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Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: April 19, 2019

The legislature packed a lot of work into a short week ahead of this holiday weekend. Here’s a summary of the latest education-related developments from our ATPE Governmental Relations team:


Senate Education Committee meeting April 16, 2019.

This week was a busy one for the Senate Education Committee. On Tuesday, the committee chose to postpone its originally posted hearing of the House’s school finance reform bill, House Bill 3. The committee postponed the hearing of HB 3 by Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) in order to flesh out more of the Senate’s committee substitute for the bill. We expect HB 3 to heard later next week and are urging educators to reach out to their senators about the bill.

ATPE supported HB 3 as passed by the House almost unanimously. The bill was amended from its original version as filed to remove controversial language that would allow school districts to opt out of the the minimum salary schedule and fund merit pay that likely would have been tied to student test scores. ATPE encourages educators to contact their senators now and urge them to keep merit pay and other negative provisions out of HB 3 when it moves through the Senate. For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members should visit Advocacy Central.

In lieu of HB 3, various other bills were discussed during Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, with topics ranging from sex ed to charter school regulation to accountability laws. The committee also voted to advance several bills, such as Senate Bill (SB) 1412 to allow a school at risk of closure to execute an accelerated campus excellence turnaround plan. For more on Tuesday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

The committee will meet again on April 23, 2019, to hear bills relating to school district funding and governance, student internships, staff development, and more. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for coverage of the hearing and announcements when HB 3 is scheduled for hearing.


On Wednesday, April 18, the full Senate passed a bill to further restrict the ability of school district employees and school board members to talk about political content at school.

SB 1569 by Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) amends existing “political advertising” laws and was passed by a vote of 25 to 6. Senators who voted against the ATPE-opposed bill were Sens. Jose Menendez, Borris Miles, Beverly Powell, Kel Seliger, John Whitmire, and Judith Zaffirini.

During the Senate floor debate, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. amended the bill to add prohibitions on electioneering using school resources by charter school employees or governing board members. Charter schools had not been included in the original version of SB 1569 as filed. Sen. Fallon also agreed to amend the bill on the floor to strike language from the original version that would have prohibited school districts from being able to share information that factually describes the purpose of a bond measure and does not advocate for its passage or defeat.

SB 1569 no longer includes highly troubling language in its original version that would have prohibited school employees from advocating for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” However, ATPE notes that the bill still includes overly broad language aimed at stifling political involvement by public school employees, contractors, or board members. SB 1569 as passed by the Senate greatly expands the existing definition of political advertising to include support or opposition for a candidate, political party, public officer, or measure that is “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication.” While Sen. Fallon indicated during floor debate that he does not intend for his bill to prevent educators from talking to one another about politics, especially after school hours, the language of the bill itself as quoted above suggests otherwise.

SB 1569 as passed by the Senate would also subject public school employees to criminal penalties if they “facilitate” legislative advocacy by students. ATPE is disappointed that senators would support legislation to prevent educators from teaching students about the legislative process without fear of being arrested.

Now that SB 1569 has been passed by the Senate, ATPE urges educators to contact their state representatives and ask them to oppose this unnecessary anti-public education bill. ATPE members can visit Advocacy Central for additional information on SB 1569 and communication tools.

Other bills on the move this session that have garnered scrutiny from the education community include HB 281 by Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville)  and SB 29 by Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) relating to political subdivisions’ use of public money for lobbying activities. These bills would prohibit school districts from using public funds to pay for lobbying, whether by an employee of the district paid to lobby or an outside association that uses the public funds for activities that might include lobbying. Neither bill would affect the ability of school district employees to use their own personal funds to join associations, such as ATPE, that engage in lobbying activities.


Legislators, staffers, and stakeholders crowded a conference room Thursday, April 18, 2019, for a quick meeting of the House Public Education Committee to vote on bills.

The House Public Education Committee met twice this week to hear bills on topics such as civics education, bullying, and virtual schools.

During the committee’s first hearing on Tuesday, April 16, ATPE offered testimony on bills like HB 496 by Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) aimed at improving student safety by requiring a bleeding kit program in public schools. Read ATPE’s written testimony here. ATPE also testified against HB 429 by Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), which would expand virtual school programs that may not be efficient or of adequate quality. Read ATPE’s written testimony against HB 429 here. Other bills heard on Tuesday included the ATPE-supported HB 3133 by Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston) that would allow school district employees to use their personal leave for compensation on school holidays.

The committee met again on Thursday, April 18, for a hearing that lasted until 11 pm and again featured discussions of a wide variety of topics. ATPE supported bills such as HB 414 by Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) calling for a Teacher Protection Act, HB 3403 by Rep. Phillip Cortez (D-San Antonio) to require school district employment policies to include anti-bullying measures for educators, and HB 3638 by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco) to repeal certain laws identified as unnecessary or duplicative by a mandate relief working group on which ATPE served last year.

The committee also convened while the House was in session on Thursday to vote out additional bills, such as Rep. Gina Hinojosa’s HB 43 on charter admission policies and Rep. Diego Bernal’s HB 4242 calling for a study of the readability of STAAR tests.

Read more about the bills considered by the House Public Education Committee in this week’s comprehensive blog posts from ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier here and here.


ATPE has long advocated for Texas lawmakers to increase funding of educators’ pension programs through the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). As we have been reporting throughout the session, the 86th Legislature is considering ATPE-supported bills to increase state contributions to the TRS pension fund and provide retirees with a 13th check.

In support of this ongoing effort, ATPE has joined forces with Equable, a national nonprofit organization that works to facilitate retirement plan sustainability and income security, to promote pension reforms this session that will address the TRS funding shortfall and help ensure that Texas educators have a stable retirement plan in the future. ATPE and Equable are urging educators to reach out to their legislators in support of bills like SB 12, which is scheduled for debate by the full House next week.

Learn more about our TRS-related advocacy and find additional resources at PayTheBillTX.org.


The one bill that the 86th Legislature must pass in order to avoid a special session – the state’s budget bill – is making further progress. Members of the House and Senate have voted to send HB 1 to a conference committee to iron out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the budget proposal.

On the House side, Appropriations Committee Chairman John Zerwas will co-chair the conference committee joined by Reps. Greg Bonnen, Sarah Davis, Oscar Longoria, and Armando Walle. Senate conferees, which noticeably included no Democratic senators, are Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jane Nelson plus Sens. Joan Huffman, Lois Kolkhorst, Larry Taylor, and Robert Nichols. The HB 1 conference committee has planned its first meeting for Tuesday, April 23.

Also sent to a conference committee was the legislature’s supplemental appropriations bill for the current biennium, SB 500. That bill’s conference committee is similarly  co-chaired by Sen. Nelson and Rep. Zerwas. The other conference committee members for SB 500 are Sens. Huffman, Kolkhorst, Taylor, and Chuy Hinojosa, along with Reps. Giovanni Capriglione, Mary Gonzalez, Rick Miller, and Toni Rose.

Senate Education Committee postpones merit pay and school finance discussion for one week

The Senate Education Committee, meeting today, has postponed its consideration of a major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, until next week. Originally on the agenda for today’s meeting, the hearing of the bill by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) was pushed back a week to allow the Senate more time to complete its drafting of a Senate committee substitute for the bill.

HB 3 is now expected to be heard by the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, April 23.

As we have reported here on Teach the Vote, the engrossed version of HB 3 passed the Texas House with a near unanimous vote of 148-1. The House bill language reflected changes made in the House Public Education Committee, which Rep. Huberty chairs, to address concerns of ATPE and numerous other stakeholders. Significant changes made to the original bill as filed included removal of a controversial merit pay plan that would have tied teacher pay to student performance (likely measured by standardized test scores), which the overwhelming majority of the education community including all of the state’s major teacher organizations opposed. Language that would have enabled school districts to opt out of the state’s minimum salary schedule was also removed from HB 3 as filed by the House Public Education Committee. During floor debate of HB 3, the House also added a provision requiring an across-the-board pay raise for all school district employees except administrators. For these reasons and its addition of $9 billion into funding Texas public schools and property tax relief, ATPE was proud to support the House’s engrossed version of HB 3.

ATPE is urging educators to contact their senators now about HB 3 to share feedback on this important bill that is expected to be heard next week. Of particular concern is the language in the bill pertaining to educator pay. Although the Senate has already passed its own bill calling for a $5,000 pay raise for teachers and librarians, leaders in the Senate have also expressed interest in adding merit pay to any school finance bill that passes this session. For instance, Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), who is sponsoring HB 3 in the Senate, also filed his own school finance reform bill that includes both merit pay for select teachers and controversial outcomes-based funding tied to students’ test performance (Senate Bill (SB) 4).

Now that HB 3 has made its way to the upper chamber, ATPE is urging the Senate to keep merit pay out of HB 3 and avoid changing the bill in such a manner that would erode its widespread support and momentum this session.

For additional information and direct communication links to lawmakers, ATPE members are urged to visit Advocacy Central.

 

Texas House approves landmark school finance bill

Chairman Huberty addresses the Texas House before its final vote approving House Bill 3, April 3, 2019.

A major effort to improve the state’s school finance system took a giant step forward today after the Texas House of Representatives passed House Bill (HB) 3 this afternoon.

The bill, authored by House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), adds billions in new funding for Texas public schools, as well as tax relief for local property owners who have dealt with the increasing burden of funding public education while the state’s share of funding responsibility has decreased over the years. Efforts to reform the school funding system last session, also spearheaded by Chairman Huberty, failed after the House and Senate could not reach an agreement in 2017, despite debating the issue extensively in both a regular and special session. Instead, the legislature convened a commission to study the issue over the last two years. HB 3 approved by the lower chamber today reflects a massive amount of work and compromise.

In a press release issued today, ATPE expressed thanks to House members and, in particular, Chairman Huberty and House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) for their leadership in moving the bill forward. “ATPE provided input on HB 3, and we are grateful that the concerns of Texas educators were given meaningful consideration,” said ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes. “HB 3 as adopted by the full House today represents a major step forward in replacing our outdated school funding system with one that will prioritize funding for students who need it the most, place greater emphasis on early learning, alleviate some of the burden on local taxpayers, and help Texas recruit and retain the best teachers,” added Dr. Holmes.

During today’s floor debate, the House added language to ensure that as school districts receive additional funding, their employees will be guaranteed pay raises. The floor amendment was authored by Rep. Chris Turner (D-Grand Prairie) and received bipartisan support plus the approval of the bill’s author. As amended, HB 3 now requires districts to spend at least 25 percent of any increase in the basic allotment on salary increases for their full-time employees, except for administrators. One-quarter of those salary increases may be doled out at the district’s discretion, while 75 percent of the increases must be funded in an across-the-board manner giving an equal amount to each eligible employee. Other pay raise amendments that had been pre-filed were withdrawn once it became clear that the House leadership would accept the Turner amendment.

ATPE also appreciates that the House kept other language out of HB 3 that might have derailed its chances for passing today. For example, there was no appetite for an amendment filed by Rep. Matt Schaefer attempting to add merit pay back into the bill. Citing the work of the Texas Commission on Public School Finance, Rep. Schaefer argued that the state’s current compensation system for teachers “values tenure” rather than quality. A merit pay proposal was originally included in HB 3 as filed but was removed after ATPE and other educator groups expressed concerns about it and the emphasis it would inevitably place on standardized test scores. Rep. Schaefer withdrew the amendment today in the face of obvious opposition to it.

The House’s final vote on HB 3 today was 148-1. Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) was the lone “no” vote on the bill. Speaker Bonnen exercised his right to cast a supporting vote from the chair, which typically occurs only for bills that are a very high priority of the House leadership or when there is a need for a tie-breaking vote.

Today’s vote helped fulfill Speaker Bonnen’s pledge to make passing a school finance reform bill a top priority; Bonnen announced right after becoming speaker on opening day of this legislative session that he was stocking the House members’ lounge with disposable cups reading, “School Finance Reform – The Time is Now.”

HB 3 heads next to the Texas Senate, where Senate Education Committee Chairman Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) has filed his own school finance bill, Senate Bill 4, but has largely waited for the House to act on its more comprehensive bill.

Senate bills threaten to chill educator speech

Senate State Affairs Committee meeting, April 1, 2019

The Senate State Affairs Committee met Monday, April 1, and considered two bills that present serious concerns about free speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — particularly when it comes to educators.

Both bills relate to the use of public funds for political advertising, which is already prohibited by state law. ATPE agrees with the current statutes and ethics rules that prohibit public resources from being used for political purposes. Electioneering on school time and with school resources should be illegal. However, the two bills heard by the committee Monday morning would criminalize behavior that is not only nonpolitical, but in some cases even required under state law. Together, they threaten to undermine all of the positive work the Texas Senate has done for public educators so far this session.

Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) filed Senate Bill (SB) 1569, which would dramatically expand the legal definition of electioneering solely as it applies to educators.

Electioneering is currently defined as advocating for or against a candidate, political party, or ballot measure. For example: A communication created on school district time or using school district money in support of Proposition X or Candidate Y clearly constitutes electioneering and an unlawful use of public resources. As filed, SB 1569 would include activity that advocates for or against “a political philosophy” or “a matter of public interest.” Neither term is defined in law or in Sen. Fallon’s bill, and ATPE contends that each phrase is subject to widely varying interpretation. For example, extolling the virtues of American democracy and our free enterprise system could be considered advocating for a “political philosophy” under this bill – despite the fact that both are required elements of Texas public schools’ curriculum. Likewise, a sign on a school bulletin board promoting a food drive for Hurricane Harvey victims could easily be construed as advocating for “a matter of public interest” if SB 1569 were to be enacted.

Perhaps even more troubling, SB 1569 would expand the definition of “political advertising” to include any political communication “directed to an individual person or multiple persons through any form of communication (emphasis added).” This could treat private conversations between co-workers as political advertising and subject to criminal penalties. As a whole, SB 1569 would impose a separate set of restrictions on the speech of public school employees that is far more expansive than restrictions imposed upon any other category of public employees.

Read ATPE’s written testimony against SB 1569 here.

SB 904 by Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Mineola) aims to prevent third party organizations from sending political advertising to public e-mail addresses, subjecting the sender to a $100 fine per e-mail. This seemingly straightforward idea is complicated by a number of technical factors. First, most political websites allow a visitor to enter their e-mail address and receive automatic campaign updates. This simple process could potentially be abused, either intentionally or unintentionally through “bots” and e-mail spoofing, to rack up massive fines.

SB 904 also extends prohibitions against political advertising to include the use of public communications systems, including WiFi networks. This could have the absurd effect of criminalizing the act of accessing a campaign website from a personal mobile device while off the clock and sitting in a school parking lot. It could also jeopardize a majority of computer use in the Texas State Capitol, where visitors are offered free public WiFi and politics is a major topic of discussion.

Read ATPE’s written testimony against SB 904 here.

Public resources clearly should not be used for electioneering, but such activity is already expressly prohibited in state law. ATPE believes expanding current law in an attempt to broadly restrict the speech of educators as proposed by SB 904 and SB 1569 is unnecessary, discriminatory, and raises serious concerns about potential violations of the First Amendment. Taken together, these bills would likely have a severe chilling effect on educators’ speech.

We urge you to contact your state senator and ask them to OPPOSE SB 904 and SB 1569. ATPE members can use our simple tools at Advocacy Central to send a message to their legislators about these bills.

UPDATE (added 4/5/19): The Senate State Affairs Committee met again on Thursday, April 4, and voted to send these two bills to the full Senate with a favorable recommendation. The vote was 6-1 on both SB 1569 and SB 904. Sen. Judith Zaffirini was the only member of the committee to vote against the harmful bills. We urge educators to contact their senators and ask them to keep these bad bills from becoming law.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 29, 2019

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


The Texas House of Representatives debated its budget bill, March 28, 2019.

During a late night floor session on Wednesday, the Texas House unanimously approved a $251 billion state budget billHouse Bill (HB) 1. The bill includes a $9 billion appropriation for improving the state’s school finance system and providing property relief to homeowners. The public education-related funding increases in the House budget would be implemented via HB 3, Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) omnibus bill that ATPE supports. The full House is slated to debate HB 3 on the floor next Wednesday, April 3.

On the other side of the Capitol, the Senate Finance Committee is preparing to approve its budget bill, Senate Bill (SB) 1, in the coming days. During a meeting yesterday, the committee decided to add money to its bill to match the House’s $9 billion funding proposal for public education. The two chambers are likely to disagree, however, on how that money should be spent.

Read more about the House’s big budget vote in this article from The Texas Tribune republished on our Teach the Vote blog. We urge ATPE members to use our convenient tools on Advocacy Central to send a message to House members thanking them for their vote on the budget to increase public education funding and urging them all to similarly support HB 3 next week.


ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified before a House committee, March 26, 2019.

This week two important bills affecting the Teacher Retirement System (TRS) advanced in both the House and Senate.

House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which increases contributions to TRS and provides retirees with a 13th check, received a hearing the House Committee on Pensions, Investments, and Financial Services on Tuesday. The bill was left pending in  committee but is expected to be voted out favorably in the near future. ATPE State President Byron Hildebrand testified in favor of HB 9 during the hearing.

Also, Senate Bill (SB) 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) was voted out of the full Senate by a unanimous vote on Monday. SB 12, which ATPE also supports, raises the contribution rates into TRS, albeit differently from the House’s bill, and provides retirees with a 13th payment, but the payment would be lower. For more information on the differences between the two bills, check out this blog post by ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter.


On Tuesday, the Senate Education Committee chaired by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood), heard a number of bills focused on student discipline issues. ATPE supported bills such as Senate Bill 1451, which prohibits negative action on a teacher’s appraisal solely on the basis of the teacher’s disciplinary referrals or documentation of student conduct, and Senate Bill 2432, which would add harassment to the list of conduct that will result in the mandatory removal of a student from the classroom. For more information on the bills heard, plus other pending bills that were voted on during this week’s committee hearing, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.


Meetings of the House Public Education Committee have been known to take on a theme and focus on bills that pertain to the same issue. The theme of this week’s meeting of the committee was school safety. Members of that committee on Tuesday heard 35 bills related to topics in school safety such as school hardening, access to mental health resources, and increased law enforcement on school campuses. ATPE registered a position in support of six bills including House Bill 2994 by Rep. James Talarico (D-Round Rock), which would require the Commissioner of Education to develop mental health training material for school districts. A thorough breakdown of the bills heard during this committee meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


FEDERAL UPDATE: On Thursday, March 28, 2019, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sat before the Senate Appropriations Committee to defend President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget for the Department of Education. DeVos faced questions on her support for increasing federal funding for school choice while eliminating or decreasing funding aimed at teacher effectiveness, special populations, and loan assistance. Watch more coverage of the hearing here for the full scoop.


ELECTION UPDATE: The 86th Texas Legislative session is more than halfway over, and issues like school finance, teacher pay, and school safety remain key topics. This is a direct result of the tremendous educator turnout during the 2018 elections and proof of the power of democracy – informed and engaged citizens holding their elected officials accountable. Practicing and modeling civic engagement require voting in every election. On May 4, 2019, many Texans will have the chance to vote in local elections for school boards, mayoral seats, bonds, and more. Make sure your voter registration is up to date so you will be able to participate. The last day to register to vote in the May election is April 4. Early voting runs April 22-30, 2019. Visit VoteTexas.gov to learn more about how to register and vote.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 22, 2019

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


Now that the bill filing deadline has passed and the 86th legislative session is beyond its halfway point, it’s time for the legislature to do the one thing that it is mandated to do in every session: pass a budget. “Budget Day,” though it doesn’t have an official date in each legislative session, is when the House or Senate passes its version of a budget bill. Things get heated, legislators stay on the floor until the wee hours of the morning, staving off delirium to fight for every penny possible for their constituents’ legislative priorities. At stake this session is the future of public education funding, deemed an emergency issue this session by Gov. Greg Abbott and a top priority of the leadership in both the House and Senate.

For its part on the school finance front, the House Public Education Committee unanimously approved Chairman Dan Huberty’s (R-Kingwood) comprehensive school funding bill, House Bill (HB) 3, on Tuesday of this week after making a number of changes requested by ATPE and other education stakeholders. Those changes included removing a controversial merit pay proposal from the bill. Read more about the revisions made to HB 3 in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell. The new and improved school finance and tax reform bill is expected to be brought up by the full House for a floor debate within a couple of weeks.

With the momentum behind major public education bills like HB 3, it is now up to lawmakers to put aside enough money for the next biennium to make those school funding proposals a reality. On the House side, those budget decisions will be made via HB 1, which is the House’s version of the budget bill that is scheduled for a floor debate next week. State representatives will be spending the weekend drafting and pre-filing their amendments to the massive budget bill before its lengthy budget debate happens on Wednesday, March 27. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote and be sure to follow us and our lobbyists on Twitter for updates on the budget debate next week.

 


House Public Education Committee hearing, March 19, 2019

In addition to approving HB 3 earlier this week, the House Public Education committee also heard 21 other bills when it met on Tuesday, March 19. The subjects of the bills ranged from the compensatory allotment to  a proposal to make personal financial literacy courses mandatory for graduation. The committee also voted to send 14 previously heard bills to the House floor, including the high-profile school finance and tax relief bill, HB 3. For more information on the bills heard during Tuesday’s committee meeting, read this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier. Next Tuesday, the committee will meet again to hear a long agenda full of school safety bills.

Senate Education Committee hearing, March 19, 2019

The Senate Education committee also met Tuesday, March 19, to hear a number of bills, including several relating to educator misconduct. Most of the bills heard on that subject were filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt as follow-ups to his Senate Bill 7 enacted by the legislature in 2017. The Senate Education Committee voted to advance three bills to the Senate floor. Read more in this blog post from ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. On the agenda for next week’s Senate Education Committee hearing are several bills relating to student discipline.

 


Two high-profile bills positively affecting Teacher Retirement System (TRS) pension benefits are slated for legislative action next week.

First, Senate Bill (SB) 12, by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston) is on the calendar for debate by the full Senate next week. As we reported in last week’s wrap-up, SB 12 was previously heard and approved by the Senate State Affairs Committee. SB 12 would shore up the educator pension fund by gradually increasing what the state, school districts, and educators contribute to TRS over a period of six years.

The second bill is House Bill (HB) 9 by Rep. Greg Bonnen (R-Friendswood), which is scheduled for a public hearing by the House Pensions/Investments/Financial Services Committee on Tuesday morning, March 26, 2019. ATPE will be testifying in support of the bill. HB 9 would increase contributions to the TRS pension fund placing the entirety of the responsibility of paying for the contribution increase on the state. It also provides for TRS retirees to receive a 13th check equal to up to $2400 of their annuity payment.

Despite their different methods, both of these ATPE-supported bills are aimed at making the pension fund actuarially sound, which would make it possible for the state to provide a much-needed cost of living adjustment to those retired educators who are receiving TRS benefits.

 


Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: March 15, 2019

Here’s your wrap-up of education highlights from another busy week for the ATPE Governmental Relations team:


ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testifying before the House Public Education Committee on March 12, 2019

Members of the House Public Education committee heard more than 12 hours of testimony this Tuesday on House Bill 3 (HB 3), the House’s comprehensive school finance reform bill. Stakeholders from parents to teachers and even children on spring break testified about the $9 billion bill. Many witnesses at Tuesday’s hearing expressed support for the bill, but a number of them shared reservations about its move to roll funding for gifted and talented programs into the basic allotment and a proposed merit pay plan that the commissioner of education would oversee under HB 3 by Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood).

ATPE testified neutrally on HB 3 stating that while the bill as filed has many positive qualities and would inject much-needed funding into the public education system, it also includes some troubling changes regarding the state’s minimum salary schedule and using teacher evaluations and student performance data for merit pay. Many witnesses, including ATPE, who expressed concerns about the merit pay plan noted that it would be difficult if not impossible for the commissioner to determine which teachers might receive merit pay under HB 3 without using data from student test scores, even though the bill itself does not specifically call for the use of the STAAR for this purpose. ATPE opposes the use of student performance data, including test scores, as the primary measure of a teacher’s effectiveness for purposes of compensation, which ATPE shared with the committee during our testimony that was delivered by Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter on Tuesday.

Currently, HB 3 is still pending in committee with a substitute version of the bill expected to be discussed next Tuesday, March 19. Read more about Tuesday’s school finance hearing in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

On Wednesday, the House Public Education Committee reconvened to hear a host of other bills related to topics such as Districts of Innovation (DOI) and school start dates. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of HB 1051, a bill that would make permanent the Goodwill Excel center permanent, a charter school offering a successful dropout recovery program for adult students. ATPE also supported HB 340 relating to full-day pre-k and HB 1276 relating to educator certification. More details on bills heard during Wednesday’s hearing can be found here.

 


Earlier this week, the White House released the president’s 2020 budget proposal, which is little more than a statement of the president’s priorities given that Congress actually passes the federal budget. The proposal would cut billions from the Department of Education’s budget compared to what Congress previously enacted, while funding controversial programs such as school privatization and performance-based compensation. Read a more detailed analysis of the President’s budget proposal on our Teach the Vote blog here.

 


The Senate State Affairs Committee met Thursday morning to hear a number of bills. Among them was Senate Bill 12 by Sen. Joan Huffman (R-Houston). SB 12 would increase the TRS contribution rate and get the fund back to a point of actuarial soundness by the end of the biennium. In addition to the increased contribution rate, the bill would also fund a small 13th check of $500 for current TRS retirees. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter testified in support of the bill. For more background on why TRS contribution increases are now needed, check out this previous blog post about actions taken by the TRS board of trustees in the summer of 2018.


Residents of the San Antonio area’s House District 125 elected Democrat Ray Lopez to represent them in the House in a special election held this Tuesday. Lopez, a former city council member will be serving in the seat vacated by current Bexar County Commissioner and former HD 125 state representative Justin Rodriguez. ATPE congratulates Representative-Elect Lopez and looks forward to working with him. This election was the last in a series of special elections meant to fill seats that were vacated after last fall’s elections. As we reported last week, Houston area residents of House District 145 last week elected Democrat Christina Morales to fill the seat vacated by former representative and now Senator Carol Alvarado.

 


ThinkstockPhotos-465016790_moneyLast Friday evening the Senate released its version of a school finance reform proposal, Senate Bill 4 by Sen. Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood). While the Senate has worked diligently to pass an across-the-board teacher pay raise bill this session (SB 3), its version of a more comprehensive school finance reform plan is a little less robust than its counterpart in the House. SB 4 includes provisions for outcomes-based funding and merit pay for classroom teachers. Read more information about the Senate bill in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

 


A closer look at Senate school finance and property tax plans

Senate Education Committee Chair Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) filed Senate Bill (SB) 4 at the end of last week, which was the deadline to file most bills for consideration during the 2019 legislative session.

The Senate has focused on property taxes early on this session and also quickly passed SB 3 on March 4, proposing to give teachers and librarians a $5,000 pay raise across-the-board. For its part, the House spent most of the first half of the session preparing to unveil its comprehensive school finance reform plan. After the House released its major school finance bill, House Bill (HB) 3, many were waiting to see how the Senate would respond. SB 4 represents the Senate’s stab at a similar school finance plan.

In its current form, SB 4 is a rough draft with many portions left incomplete. As with the original version of HB 3 as filed, ATPE believes SB 4 as filed includes a mix of favorable and unfavorable proposals. Among its positive aspects, SB 4 would create a full-day pre-K program and allow educators’ children to participate in that. It would also provide professional development materials for implementing blended learning. Below are some additional details on the Senate’s school finance proposal:

SB 4: OUTCOMES FUNDING

The Senate’s bill includes a controversial outcomes-based funding model that would provide school districts additional money for students who perform well on standardized tests. Specifically, SB 4 would create a new third-grade reading allotment that would give districts an unspecified amount of funding for each “educationally disadvantaged” student who performs well on a third-grade reading test chosen by the commissioner of education. The commissioner would determine what it means to be educationally disadvantaged for purposes of this bill.

ATPE and other education stakeholders have continuously pointed out the consensus view of the education community: outcomes-based funding rewards schools that are already performing well, while denying resources to poorly performing schools that need those resources in order to improve. The third-grade reading allotment under SB 4 would likewise leave poorly performing schools to fend for themselves, while sending the resources they need in order to improve to districts that are already doing well.

SB 4: MERIT PAY

Regarding teacher compensation, SB 4 would create an “educator effectiveness” merit pay program. The program would require participating districts to provide merit salary increases based upon the educator’s performance under a new evaluation system that must include student surveys and student academic growth, which is generally measured through standardized test scores. The number of educators who can participate would be restricted to a small percentage of the statewide teaching population, and salary increases under this program would be higher for educators who are assigned to campuses with poor overall or domain performance ratings under the A-F accountability system. While districts would be given a degree of flexibility in designing these programs, the commissioner of education would ultimately have the sole discretion to determine what sort of program meets the criteria.

Research shows that student performance on standardized tests is not a scientifically valid measure of educator effectiveness, especially since the tests were not designed for that purpose. ATPE continues to warn that tying educator pay to student test scores will create a perverse set of incentives that only increases concerns about “teaching to the test.” ATPE supports programs that offer higher pay to educators who volunteer to serve at struggling campuses, take on campus leadership roles above and beyond their classroom duties, or who obtain advanced or high-needs training and certifications. Recognizing that what works for one district doesn’t necessarily work for every district, ATPE recommends that these differentiated pay programs be designed at the local level with input from educators, and not be tied to a single set of agency-approved criteria.

SB 4: OTHER CHANGES

The Senate’s school finance bill also includes school district funding for each student in kindergarten through grade three who is educationally disadvantaged or in a bilingual or special language program. It would create a new allotment to provide district funding for each educationally disadvantaged student who demonstrates college, career, or military readiness.

SB 4 would make the following additional changes:

  • Create new weighted funding for dual language instruction and students with dyslexia.
  • Expand career and technology education (CTE) program funding to the eighth grade.
  • Convert transportation funding to mileage-based from a linear density-based formula.
  • Order a study of the new instructional facilities allotment (NIFA).
  • Create new small and midsize and fast growth allotments.
  • Codify the state’s 60×30 graduation goal and order a biennial progress report.
  • Require students to fill out a FAFSA before graduation.
  • Eliminate intensive summer programs for students at risk of dropping out.
  • Adjust the equalized wealth level under Chapter 41.

The bill would eliminate the high school allotment, gifted and talented allotment, and outdated cost of education index (CEI), presumably to roll them into the basic allotment. Placeholder language in the bill indicates Sen. Taylor intends changes to other formula weights as well, but an estimate of the bill’s cost cannot be completed until those numbers are included.

SENATE PRIORITY BILLS

In the Senate, bills that are important to the lieutenant governor receive the lowest bill numbers. As one of the first five bills in numerical order, SB 4 is considered a major priority bill. The top five includes SB 1, which is the Senate budget that includes $3.7 billion to cover the $5,000 raise proposed in SB 3 — another priority bill. The addition of librarians to SB 3 raised the price tag of that pay raise bill to $3.9 billion.

The Senate’s property tax relief program consists of SB 2 and SB 5. Filed by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), SB 5 would increase the amount of state funding to local school districts in order to raise the individual homestead exemption from $25,000 up to $35,000. This would ease some of the burden on homeowners, who have paid for an increasing share of the cost of public education as property values have risen and the current funding formulas have allowed the state to decrease its contributions.

Also filed by Sen. Bettencourt, SB 2 would cap the annual revenue growth of local taxing entities, including school districts, at 2.5 percent. If local tax collections increase more than 2.5 percent due to an increase in property values, then the local taxing unit most lower the tax rate or hold an election asking voters if they can exceed the 2.5 percent cap. Cities and counties have argued that this could imperil their ability to provide basic services, including first responders.

The Senate has already passed SB 3, but an across-the-board teacher pay raise has faced a chilly reception in the Texas House. SB 2 faces an uncertain future, with members raising serious concerns over the impact the 2.5 percent cap would have on public safety and local services. At this time, SB 2 has yet to be scheduled for debate on the Senate floor. SB 4 and SB 5 are the most recently filed bills, and both await hearings in their respective committees. Keep checking back on here at TeachtheVote.org for updates.

Teacher pay raise bill sails through committee and is placed on Senate calendar

A bill that would grant all full-time classroom teachers a $5,000 across-the-board pay raise was placed on the Texas Senate Intent Calendar today. This move places the bill one step away from a floor vote in the upper chamber, which could happen early next week if the Senate continues the current practice of taking Fridays off.

The Senate Finance Committee voted unanimously Monday to approve Senate Bill (SB) 3 by state Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), who also chairs the committee. Gov. Greg Abbott has declared teacher compensation an emergency issue for this session, making bills dealing with teacher pay eligible for more expedited consideration by the legislature. SB 3 has been filed as one of the Senate’s highest priority bills for the 86th legislative session.

Sen. Jane Nelson invited ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray to testify before the Senate Finance Committee on Feb. 25, 2019, about a proposed pay raise for teachers.

ATPE State Vice President Tonja Gray was invited to testify Monday in support of the bill. She provided oral and written testimony outlining the need for increased compensation and suggested that legislators could expand the raise to include school personnel aside from just teachers. Several other ATPE members and educators testified in support of the bill during Monday’s committee hearing, which coincided with “ATPE at the Capitol,” our legislative advocacy day held every legislative session.

The committee made a handful of changes to Sen. Nelson’s original bill on Monday. These include expanding the raise to include charter school teachers and covering the state’s and school districts’ increased cost of TRS contributions as a side-effect of the raise. The committee approved the revised bill by a unanimous vote of 15-0.

Research has proven that teachers are the single most important in-school factor contributing to student performance, and the best way to boost student performance is to provide students with access to the best teachers. This fact has been acknowledged by the governor, lieutenant governor, and house speaker in countless public statements over the past several months.

ATPE members filled the committee room for a hearing on Senate Bill 3 during ATPE at the Capitol on Feb. 25, 2019.

ATPE has been driving the conversation on teacher compensation, emphasizing that an across-the-board raise is important to help attract and retain high-quality educators. ATPE looks forward to talking about programs to offer additional, differentiated pay for educators who go above and beyond their regular classroom duties. This includes offering to pay educators more for volunteering at more challenging campuses, for obtaining advanced training and high-need certifications, and for taking on campus leadership roles, such as mentoring.

In order to give these programs the best prospects for success, it’s important that local districts be given the flexibility to design their own programs, include local educators in the process, and provide a professional level of base compensation by giving all teachers a long overdue raise first. It’s also critical that compensation decisions are not based upon student test scores, which are not a scientifically valid measure of teacher effectiveness.

After the Senate Finance Committee approved SB 3 on Monday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick met with ATPE members and announced that a teacher raise would be the “first or second” bill the Senate passes this session. The Senate has prioritized an across-the-board raise, setting aside $3.7 billion for raises in the Senate’s base budget proposal.

The Texas House is also looking at educator compensation as a priority issue, but the leadership in the lower chamber has not yet released its version of a bill to address teacher pay. In the meantime, House leaders have indicated in the meantime their support and preference for recommendations of the Texas Commission on School Finance, which include changes to weights and allotments and a merit-based pay program based upon Dallas ISD’s “ACE” model. This program would enable a small percentage of qualifying teachers to earn up to $100,000 for working at high-needs campuses. While a bill has yet to be filed, the cost of creating a statewide program similar to Dallas ISD’s initiative has been estimated at around $100 million, which is significantly less than the $3.7 billion price tag for the Senate’s across-the-board pay raise in SB 3.

The House’s budget includes an additional $7 billion for public education contingent upon the passage of property tax relief legislation. ATPE believes the $3.7 billion proposed by the Senate could fit within this $7 billion with enough room left over for property tax relief and additional school funding. Our primary goal in supporting SB 3 and other school finance-related proposals this session has been to work in a bipartisan manner with both chambers and other stakeholders to find comprehensive solutions to the state’s complex and growing public education needs.

If the full Senate approves SB 3 as is expected, Sen. Nelson’s teacher pay raise bill will head over to the House and the committee process will start all over. It is important to note that there are likely to be many changes along the way, and ATPE looks forward to working with both the House and Senate to reach an agreement that will benefit all 5.4 million Texas public school students.


ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins and ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell contributed to this report.

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.