Tag Archives: Scott Brister

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/.

 

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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.

School finance commission discusses list of recommendations

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday at the Texas Capitol to hear recommendations from the working group on expenditures, which is led by House Public Education Committee chairman and state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston).

School finance commission meeting September 25, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath began the hearing by presenting the agency’s annual report, which purported to show an increase in education funding since 2007. Responding to questions from commission members, Morath conceded that the numbers were not adjusted for inflation.

State Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) asked Morath to explain the dispute between the General Land Office (GLO) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) over public education funding. Morath stated that through the School Land Board (SLB), the GLO sent $750 million to public education for the last biennium. The GLO only sent $600 million for this biennium, bypassing the SBOE, and representing a roughly $150-190 million decrease in funding.

Sen. Bettencourt appeared to come down on the side of the SBOE in the dispute. SBOE Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin) suggested that the dispute will require a legislative fix. The entire SBOE sent a letter asking GLO Commissioner George P. Bush to reconsider the action and increase funding, but Bush refused to do so.

Commission Chair Scott Brister suggested that on the big question, whether to increase public school funding is not up to the commission. Member Ellis rightly pointed out that while it’s true the legislature is the only body that can appropriate funds, it is certainly the commission’s duty to discern what appropriate funding levels are and to make recommendations accordingly. This point was backed up by Austin ISD CFO Nicole Conley Johnson.

Brister added that the commission will require a half dozen meetings in November and December in order to finalize its report.

Rep. Huberty then walked the commission through a list of 22 recommendations from the working group on expenditures, beginning with reallocating cost of education index (CEI) funds. The recommendations are as follows:

Reallocations of existing funding:

  1. Reallocate cost of education funds. The CEI was last updated in 1991 and provides adjustment for cost of educating children in different parts of the state. Huberty argued that this formula is outdated and that funding could be rerouted to add $2.9 billion to the basic allotment.
  2. Reallocate Chapter 41 hold harmless funds worth $30 million annually.
  3. Reallocate Chapter 41 early agreement credit funds for an annual savings of $50 million.
  4. Reallocate gifted and talented allotment funds worth $165 million annually. Rep. Huberty and state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) emphasized that gifted and talented (GT) programs will not go away. Pflugerville ISD Superintendent Doug Killian cautioned that districts could come to view GT programs as an unfunded mandate, and suggested weighting GT funding instead. Todd Williams also voiced concern that eliminating dedicated GT funding could lead districts to underidentify GT students as a way to cut costs.
  5. Reallocate high school allotment funds worth $400 million annually.
  6. Move from prior year to current year property values worth $1.8 billion. Huberty suggested that this would more accurately reflect the current needs of school districts. Killian cautioned that this change will cost Pflugerville, which is a fast-growth district, $22.7 million in the first year. Conley Johnson added that this could add uncertainty to the budgeting process for districts.

Increased spending on existing programs:

  1. Increase compensatory education allotment from 0.2 to a spectrum of between 0.225 and 0.275, based on the concentration of severely challenged students. This would be worth $1.1-1.2 billion. Commissioner members engaged in a lengthy discussion on identifying metrics with which to identify need other than qualification for federal free and reduced lunches.
  2. Change the transportation allotment to a mileage-based approach based on at least $0.80 cents per mile appropriated by the legislature.
  3. Provide transportation funding to Chapter 41 districts, at an annual cost of $60 million.
  4. Recreate the small- and mid-size district adjustments as a standalone allotment, at an estimated cost of $0-400 million. Rep. Huberty argued that this would create more transparency.
  5. Increase the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA) to $100 million per year, which would be a direct benefit to fast-growth school districts.
  6. Expand career and technical education (CTE) funding to 6th through 8th grades, at an annual cost of $20 million.

New programs:

  1. Create a new dual language allotment at 0.15, at an annual cost of $15-50 million. This is aimed to incentivize schools to transition from bilingual to more effective dual language programs.
  2. Create a new dyslexia allotment of 0.1, at an annual cost of $100 million. Currently districts do not receive direct funding for students with dyslexia, despite the fact the number of dyslexic students in Texas is estimated to be anywhere from 2.5 to more than ten percent.
  3. Create a new early childhood support allotment of 0.1, at an annual cost of $786 million. This would benefit students from kindergarten through 3rd grade, and could be used to fund any program that seeks to improve 3rd grade math and reading, including full-day pre-K.
  4. Create a 3rd grade reading bonus of 0.4, at an annual cost of $400 million. This is a simple incentive for students to meet grade level in 3rd grade reading. Williams suggested granting students facing social or economic challenges a greater reward.
  5. Create a college, career, and military readiness bonus at an annual cost of $400 million. This would provide additional funding for each graduating senior who does not require remediation after graduation or who is able to directly enter the workforce or military. This is intended to support the state’s “60×30” goals.
  6. Create a new teacher compensation program, at an annual cost of $100 million. This is a merit-based pay program that would allow certain educators to earn more by performing well on certain evaluation systems. Teachers would also be rewarded for teaching at campuses with higher levels of disadvantaged students. This program could grow significantly in size depending upon district participation. Williams acknowledged that local development involving teachers is incredibly important, and measures other than student STAAR results should be considered. Williams suggested it would be incumbent on the commissioner to develop a set of minimum standards.
  7. Create an extended year incentive program at an annual cost of $50 million. This would be aimed to reduce summer learning losses.

Additional changes:

  1. Utilize remaining funds from reallocations to increase the basic allotment.
  2. Change the guaranteed yield on tier II copper pennies from a set dollar amount to a percentage of the basic allotment.
  3. Link the tier II golden penny yield to a set percentile of wealth per student.

Many of these recommendations were also supported by recommendations from the working group on outcomes, led by Todd Williams. Williams congratulated Huberty on his working group’s efforts to find more efficient ways to provide the support students need, and added that the system will nonetheless need more money. In a final conversation around spending, Brister continued to suggest that more funding is not necessarily the solution. Member Ellis emphasized that the commission must address the adequacy of public education funding.

The working group on revenues, led by Sen. Bettencourt, is now the only working group yet to produce recommendations. Bettencourt pushed back on warnings that time is running short for the commission to complete its work, but did not provide a timeline for his work product.

 

 

Expenditures group takes hard look at textbooks

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on expenditures met Wednesday morning to listen to a final round of witnesses invited to discuss issues related to school spending.

At the beginning of the meeting, group leader state Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston) announced plans to solicit formal recommendations from all witnesses who’ve testified before the working group. The group’s five members will meet again July 11, the day after a scheduled July 10 meeting of the full commission, and vote on which recommendations to endorse.

School finance commission working group on expenditures meeting June 6, 2018.

Texas Education Agency (TEA) staff opened Wednesday’s testimony with a review of the instructional materials allotment (IMA), and members of the group expressed interest in increasing the flexibility of IMA funds. State Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio) suggested consulting teachers as to how much physical textbooks are currently used in the classroom, and hypothesized that use is declining. Members seemed to unanimously support the idea of encouraging more reliance on technology and cheaper or free online resources, while freeing up IMA funds for other purposes.

Members also expressed frustration with textbook makers over the ongoing costs of keeping physical textbooks, while many educators are supplementing their instruction with materials found online at no charge. State Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) suggested instructing TEA and the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) to develop a working relationship and establish a timetable wherein the legislature mandates universities to develop open-source materials aligned to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which school districts would be required to use for classroom instruction. Sen. West contended this would address both textbook costs and complaints by higher education institutions that Texas high school graduates are not college-ready.

The discussion then turned to bilingual education and dual language. Witnesses testified that dual language programs are more effective than traditional English as a second language programs, but carry higher start-up costs. This includes textbooks in both English and Spanish, for example. Rep. Huberty noted that costs would necessarily be compounded with each additional language, such as programs for students who speak Vietnamese. West and Bernal expressed interest in legislation ordering a study of the costs of implementing more dual language programs.

Members also heard about funding for gifted and talented (GT) and career and technical education (CTE) programs. Each carries additional costs, but achieves important outcomes. The working group also heard from TEA staff regarding the high school allotment, and discussed the idea of folding the high school allotment into the basic allotment. This was a component of House Bill 21, the school finance reform bill authored by House leadership during the regular session of the 85th Texas Legislature.

Additionally, members discussed the adjustments for sparsity, and for small and medium-sized districts. Commission Chair Scott Brister has repeatedly advocated consolidating school districts as a way to reduce costs, and TEA indicated that these adjustments total roughly $600 million annually. Staff explained the Existing Debt Allotment (EDA) and New Instructional Facilities Allotment (NIFA), and representatives from fast-growth school districts testified to the importance of funding for new facilities.

Finally, a representative with out-of-state education reform think tank EdBuild suggested improving equity by decoupling school funding from average daily attendance (ADA) and instead using the number of students for whom a school is responsible. Rep. Huberty noted that ADA provides an incentive for districts to ensure that students are actually in the classroom. The EdBuild representative also suggested that by allocating some adjustments at the district level instead of per student, Texas’s school finance system creates unnecessary conflict and confusion between how charter schools and traditional ISDs are funded.

 

School finance commission talks about teacher supports

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met Tuesday in Austin for a discussion on English learners. Opening the meeting, commission Chair Scott Brister urged the working groups assigned to study different aspects of school finance to be specific in the recommendations they make. In particular, Brister said the commission should strive to reach a consensus on the numbers: How much is the state spending on public education? Is it raising or cutting funding? Should textbooks be included in the cost of education?

School finance commission meeting June 5, 2018.

It’s important to note that most of these numbers are readily available from the Legislative Budget Board and are not in dispute. The disagreement has arisen as a result of some witnesses and commission members attempting to use alternative calculations that are not used in state accounting documents, usually in an attempt to inflate spending figures. Part of the argument used by those hoping to privatize public education is that the state spends enough on public schools already. Compared to other states, Texas ranks in the bottom 10 in per-pupil spending.

The English learners discussion began with invited witnesses pointing out the benefits of dual-language programs over traditional English as a Second Language (ESL) models. Texas has a high percentage of English learners, who benefit the most from strong language instruction early in their academic careers. Students who don’t become proficient in English in elementary school are increasingly likely to struggle later on, and are at a higher risk of failing to graduate. Chair Brister expressed concern over the cost of high-quality programs for English learners. Conversely, state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas) warned of the future costs of failing to ensure students successfully learn English.

A witness from the Mark Twain Dual Language Academy in San Antonio explained that most of the costs of dual language program are related to start-up, such as training and hiring bilingual educators. The challenge for many schools is hiring educators from a limited pool of certified teachers who are highly proficient in both English and Spanish.

The next panel focused on supports for teachers in general. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath testified that the evidence supports the idea that teachers should be paid significantly more, which would aid retention at high-poverty schools. Morath suggested it is also possible to develop an evaluation system that can identify high quality teachers, and advised the commission that a policy framework to provide better pay for high-quality teachers will require long-term commitment by the state, not a one-time grant or budget rider.

Morath further said that pay, not working conditions, is the top hurdle when it comes to recruiting people into the education profession. When it comes to retention, teachers say working conditions are more important than pay. Pay for education jobs has decreased over time, and the average classroom teacher has gotten younger as veterans leave the profession.

The commissioner discussed legislation filed during the special session of the 85th Texas Legislature that would have created a system of tiered certification distinctions tied to significant increases in pay. For example, a “master teacher” who has received a national certification and fulfilled additional requirements and serves at a rural or high-poverty campus could earn up to $20,000 more.

State Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Houston), who chairs the House Public Education Committee, said he declined to support the bill because of the cost it would have imposed on a long-term basis. Morath emphasized that higher pay is a long-term strategy and would not improve current performance, rather it would recruit and retain better quality educators in the future. In endorsing the idea, Morath indicated it will only work if the funding is baked into the funding formulas for school districts. The commissioner also suggested that one of the bill’s flaws was calibrating the process of identifying high-performing teachers, explaining that each school principal could have a different opinion when it comes to what defines a great teacher.

Responding to a question about high-stakes testing from State Board of Education (SBOE) Member Keven Ellis (R-Lufkin), Morath said testing would have to be at least one component of a program that evaluates teacher quality. The commissioner suggested there should also be an observational component and perhaps a student survey, which is included in the Dallas ISD program upon which the bill was based.

Commission member Todd Williams also noted that there is no incentive for teachers to work in high-poverty or rural schools. In addition, teachers who are at the top of the pay scale cannot increase their pay without leaving the classroom and becoming an administrator, which means their teaching talent would be removed from the system. Finally, Williams noted that there is no incentive for teacher candidates to choose a high-quality preparation program over a cheaper, fly-by-night program. Williams suggested creating incentives in these areas could increase teacher quality and retention.

Concluding his testimony, Morath said that investing in better quality teachers would lead to better-prepared students graduating and pursuing more lucrative jobs. That, combined with teachers themselves earning more, would materially increase the state’s GDP. Morath reasoned this would have a positive and measurable impact on the Texas economy.

Following up on Morath’s testimony, Alief ISD Superintendent H.D. Chambers noted that rising health care costs have also driven teachers out of the profession. Chambers said children need to come to kindergarten ready to go to school, which pre-K helps accomplish, and must be reading on grade level by the third grade. Quality teachers should be in all classrooms, which is helped by differentiated teacher pay, such as paying teachers more to teach in more challenging classrooms.

San Antonio ISD fourth grade teacher Sarah Perez, who is also a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, rounded out the panel on educator supports. Perez testified that students need more social and emotional supports, such as counseling services. According to Perez, a teacher survey by Teach Plus found that teachers identify large class sizes and low teacher pay as having a negative impact on student learning. So do inadequate facilities and limited access to technology or funding for classroom expenses. This led to a lively discussion regarding how much the state could reimburse teachers for classroom expenses and how renewing this program could be done using technology, such as a debit card.

The rest of the day’s panels focused on “inefficiencies” in public education. Michael Szabo, a high school math teacher from Galena Park ISD, gave moving testimony about the struggles his students face. Some deal with teen pregnancy, homelessness, deportation, absent parents and other issues that distract from their ability to concentrate on schoolwork. At the same time, they and the school are being judged based on their performance on standardized tests. Instead, Szabo suggested tying performance evaluation to the percentage of graduates who enter the workforce, as well as those who are incarcerated or end up on welfare.

Other witnesses testified regarding reviewing special program allotments and how those funds can be spent. That included raising the compensatory allotment and easing back spending requirements. Responding to a question about charter schools, one witness noted that while charter school teachers are eligible to participate in the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) of Texas, charters are not required to pay into the system. Another district suggested requiring charter schools to provide more notice and information to the district before setting up shop within a district’s borders and a “universal wait list” for charters. Some charters have touted dubious statistics regarding the number of students who are on wait lists. At the conclusion of the meeting, Brister invited a representative from a charter school to advocate for charters in general.

Districts requested more flexibility with regard to instruction time, as well as accessing the virtual school network. Districts also identified unfunded mandates and the unique challenges facing small, rural districts as drivers of inefficiency. There was some discussion as well from members of the commission who suggested districts faced with burdensome regulations consider becoming districts of innovation (DOI). It’s important to note that despite the perceived benefits of becoming a DOI, most districts have used DOI to hire uncertified teachers and expand class sizes beyond the statutory maximum. These are cost-cutting measures that ultimately hurt students.

The commission working group on expenditures is scheduled to meet Wednesday morning. The next meeting of the full commission is July 10.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 23, 2018

Here’s a look at this week’s education news highlights from the ATPE lobby team:


Congress advanced the omnibus spending bill to President Trump overnight and it received his signature this afternoon. The $1.3 trillion spending plan played out in a dramatic fashion, emerging Wednesday with support from both Republican and Democratic leadership, but with some waffling from President Trump.

After a bipartisan U.S. House vote of support (256-167) on Thursday and a similar vote in the Senate (65-32) that followed early Friday morning, President Trump again expressed consternation over the deal. He tweeted that he was considering a veto based on two missing pieces: full funding for his border wall and a plan for individuals that fall under the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.

Ultimately, President Trump signed the legislation, but not without additional expressions of concern. Before the press this afternoon, he called the bill a “ridiculous situation” and told Congress he would never vote for a bill like this again, referring to its high price tag and lack of transparency. Trump said he was only signing it because it was a matter of national security and included increased spending for the military, the largest in history. He also highlighted several things he considers wins, like some initial funding to begin work on his border wall and dollars to address the opioid epidemic.

President Trump’s signature prevents a government shutdown that loomed at midnight tonight. Learn more about the spending plan, particularly as it relates to a funding boost for education, in this post from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann.

 


ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified before the Texas Commission on Public School Finance on March 19, 2018.

The Texas Commission on Public School Finance met in Austin this week on Monday, March 19. The commission spent the day taking both invited and non-invited testimony from the public as the members consider their recommendations to the 86th Legislature for modifying the state’s school finance system. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter offered public testimony on behalf of ATPE, highlighting ways the school finance system could be overhauled to provide property tax relief. (The commission previously heard invited testimony from ATPE Executive Director Gary Godsey during an earlier meeting last month.) Read a full recap of Monday’s hearing and the extensive public testimony in this week’s blog post.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, a consortium of education groups briefed the media on a new poll showing that most Texans support increasing the amount spent on public education. For more on the poll results, check out this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

A subcommittee or working group of the school finance commission tasked with studying school expenditures also held a meeting the following morning to take additional testimony relative to their charge. The working group is chaired by Rep. Dan Huberty, who also chairs the House Public Education Committee. Read more about Tuesday’s working group session here.

The chair of the full commission sparked controversy this week after he made comments questioning whether the state should spend money on students he referred to as “slow learners.” Special education advocacy groups were quick to complain about Chairman Scott Brister’s remarks, as reported by the Austin American-Statesman in this article that also features a quote from ATPE’s Exter.

The next meeting for the Commission will be on April 5, 2018 at 9 a.m. in the William B. Travis Building, Room 1-104, located at 1701 N. Congress Ave., Austin, TX. The meeting will be webcast at: http://www.adminmonitor.com/tx/tea/.

 


The Texas Education Agency (TEA) released its Draft Special Education Improvement Plan and Corrective Action Response this week to fix critical failures in the state’s special education system. The draft plan varies little from an initial draft the agency circulated in January, and the agency is seeking public comment on the latest version. You can e-mail feedback to TexasSPED@tea.texas.gov.

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

 


Interim legislative hearings are in full swing now, and multiple committees are discussing how to address the state’s funding challenges that have a direct impact on public education.

Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee met to consider “options to increase investment earnings of the Economic Stabilization Fund,” often referred to as the state’s rainy day fund. Texas State Comptroller Glenn Hegar warned this week that the state could face a downgrade of its credit rating if it does not look at changing the way the $11 billion fund is invested. Decisions about the fund could have future implications for how the state funds teacher pensions and other education-related endeavors. ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter has written more about the hearing in his blog post this week.

Another tough issue being debated by numerous committees this interim is teacher compensation. Several high-profile elected officials running for re-election have made teacher pay raises a key talking point in their campaign messaging, but few concrete plans or identified sources of funding have been proposed. On Monday, March 26, the Senate Education Committee will take its turn at debating the issue. ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann has been invited to testify on the issue. Stay tuned to our blog next week for updates on this and other hearings.