability systems, revisiting certain college, career, and military readiness (CCMR) indicators, exploring options to alleviate timing issues that exist with regard to the accountability system and rulemaking, and including additional funding to cover the costs of federally-mandated SAT and ACT assessments for certain students.

Educator Preparation Programs

Recommendations include monitoring TEA implementation of the educator preparation program (EPP) data dashboard, collecting disaggregated longitudinal data on student outcomes of teachers by EPP, and incentivizing EPP partnerships that provide affordable options to gain additional credentials and certifications.

School Safety

In response to the deadly school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas, and elsewhere, the committee’s report includes four pages of recommendations regarding school safety. The recommendations are broken in subcategories covering mental health and well-being, school mental health professionals, school safety planning and training, school safety infrastructure, law enforcement resources, and charter school specific issues.

These recommendations are expected to become the basis of major bills that move through the House Public Education Committee this session. Under new House rules adopted Wednesday, the committee will expand to 13 members from 11. The committee’s chair and membership for this session will be assigned by newly-elected Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton). The full interim report can be accessed here.

12 Days of Voting: School Safety

Early voting is underway NOW for the November 6 elections, so we’re taking a look at some of the reasons why it’s so important that educators vote TODAY! In this post, we’re taking a closer look at school safety.


School safety is an issue that has recently come to the forefront of public policy discussions in the wake of the deadly school shooting earlier this year in Santa Fe, Texas.

The Texas House Committee on Appropriations heard from Santa Fe ISD officials in October, and discussed funding for school safety. Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) called it one of the most important issues the legislature will take up next session. The meeting was one of several the House and Senate have held over the summer to discuss different aspects of school safety.

The House and Senate have each issued reports on how they intend to tackle the issue during the upcoming legislative session, and Gov. Greg Abbott has released a list of recommendations as well. More recently, the governor’s office released a list of actions that have already been taken to address school safety, including many by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

The agency’s plans to address school safety include a $54 million exceptional item in the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR). Commissioner Mike Morath explained to the House committee that the actions taken to date as well as the agency’s budget request are aligned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan. The commissioner said that federal funds would likely not help pay for school hardening efforts, which would fall instead to state and local taxpayers. Morath also suggested creating safety standards for facilities, such as new schools, that would force compliance.

The ideas discussed by legislators include adding more school counselors, incorporating telemedicine to help identify students who may be prone to violence, and adding more armed personnel on campus — including police officers and staff, such as school marshals. Legislators also contemplated adding metal detectors and asked architects for advice how to harden school campuses and make it more difficult for a shooter to penetrate campus security.

With the terror of the most recent shooting fresh on Texans’ minds, there will be a push to pass some sort of legislation aimed at school security in the upcoming session. Lawmakers will be faced with finding a balance between physical security and ensuring the mental, emotional, and psychological well-being of students, while avoiding turning schools into buildings that resemble prisons. They’ll also be faced with meeting this challenge with limited budgetary resources.

It will be a complicated discussion, and educators deserve to be part of it. But let’s not forget who will be at the center of those conversations: the legislators and statewide officeholders elected on Nov. 6. Voters who care about school security and the steps that should be taken to keep all students, staff members, and school visitors safe should keep these issues in mind when casting their votes.

 


Go to the CANDIDATES section of our Teach the Vote website to find out where officeholders and candidates in your area stand on this and other public education issues.

Remind your colleagues also about the importance of voting and making informed choices at the polls. While it is illegal to use school district resources (like your work e-mail) to communicate information that supports or opposes specific candidates or ballot measures, there is NO prohibition on sharing nonpartisan resources and general “get out of the vote” reminders about the election.

Early voting in the 2018 general election runs Monday, October 22, through Friday, November 2. Election Day is November 6, but there’s no reason to wait. Get out there and use your educator voice by casting your vote TODAY!

House committee discusses school safety funding

The Texas House Committee on Appropriations met Tuesday in Austin to discuss funding for school safety, which Chair John Zerwas (R-Richmond) called one of the most important issues the legislature will take up next session.

House Appropriations Committee meeting October 9, 2018.

Administrators from Santa Fe ISD, the site of the horrific school shooting earlier this year, were the first to testify. The district has since doubled its security staff, installed panic buttons in classrooms, and modified the design of certain instructional areas. The district indicated that funding for additional officers and counselors has come from the district’s fund balance, and leaders are concerned about long term budgeting.

State Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin) called the amount of spending Santa Fe ISD has been forced to undertake “sobering,” and suggested that state lawmakers should not compound the burden on local property tax payers by leaving districts to fund school safety measures alone.

Lawmakers also heard from representatives from the Texas School Safety Center (TxSSC) and the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center at Texas State University. Representatives indicated that while legislators have cut program budgets, demand for services has increased. Because of this, TxSSC has not been able to address 100 percent of the needs expressed by school districts. State Rep. Helen Giddings (D-DeSoto) stressed the importance of training officers in de-escalation and in how to deal with special needs children.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath presented the agency’s plans to address school safety, including a $54 million exceptional item in the agency’s legislative appropriations request (LAR). Morath explained that the actions taken to date as well as the agency’s budget request are aligned to Gov. Greg Abbott’s school safety plan. The commissioner said that federal funds would likely not help pay for school hardening efforts, which would fall instead to state and local taxpayers. Morath also suggested creating safety standards for facilities, such as new schools, that would force compliance.

State Rep. Armando Walle (D-Houston) questioned how far $54 million will go when spread statewide, given the testimony that Santa Fe ISD alone spent more than $30 million on safety improvements. Rep. Walle also suggested that if the state is going to gather data on students, lawmakers should also consider ways to ensure students faced with mental health emergencies do not have unfettered access to firearms.

State Rep. Gene Wu (D-Houston) also emphasized the need to address students’ emotional wellbeing in order to prevent tragedies. Along with state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Rep. Wu also discussed the need for access to counseling in particular in rural areas, and how telemedicine may be leveraged in some underserved locations. Morath noted that some rural schools are limited by lack of access to high-speed fiber internet. Chair Zerwas also indicated broad support for utilizing telemedicine in these settings. Zerwas credited Article III Subcommittee Chair Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Rep. Howard with working to provide $25 million in matching funds last session to implement telemedicine.

The committee heard additional testimony from the governor’s Criminal Justice Division (CJD), the Department of State Health Services (DSHS), and the Legislative Budget Board (LBB). The LBB pegged the total of various agencies’ appropriations requests at around $100 million.

Finally, the committee received an update from the TEA regarding the agency’s implementation of corrective action to ensure students with special needs are being adequately served. This is a result of the U.S. Department of Education finding the state instituted a de facto cap on special education enrollment and failed to comply with federal law mandating the state provide special education services to all children who qualify.

Agency staff testified that districts are seeing an uptick in special education enrollment. As part of the corrective action plan, the agency is developing a rubric for schools seeking additional funding in order to provide special education services as they are required under federal law. Staff testified that each percentage point that special education enrollment increases will cost $342 million per year. In addition, staff said there are currently not enough trained staff in the state to evaluate all of the children who theoretically could be served.

Congress passes education budget

Congress passed a funding bill today that averts a looming government shutdown and, among other spending, includes FY 2019 funding for the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The measure now heads to President Trump for his signature.

Under the spending measure, the overall federal education budget is increased based on current levels, with major programs like Title I and special education seeing program specific bumps. President Trump asked for more than $7 billion in overall budget cuts to ED in his budget request to Congress earlier this year. Congress’s education budget also largely ignores his request to funnel north of $1 billion to various school choice programs, but does include increased funding for charter school grants.

The bill increases funding levels for a grant aimed at creating safer schools. Despite efforts from Democrats, a prohibition on using certain funding under the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA) to arm teachers in schools did not make it into the bill. Texas has been at the center of the debate following questions from Texas school districts asking whether Title IV ESSA funding could be used to arm teachers. At a hearing on ESSA held by the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee yesterday, the issue again garnered significant attention. Education Secretary Betsy Devos has maintained that the law offers districts considerable flexibility and does not specifically prohibit spending on arming teachers.

President Trump said earlier today that he will sign the measure, which keeps the government running through December 7 and also funds the Defense, Labor, and Health and Human Services Departments.

 

House report focuses on school safety resources

The House Committee on Public Education released its preliminary school safety report this week, the result of several hearings on the matter held over the course of the summer.

The full report, which can be read here, joins similar reports released by the Senate and Gov. Greg Abbott. The House report is notable in that it focuses on providing state funding to ensure schools have the resources to prevent future tragedies such as the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.

The office of committee chairman state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) highlights specific funding recommendations for the following:

  • Increasing the number of counselors, psychologists and social workers available to students;
  • Increasing the amount of training received by school personnel, including threat
    assessment, Mental Health First Aid and training related to emergency operations;
  • Studying communication interoperability among schools, law enforcement and first
    responders;
  • Improving the integration of mental health services and student access to these
    services, especially in underserved areas.

“As we look for ways to improve school safety, we need to find a balance between making campuses safe but also healthy learning environments,” Chairman Huberty said in a press release. “Our students deserve to have schools where they feel safe but not imprisoned. The state can assist these efforts by providing resources for more school counselors and increased student access to mental health services, in addition to campus safety improvements and increased law enforcement or school marshals.”

“In the long run, we are better off spending resources on trying to prevent such tragedies rather than just being prepared for the next one to happen,” Chairman Huberty added.

The 14-page report includes suggestions under the topics of mental health and well-being, school mental health professionals, school safety planning and training, school security infrastructure, and law enforcement resources. You can read the full recommendations by clicking here.