Tag Archives: Senate

ATPE meets virtually with Texas Congressional delegation

Submitted by ATPE Contract Lobbyist David Pore of Hance Scarborough, LLP

Tonja Gray

Jimmy Lee

Newly inaugurated ATPE State President Jimmy Lee and immediate Past President Tonja Gray spent time in July joining me and the ATPE Governmental Relations team for a series of online roundtable policy discussions with key members of the Texas Congressional Delegation and their staffs.  Although perhaps not as effective (nor as much fun) as the annual state officer trip to Washington, DC, we made progress in our federal advocacy efforts and built on existing relationships with the delegation. Our goal was to provide input to the members who sit on the key committees of jurisdiction on the policy issues important to Texas educators, parents, and students. We focused our discussions on safely returning to school, federal COVID-19 relief funding for education, and the GPO/WEP Social Security offsets that continue to reduce the benefits of retired educators and other public servants.

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX 20) sits on the House Education and Labor Committee that has oversight over the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and how they spend the money appropriated for K-12 and higher education by the Congress. The congressman and his Education Legislative Assistant Kaitlyn Montan joined us for a great discussion of the challenges facing Texas educators, administrators, parents, and students as we work to return to the classroom safely. ATPE leaders stressed the importance of local, district-level decision making and the need for flexibility for school districts to be able to return virtually, in-person, or with a hybrid model where appropriate. The congressman agreed that federal money should not be used to incentivize one return model over another and that ED should not divert limited federal taxpayer money appropriated for COVID-19 relief for public schools to private schools or for the virtual voucher pet projects of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. Rep. Castro committed to using his role on the committee to conduct robust oversight and make sure the department follows the law as Congress intended.

Rep. Van Taylor (R-TX 3) also sits on the House Education and Labor Committee and represents a North Texas district with over 4,000 ATPE members. The congressman’s Legislative Director Jett Thompson met with us, and while less enthusiastic about the need for strong oversight of ED, he did agree that Secretary DeVos should stick to congressional intent when implementing the COVID-19 relief bills, including in how taxpayer money is distributed to private schools.

Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX 35) sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and has been a long time cosponsor and champion for legislation completely repealing the WEP and the GPO. The repeal bills have never made it out of committee due to their enormous costs to the Social Security trust fund and the inequities that would be created for private sector beneficiaries. Rep. Doggett’s Legislative Assistant Sarah Jones met with us and informed us that the congressman does not support the more limited bill repealing the WEP that has been authored by Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX) or the version introduced by committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA). Surprisingly, Jones stated that Rep. Doggett did not support the Neal bill because it “is not paid for,” despite his long-time support for the full repeal bill that costs the Social Security trust fund much more than either the Brady or Neal WEP repeal bills. Although she did express support from the congressman on our position regarding how ED is spending COVID-19 relief funds, we let Jones know that Congressman Doggett’s opposition to the WEP repeal bills was inconsistent with his previous positions on the issue and extremely disappointing to Texas public educators, both active and retired.

ATPE state officers and lobbyists met with Rep. Jodey Arrington via Zoom, July 28, 2020, to discuss COVID-19 considerations and Social Security reform.

Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX 19) also sits on the House Ways and Means Committee and has emerged as a champion for legislation to repeal the WEP and replace it with a proportional formula. We discussed with him the partisan breakdown of previously bipartisan legislation authored by committee Chairman Neal and Ranking Member Brady that has now devolved into two separate bills bogged down and unlikely to move before the election in November. Tonja Gray relayed on-the-ground concerns about the return to school from Abilene ISD, which lies in Arrington’s congressional district, while Jimmy Lee spoke from his unique perspective as a retired career educator, statewide leader, and the husband of a superintendent. While we agreed to disagree with the congressman on his position that it is appropriate to use federal relief money to incentivize in-person teaching this fall, regardless of the health and safety concerns of the district, we expressed our sincere appreciation for his open line of communication with ATPE and his strong support in the Ways and Means Committee for addressing the WEP. Arrington also praised ATPE for its professional approach to working with officeholders, expressing his belief that the national union groups “are not winning anyone over” in Washington.

Unfortunately, our senior U.S. Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) was unavailable to meet with ATPE’s statewide leadership and the governmental relations team. Although his Legislative Assistant Clair Sanderson met with us, she was unable to commit the senator to a position on how ED is implementing the CARES Act and spending federal taxpayer money appropriated for COVID-19 relief for education. We also discussed the Senate companion to the Brady WEP bill that Senator Ted Cruz has introduced, which to date, Senator Cornyn has not cosponsored.

It is important for our elected officials at every level to hear directly from professional educators about the issues you face, such as returning to school safely, how our tax dollars are spent on education, and how federal Social Security laws affect your retirement. I am grateful to Tonja and Jimmy for taking the time to participate in these roundtable discussions. They both are outstanding ambassadors for ATPE and for public education as a whole. Thank you, Tonja and Jimmy!

Another round of federal stimulus inching closer to reality

Another round of federal relief money is one step closer to becoming a reality, as Republicans in the U.S. Senate on Monday presented their proposal two months after Democrats passed theirs out of the U.S. House of Representatives. With substantial differences between these latest two COVID-19 relief proposals, however, there is much work to be done to negotiate a plan that can pass out of both chambers.

The $1 trillion Republican proposal, dubbed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, includes $105 billion for education, $70 billion of which would go to K-12 schools specifically. However, two-thirds of that funding, roughly $47 billion, would only flow to schools that reopen for in-person instruction and would not be available to schools that only offer virtual instruction in response to high levels of local COVID-19 infections. Schools that delay in-person instruction for safety reasons could receive some of the remaining one-third of the funding that would be split among all schools, regardless of whether they open in-person or through distance methods. Similar to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, signed by President Trump on March 27, the new proposal also includes $5 billion for state governors to spend on K-12 and higher education.

Even though states would receive funds under the Republican HEALS Act proposal based proportionately on their previous school year’s Title I funding, states would have to reserve a proportional portion of the federal funding for private schools. Private schools receiving federal funds would not be subject to the same requirements under the GOP proposal as public schools. The new proposal does not include a requirement to provide “equitable services” to private schools under the new funding as was included in the CARES Act.

The Republican proposal also includes immunity from liability intended to shield school districts and businesses that reopen amid the pandemic from lawsuits by employees or customers who are exposed to the virus or become infected as a result.

Another major headline of the Senate plan includes lower monthly unemployment payments. Payments would decrease from the current $600 per week down to $200, which could be combined with state unemployment benefits for up to 70% of a person’s wages before losing their job due to the pandemic. Those unemployment payments, created by the CARES Act in March, are scheduled to expire this weekend unless extended by Congress. The GOP plan would extend the moratorium on evictions, a provision from the first CARES Act that has already lapsed, and would provide another round of stimulus checks using the same criteria as under the CARES Act. Each individual earning up to $75,000 per year would receive $1,200, and decreasing amounts would be paid to those earning up to $99,000.

The Republican plan is part of a larger package of legislation that includes a stand-alone voucher bill filed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) and cosponsored by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) that would create a permanent program providing up to $5 billion in tax credits for contributions to scholarship-granting organizations (SGO) that transfer public school dollars to private institutions. This is a perennial proposal advocated by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in her quest to privatize education. The new voucher bill would also direct emergency education funding meant for public schools to SGOs for private use. Expansion of these voucher programs remains a top priority of the Trump administration and Secretary DeVos, as they continue using the pandemic to promote these proposals despite repeated failures to pass them through the Congress.

The House, under Democratic leadership, passed the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act back in May. The House bill would provide $90 billion directly to education, including $58 billion for all K-12 schools. Unlike the Senate plan, the House bill provides a separate $950 billion in emergency funding to state and local governments aimed at preventing budget shortfalls that could lead to layoffs of teachers and other public employees.

The HEROES Act would also provide another round of stimulus checks to individuals, and would additionally raise the payout for each dependent to $1,200 up from $500 under the CARES Act. The bill would extend the full $600 weekly unemployment payments into next year, extend the suspension of student loan payments, provide up to $10,000 in student debt relief, and prohibit Secretary DeVos from imposing restrictions on populations of students who receive emergency financial relief under the CARES Act.

Each of these proposals represents the opening bid in negotiations between the two chambers and the Trump administration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has expressed a desire to vote on the Senate bill before members leave for recess August 7. The Senate bill was originally expected to be unveiled last week, but was reportedly delayed amid ongoing negotiations with the White House, which supports the Senate’s proposal. House Democrats passed their bill in May, but Senate Republicans ignored it and declined to take action on another relief package until recently.

Federal relief for schools would come at a critical time as the 2020-21 school year begins. Regardless of whether instruction is being delivered virtually or in person, school buildings across Texas will once again fill with teachers and staff, necessitating costly safety protocols. Virtual instruction poses added technology costs to districts, which are already looking at potential budget shortfalls due to declining tax revenues caused by the pandemic-induced recession.

Texas is estimated to face a $4.6 billion budget shortfall by the end of 2020, and the 2021 legislative session is already expected to feature drastic cuts in state spending. Federal relief dollars would go a long way in reducing the pressure to cut education spending here in Texas. House Democrats, Senate Republicans, and the president all will have to approve any additional relief package from Congress.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 26, 2020

The education community saw a whirlwind of news this week as multiple pieces of guidance were released from the Texas Education Agency regarding the return to school in the fall, including a draft public health document that was posted online and promptly taken down. In this week’s wrap-up, the ATPE Governmental Relations team will fill you in on the latest happenings.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: It was gone in the blink of an eye. On Tuesday of this week, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) posted a draft public health guidance document, seemingly by mistake. By the time it was taken down, the guidance had been widely circulated in the education community, and many were not happy with the lack of attention it paid to the worsening coronavirus numbers in Texas. Featured in a story by ABC affiliate KLTV-7 in East Texas, ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter said, “…while we would like for the state to give teachers and districts guidance in an expedient fashion, we’re glad that the draft put up yesterday is not the final product.”

As reported by the Texas Tribune, the guidance largely focused on suggesting health and safety practices to districts rather than mandating them, reflecting Commissioner of Education Mike Morath’s statement last week that it “will be safe” to return to in-person classes in the fall. Morath has since appeared to walk back that sentiment as the state’s coronavirus numbers have worsened, and the agency has said it is still soliciting feedback and developing the final guidelines. Unfortunately, this week’s developments provide little solace to educators feeling anxiety about returning to school since Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement last week that in-person classes will resume this fall.

ATPE continues to meet with legislators, other stakeholder groups, and policymakers at the local, state, and federal level to share our members’ feedback about the return to school. We released a statement on TEA’s draft health guidance document this week, in which we strongly urge the state to require stronger actions to ensure the safety of school employees and Texas students. ATPE also asks school districts to listen to their employees and the recommendations of medical experts regarding the impact of the pandemic in their area as they implement their back-to-school safety protocols. In the statement, ATPE Executive Director Shannon Holmes says, “Elected school boards and superintendents now face a difficult balancing act between preventing COVID-19 outbreaks and ensuring children are in the most productive learning environment possible—a physical classroom with an in-person teacher. They deserve to have support and actionable guidance from the state of Texas.” Read more about ATPE’s response in this blog post by ATPE Governmental Relations Director Jennifer Mitchell.

Gov. Abbott gives a COVID-19 update on June 22, 2020

At the gubernatorial level, Gov. Abbott took several actions this week in response to a growing positivity rate for the coronavirus. As ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported here on Teach the Vote, Abbott strongly encouraged (but did not mandate) wearing masks in his press conference on Monday. By Thursday, the governor had decided to halt the state’s reopening plans, calling for cancellation of elective surgeries and by Friday, closing bars and reducing restaurant capacity to 50%.

Be sure to check the ATPE Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page, which offers answers to common educator questions related to returning to school in the fall, health and safety concerns, laws governing sick leave, and more. ATPE is continuing to update this page on a daily basis as new developments occur.


ELECTION UPDATE: Are you ready to vote? Get your hand sanitizer, stylus (a pencil with an eraser works), and mask ready! Early voting for the primary runoffs and the Texas Senate District 14 special election begins this coming Monday, June 29, and continues through July 10. Texas Secretary of State Ruth Hughes reiterated this week that voters should aim to vote early to avoid election day crowds, utilize curbside voting if possible, and follow  minimum safety guidelines released by her office in May. Read more in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

ATPE reminds voters that a decrease in election poll workers has reduced the availability of polling sites in some areas. Click here to find early voting sites near you, and check your county’s election website for wait times during voting hours. The League of Women Voters vote411.org site has a personalized sample ballot generator and more! Lastly, check out candidate profiles here on Teach the Vote. Thank you for your commitment to voting, and stay safe!


This week TEA (intentionally) posted guidance on remote learning and attendance/enrollment for the 2020-21 school year, which gave districts a better idea of how they may operate this fall and how they will be funded. The agency gave districts two main options for remote learning that are differentiated by whether or not a student receives real-time, teacher-lead instruction. Additionally, the models have different ways of documenting student engagement for purposes of taking attendance. The agency plans to hold districts harmless for attendance for the first two six weeks, but this may not be enough to provide stability to districts in such an uncertain situation. Read more on the remote learning guidance in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.

TEA also updated several other coronavirus resources this week, including personal protective equipment (PPE) updates, updates to general support (family mental health flyers and new child care emergency rules), “Strong Start” planning and survey tools, several updates to waivers, finance, and grants (new answers to equitable services FAQ, remote learning, attendance, missed school days, and more), and school nutrition (new letter to families on the P-EBT application).


Betsy DeVos

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the Department of Education will release a final interim rule on how public school districts must spend their federal emergency dollars under the CARES Act for equitable services provided to private schools. The rule, which is unofficially published for now, gives districts more flexibility than what was originally indicated by the department; but the new rule still misses the mark in its obvious intent to expand private school access to public school resources, using the department’s strained interpretation of the CARES act. Read more about what the new rule entails in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


Texas 2020 Census response rates by county as of June 25, 2020

The decennial U.S. Census is crucial to ensuring adequate funding and programming for roads, infrastructure, our public schools, and so much more. The current national response rate for the 2020 Census shows that 61.7% of households have responded to their census. At 56.3%, Texas doesn’t have the lowest response rate in the country, but we still have a long way to go.

The update/leave process is now underway, so you might see census workers in your neighborhood visiting households that have not responded yet. Find upcoming events, training, tool kits, and other resources at Texas Counts. Here are two things you can do to help Texas shine on the 2020 Census:

  1. Text or call your family (even those great aunts) and friends and ask them if they have filled out the census. Walk them through the process if not. We have until October 31 to self-respond!
  2. Pop a census reminder in student materials and family communications or staple to school lunch bags on a regular basis and make sure parents count even their youngest babies on the census.

Teach the Vote’s Week in Review: June 12, 2020

You have until Monday, June 15, to register to vote in the July 14 primary runoff election (and a special election if you happen to live in Texas Senate District 14). While you are making your voting plan for the July election, check out this week’s education news from ATPE Governmental Relations.


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE: Phase three to reopen Texas is well underway, with restaurants allowed to expand capacity to 75% starting today. By next Friday, amusement parks and carnivals in counties with more than 1,000 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 may open at 50% capacity. Gov. Greg Abbott spoke with CBS Austin this week and noted that, with cases on the rise, his contingency plan should there be a resurgence will be to first roll back non-essential surgeries and other medical procedures.

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) updated quite a few coronavirus-related web resources this week. TEA’s closure support and guidance page includes updates on personal protective equipment and other safety guidance for summer school, graduation, and UIL. Information on residential programs has been updated on the special education page. TEA also provided an updated COVID-19 waivers document.

Changes were also announced this week that will impact educator certification candidates who are beginning internship requirements but have not taken their test and candidates who are required to complete otherwise face-to-face educator preparation program (EPP) requirements in the 2020-21 school year. Specifically, eligible candidates who are beginning internships will be able to obtain an intern certificate upon recommendation of their EPP, without having to meet testing requirements first. (Fingerprinting requirements remain in place.) This is similar to a previous waiver that allowed certification candidates who had completed all EPP requirements except their test to obtain a probationary certificate. Candidates who would otherwise be expected to complete face-to-face requirements such as clinical teaching will be able to meet these in a virtual setting. Read more here and find more information below about similar developments at the State Board for Educator Certification this week.

As always, ATPE’s Coronavirus FAQ and Resources page is being frequently updated with the latest information on COVID-19 issues for educators.


ELECTION UPDATE: It’s almost election time again! The deadline to register to vote in the July 14 runoff election (and a Texas Senate District 14 special election happening the same day) is Monday, June 15, 2020. For more on registration and why this election is important, check out this week’s blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.

Make sure you’re registered and learn what’s on your ballot here. View candidate profiles, including their ATPE survey responses and voting records, on Teach the Vote here. If you feel you meet the eligibility criteria to vote by mail, your application for a mail-in ballot must be received by your local election administration (not postmarked) no later than July 2. Find additional information about voter registration from the League of Women Voters here, plus get election reminders and other resources from the Texas Educators Vote coalition here. Early voting begins June 29!


FEDERAL UPDATE: Facing the unprecedented threat of the deadly novel coronavirus, Congress entered the spring of 2020 with what has become an extremely rare sense of bipartisan purpose, passing four large legislative packages to provide funding for hospitals and health care workers fighting the virus, as well as for businesses and individuals affected by the closures and stay-at-home orders implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The federal CARES Act provided $30 billion for the U.S. Department of Education, including $13.5 billion for elementary and secondary education formula funding to be provided directly to states.

David Pore

ATPE has been tirelessly lobbying Congress to enact laws and policies that protect your ability to effectively educate students and retire with financial security. That includes fighting to repeal the arbitrary Social Security offsets that unfairly reduce the retirement benefits of educators. Read more about how ATPE is advocating for you in Washington, D.C. in this update from ATPE’s federal lobbyist, David Pore, as published in the ATPE News Summer 2020 edition.

 


The State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC) held a special meeting this week to consider a new rule that will allow more flexibility for educator certification candidates undergoing face-to-face requirements such as internships, field experiences, clinical experiences, practicums, and observations. The changes will be limited to the 2020-21 school year and will allow for at least partial completion of these requirements in a virtual setting. Read more about yesterday’s SBEC meeting and the proposed rule language in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.


A recent study by researchers at Princeton and Tufts Universities finds that “teachers are people too,” when it comes to racial biases. In the peer-reviewed study published in the prestigious journal Educational Researcher in April 2020, the authors found that teachers, while surely well-intentioned, are no different in their levels of implicit and explicit biases from non-teachers of the same race, level of education, age, gender, and political affiliation. This finding highlights the need for training and supports to help teachers work toward recognizing and combating biases that may negatively impact students. The study authors also point out that due to the progress we must make with respect to teacher racial bias, schools are not likely to be the great societal equalizers that so many conclude they are. Read more about the study here.

Texas election roundup: Senate special election

Wednesday, May 13, 2020, marked the deadline for candidates to file for the legislative seat recently vacated by former state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

The Democrats vying for the reliably blue Senate District (14) seat based in Austin include state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and former Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt. The two Republicans who have filed are activist and former Austin city council member Don Zimmerman and attorney Waller Burns II, who does not appear to have a campaign website or social media presence. Libertarian Pat Dixon and physician Jeff Ridgeway, running as an independent candidate, have also filed for the seat.

The special election for the SD 14 seat is scheduled for July 14, which is the same day as the primary runoff elections. Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) announced this week that early voting in these elections will be extended to June 29 from July 6. Voters are normally given only one week to vote early in the runoffs, but Abbott’s order will extend that period to two weeks. The governor’s stated reasoning is to enable greater social distancing for in-person voting.

Whether to vote in person or by mail has become a politicized and polarizing issue, unfortunately, with numerous local and state officials along with President Donald Trump weighing in on different sides of the debate. Voters who go to the polls in person may still be exposed to the risk of communicating the deadly COVID-19 infection, the number of confirmed cases of which have continued to increase in Texas at ever higher rates. While several other states, including states such as Kentucky and Alabama with Republican leadership, have expanded voting by mail options in order to protect their voters’ safety, Gov. Abbott and state Attorney General Ken Paxton continue to resist efforts to expand voting by mail in Texas.

A state appeals court ruled Thursday that the state and counties must follow a district judge’s order allowing all Texas voters to vote by mail if they are concerned about contracting COVID-19. Paxton has fought the order and this week asked the Texas Supreme Court to consider the case. Meanwhile, Paxton faces a new criminal complaint alleging he committed election fraud by sending a letter in which he warned counties to ignore the judge’s order.

A coalition of voters and civil rights organizations filed another lawsuit in federal court this week seeking to loosen the restrictions on voting by mail. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) joined a separate federal lawsuit filed last month to expand voting by mail in Texas, arguing that the current laws discriminate against Hispanic voters.

While the political debate over voting by mail continues, polling suggests the overwhelming majority of citizens support expanding access to voting by mail. A Dallas Morning News/University of Texas poll last month found 58% of Texans support allowing any registered voter to mail in a ballot without need for an excuse, compared to 22% who opposed. A 56% majority support extending this ability to all future elections. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 67% of Americans support mail-in ballots for the November elections.

Texas election roundup: The long delay

Election politics is pretty much in a holding pattern across most of Texas as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Greg Abbott announced late Friday that the primary runoff elections for state and federal offices originally scheduled for May 26 will be postponed until July 14. This is the same date as the special runoff election for Senate District (SD) 14 to replace state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin), who announced his retirement from the Texas Legislature earlier this year.

Speaking of the SD 14 race, Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt announced this week she will push back her resignation in order to focus on the coronavirus response. Eckhardt had announced plans to resign her office, as she is legally required to do, in order to run for the SD 14 seat. Eckhardt is permitted to serve in her current office until a successor is sworn in, which in this case will be former Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe. State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) has also filed to run for the SD 14 seat.

Earlier this month, Gov. Abbott gave local political subdivisions (i.e. city councils, county governments, local school boards, etc.) the ability to postpone their elections to November 3 from their original May 2 uniform election date. According to TXElects.com, only a handful have formally delayed their local elections as of yet. While Georgetown and Fort Bend ISD are among those that have gone ahead and moved their elections, Waco and Waco ISD are considering sticking with the May 2 elections as scheduled. This has apparently created somewhat of a standoff in McLennan County, where the county elections administrator reportedly warned the city and school districts that the county would refuse to conduct the elections in May regardless of their decision.

The delays, coupled with local stay-at-home orders, have radically altered the campaign landscape in Texas. Many campaigns are suspending fundraising operations and focusing on community services. Most have put aside in-person campaigning in order to focus their resources online in order to reach people stuck in their homes. But while activity has ground down, it has certainly not stopped.

As candidates and officeholders continue to try shape their messaging in light of the current health crisis, they may be wise to consider the results of a national poll by Ragnar Research. First reported by the Quorum Report, the poll shows that 88% of Americans view the coronavirus outbreak as either “very serious” or “somewhat serious.” When sorted by political parties, 53% of Republicans said the coronavirus outbreak is “very serious,” compared to 83% of Democrats and 70% of independents. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control calls the coronavirus outbreak a “serious public health risk.”

Other political pollsters are also continuing to survey the American public more broadly during this time of national crisis. According to an Economist/YouGov poll released Wednesday, 34% believe the country is headed in the right direction, while 54% believe it is on the wrong track. At the same time, 48% of respondents approve of the president’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, while 46% disapprove. The RealClearPolitics rolling average of recent polls puts President Trump at -2.5% approval, or 47% approve to 49.5% disapprove.

It’s also easy to forget there is still a presidential primary underway to choose the Democrat who will face Donald Trump in the November election. Bernie Sanders won this month’s primary in Utah, while 12 other states and Puerto Rico have postponed their presidential primaries. Connecticut, Indiana, Rhode Island, and Delaware have moved their primary elections to June 2. With Joe Biden building an insurmountable delegate lead in the primary contest, the political forecasters at FiveThirtyEight.com have placed Biden at 98% odds to win the nomination. A Monmouth poll released Tuesday has Biden leading Trump by 3% if the election were held now.

 

Texas election roundup: Runoff endorsements and late surprises

As the rest of Texas turns its focus to the primary election runoffs, it turns out there is still a surprise or two left over from last Tuesday’s primary elections. In House District (HD) 47, Justin Berry now appears to lead Don Zimmerman by a single vote for the second spot in the Republican party runoff. Until Wednesday, it appeared Zimmerman held the one-vote lead over Berry. Votes will be canvassed today and a recount seems likely. The winner will face top primary finisher Jennifer Fleck in the Republican runoff in May.

The runoffs have already brought a fresh round of endorsements. In the Senate District (SD) 27 Democratic party runoff, former Texas Parent PAC endorsed candidate Ruben Cortez endorsed Sara Stapleton Barrera on Friday. Stapleton Barrera is challenging longtime Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. in the runoff. Emily’s List endorsed former congressional candidate M.J. Hegar in the Democratic runoff for U.S. Senate against state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas). The winner will face Republican U.S. Sen. John Cornyn in November. There was also one highly unusual anti-endorsement in the Republican runoff for State Board of Education (SBOE) District 5. All 10 Republican sitting members of the SBOE endorsed Lani Popp over former Travis County GOP Chair Robert Morrow. Morrow won 40% of the vote in the primary, but is an extremely controversial figure who has been the source of no small amount of angst for Republicans.

In the Texas Senate, state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez (D-Austin) and Travis County Judge Sarah Eckhardt have each announced they are running for the seat being vacated by state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) in SD 14. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) to the Senate Education Committee to replace Watson, whose resignation will be effective April 30, 2020. Gov. Greg Abbott has not yet set a date for the special election to fill the SD 14 seat.

Some interesting statistics have emerged from last week. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that Democrats outvoted Republicans in typically conservative Collin and Denton Counties. Across four Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan counties, 22% more Democrats than Republicans voted in this year’s primary elections. While Democratic turnout was up, Republican turnout was down 43% from 2016. According to Jeff Blaylock of TXElects.com, this year marked the third time in Texas history that 4 million Texans voted in a primary election. The other two times that happened were in the 2008 and 2016 presidential election years. Turnout in last week’s primaries was about 25%, which is the third highest since 1992. Turnout in Texas was historically higher before then, with a spike above 35% back in 1978. Thanks, Jeff, for crunching those numbers.

The runoffs offer educators a chance to cast the most influential vote of the year. You can read more about why that is, as well as see who’s running, in this post about runoffs here on Teach the Vote. You can also sign up for important election reminders by visiting our coalition website for Texas Educators Vote.

Texas public schools are counting on the 2020 Census

Check your mailbox today. Did you get a 2020 Census invitation?

By April 1, 2020, all households will receive an invitation to complete the 2020 U.S. Census, which determines many important factors of daily life, including funding for children, representation in Congress, and federal assistance for public necessities such as roads and emergency services. Invitations are being delivered between March 12-20. From March 30-April 1, the Census Bureau will count individuals experiencing homelessness, and in April, census workers will visit universities, nursing homes, and others who live in large groups. See a full timeline here.

The census is foundational to our democratic way of life in the United States. In fact, a decennial (every ten years) population count is required by the U.S. Constitution to ensure fair representation of everyone living in the United States. The number of representatives assigned to each state in the U.S. House of Representatives is based off census counts. Big and rapidly growing states like Texas rely on the census to make sure our voices are heard (proudly and loudly) in Washington, D.C. – we are projected to add two or three U.S. representatives to the Texas delegation after this census because of population growth. State and local officials also use the census results, which break down population by tracts of land, to draw boundaries for congressional districts, state legislative districts, State Board of Education districts, and school districts.

Example of 2020 Census questions. Source: 2020census.gov

The census counts every person living in the U.S. once, and your response to the questionnaire is required by law. The 2020 census includes 12 questions that will collect very basic data about households as of April 1, 2020, including size and type of household (house, apartment, mobile home), telephone number, and the race, ethnicity, age, and sex of each person living in the household. Find a sample of the 2020 census here. There is NO citizenship question. By law, the U.S. Census Bureau is not allowed to release personal information, even to law enforcement.

In 2018, Texas received over $1.3 billion dollars in Title I funding, which is based on census counts. Out of the $43 billion in total census-derived funding Texas received in 2018, our students also benefited from $1.4 billion in National School Lunch Program funds and billions more for health insurance, special education, foster care, early childhood education, child care, and other nutritional programs. All of these essential programs are at stake – even just a 1% undercount could cost the state $300 million.

Census-statistic derived federal aid to Texas, 2018. Source: CPPP

For the first time ever, the census can be completed online. Alternative methods such as by phone and mail are also still available. The census website features easy-to-understand resources about completing the census, including considerations for special circumstances facing families today, such as homelessness.

Hard-to-count areas represented with darker colors. Source: City University of New York

It is important to get an accurate count because public schools are legally required to educate ALL students and rely on federal funding tied to population numbers. The census counts everyone living in the U.S., including citizens, non-citizen legal residents and long-term visitors, and undocumented immigrants. Unfortunately, an estimated 25% of Texans and 30% of Texas children live in areas that are considered hard-to-count. These individuals are often hard to contact, locate, survey, and/or engage because of a variety of factors such as language barriers, lack of stable housing, or distrust of the government.

Texas Counts is a community hub that provides several resources for educators, schools, and districts related to get-out-the-count efforts. Since public schools educate all children, they are poised to reach families in unique ways to help promote completion of the census, dispel myths, and ease minds. Educators can also check out the resources on the U.S. Census website, which include lessons and other ways to make the census relevant to students at this crucial time.

 

Texas primary election results for 2020

Texas held its Republican and Democratic primary elections yesterday, March 3, 2020. The “Super Tuesday” primaries brought out a record number of voters in parts of the state, with some voters reportedly waiting in line until after midnight to cast their votes.

Texas early voting turnout from Feb. 18-28 was slightly higher at 12.87% than early voting in the 2016 presidential primary. However, during these four years, Texas added 2 million voters to its rolls. The total turnout percentage during early voting and election day looks to be slightly lower than in 2016, with over 4 million Texans casting votes.

Some precincts in Texas have still not reported final numbers, and there have been discrepancies noted between the vote counts reported on the Secretary of State’s website and various county voter registrar’s totals, particularly for larger metro areas. As a result, some race results are still unknown, and some races are so close that a recount is nearly certain.

 

Federal races

The presidential race at the top of the ballot drew a number of voters, particularly on the Democratic side where multiple candidates have been vying to become the party’s nominee. Here in Texas, former Vice President Joe Biden earned the most votes, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Texas awards its delegates proportionally, so both candidates will benefit. On the Republican side, more than 94% of the votes predictably went to President Donald Trump. A crowded field of Democratic candidates seeking a place on the November ballot opposite Sen. John Cornyn (R), as well as some hotly contested congressional races also captured voters’ attention.

 

State Board of Education (SBOE)

In contested races for the State Board of Education (SBOE), results in the race for one open seat in central Texas raised eyebrows. In District 5, candidate Rebecca Bell-Metereau won the Democratic nomination, while the Republican primary resulted in a runoff between second-place finisher Lani Popp and controversial figure Robert Morrow, who earned the most votes despite barely mounting a campaign for the seat.

In District 6, another open seat, Democratic candidates Michelle Palmer and Kimberly McCleod are advancing to a runoff. Marsha Burnett-Webster earned the Democratic nomination for District 10, and in District 15, incumbent and former ATPE State President Sue Melton-Malone easily won the Republican primary.

 

 

“Winner take all” primaries

As we reported in our “Primary Colors” blog series last month, there were several Texas House races in which all candidates who filed to run for the seat were affiliated with the same political party, meaning there would be no remaining contest for the seat in November. Here are the unofficial results in those “winner take all” primaries:

  • House District (HD) 9 Republican primary: Rep. Chris Paddie with 77.8% of the vote easily defeated Mark Williams.
  • HD 30 Republican primary: Rep. Geanie Morrison earned 78.7% of the vote to defeat her challenger, Vanessa Hicks-Callaway.
  • HD 36 Democratic primary: Rep. Sergio Munoz garnered 68.2% of the vote, surviving another challenge by Abraham Padron.
  • HD 37 Democratic primary Rep. Alex Dominguez appears to have narrowly survived a challenge, earning 51.4% of the vote, just 340 votes more than his challenger, Amber Medina.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Rep. J.D. Sheffield was the second-place finisher in this three-person race that now heads to a runoff. Chellenger Shelby Slawson earned the most votes at 45.6%, followed by Sheffield’s 30.4%. Candidate Cody Johnson garnered 24.1% of the vote. The winner of the runoff will become the presumptive winner of the seat with no other candidates vying for it in November.
  • HD 72 Republican primary: With 87% of the vote, Rep. Drew Darby easily defeated challenger Lynette Lucas.
  • HD 76 Democratic primary: Claudia Ordaz Perez is the presumptive winner of this open seat. She earned 56.4% of the vote, compared to the 43.6% of votes that went to Elisa Tamayo.
  • HD 80 Democratic primary: Rep. Tracy King is headed for another term in the Legislature after earning 68.4% of the vote to beat repeat challenger Danny Valdez.
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil, who only became the incumbent in this district last month after winning a special election runoff, is facing yet another runoff. Birabil earned 29.2% of the vote in this crowded primary against five challengers. Second-place finisher Jasmine Crockett also made the runoff with 25.9% of the vote.
  • HD 131 Democratic primary: Also cruising to another term in the House is Rep. Alma Allen, who earned 78.9% of the vote against her two challengers, Carey Lashley and Elvonte Patton, who won 10.6% and 10.5% of the vote, respectively.
  • HD 141 Democratic primary: Rep. Senfronia Thompson unsurprisingly beat her challenger, Willie Roaches Franklyn, with 81% of the vote.
  • HD 147 Democratic primary: Finally, with 61.1% of the vote, Rep. Garnet Coleman survived a challenge by two candidates, Aurelia Wagner and Colin Ross, and will land another term in office.

 

Hot races

We also reported last week on our blog about a half dozen state legislative races deemed to be the “hottest” and most competitive in Texas, per the Texas Tribune. Here’s a look at how those hot Texas legislative races shook out last night:

  • In the Democratic primary for Senate District (SD) 27, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. faced off against two challengers: current SBOE member Ruben Cortez and attorney Sara Stapleton Barrera. Sen. Lucio almost won the primary outright, but with 49.8% of the vote, he’ll head to a runoff against Barrera, who earned 35.6% of the vote.
  • In the Republican primary for HD 2, Rep Dan Flynn (R-Van) is facing a runoff with repeat challenger Bryan Slaton. Flynn earned 44.5% of the votes, compared to Slaton’s 35.2%. Dwayne ‘Doc’ Collins was the third candidate in the race.
  • In the HD 59 Republican primary, Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville) faced two challengers: Cody Johnson and Shelby Slawson. As we mentioned above, this race is headed to a runoff between Slawson and Sheffield. Since no other candidates filed to run for this seat, the winner of the runoff in May will become the winner of the seat.
  • The open seat being vacated by Rep. Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) in HD 92 drew a number of candidates. In the Republican primary, the candidates were Jeff Cason, Taylor Gillig, and Jim Griffin. Cason won the Republican nomination outright with 54.1% of the vote, compared to Griffin’s 36.6% and Gillig’s 9.3%. In the Democratic primary, was a contest between and Jeff Whitfield was the winner with 56.2% of the vote, defeating Steve Riddell.
  • In HD 132, Rep. Gina Calanni (D-Houston) will face a rematch in November against former representative Mike Schofield, after he earned 53% of the vote to defeat Angelica Garcia for the Republican party’s nomination.
  • Finally, in the Democratic primary in HD 148, Rep. Anna Eastman (D-Houston), who just won a special election for this seat in January, faced four different primary opponents: Adrian Garcia, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, Emily Wolf, and Penny Morales Shaw. Eastman earned 41.8% of the vote and is headed to runoff with Shaw, who earned 22.2%.

 

Runoffs

Below are the races in which no candidate earned a majority of the votes last night, leading the top two candidate to a runoff that will take place on May 26, 2020:

Texas Senate races headed to a runoff.

  • SD 19 Democratic primary: Xochil Peña Rodriguez vs. Rep. Roland Gutierrez
  • SD 27 Democratic primary: Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. vs. Sara Stapleton Barrera

Texas House races headed to a runoff.

  • HD 2 Republican primary: Rep. Dan Flynn vs. Bryan Slaton
  • HD 25 Republican primary: Ro‘Vin Garrett vs. Cody Vasut
  • HD 26 Democratic primary: Suleman Lalani vs. Sarah DeMerchant
  • HD 26 Republican primary: Matt Morgan vs. Jacey Jetton
  • HD 45 Republican primary: Carrie Isaac vs. Kent “Bud” Wymore
  • HD 47 Republican primary: Jennifer Fleck vs. Don Zimmerman*
    *Zimmerman beat a third candidate, Justin Berry, by only a single vote, which means this race most likely will be subject to a recount.
  • HD 59 Republican primary: Shelby Slawson vs. Rep. J.D. Sheffield
  • HD 60 Republican primary: Jon Francis vs. Glenn Rogers
  • HD 67 Democratic primary: Tom Adair vs. Lorenzo Sanchez
  • HD 100 Democratic primary: Rep. Lorraine Birabil vs. Jasmine Crockett
  • HD 119 Democratic primary: Elizabeth “Liz” Campos vs. Jennifer Ramos
  • HD 138 Democratic primary: Akilah Bacy vs. Jenifer Rene Pool
  • HD 142 Democratic primary: Rep. Harold Dutton* vs. Jerry Davis.
    *The Secretary of State reported that Dutton won the primary outright, avoiding a runoff by only a single vote, but the numbers reported by the counties in this district were different. Further counts may be needed to verify the outcome of this one.
  • HD 148 Democratic primary: Rep. Anna Eastman vs. Penny Morales Shaw

 

 

Ballot propositions

The primary elections are also an opportunity for the state political parties to poll their voters on major issues in order to help shape the party’s platform. Both the Republican and Democratic party primaries included a set of these non-binding ballot propositions asking voters for their opinions. In the Democratic primary, voters overwhelmingly supported all 11 of the position statements set forth by the state party, covering topics ranging from healthcare to immigration. Republican primary voters similarly favored all 10 of the state GOP’s position statements on the ballot, which addressed such issues as school prayer and “taxpayer-funded lobbying.”

 

View complete election results from last night’s primaries on the Secretary of State’s website here, keeping in mind that the results remain unofficial and are still being verified and updated. ATPE thanks all those who voted in the primary election.

 

Texas election roundup: Pro-public education endorsements

Early voting in the 2020 Texas primary elections begins next Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, which is also Educator Voting Day. In Texas election news, a new wave of candidate endorsements that may be of interest to educators were announced this week.

Texas Parent PAC, which exclusively supports candidates who support public education, announced 10 primary election endorsements this week. These include House District (HD) 9 Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), HD 41 Rep. Bobby Guerra (D-McAllen), HD 59 Rep. J.D. Sheffield (R-Gatesville), HD 60 candidate Dr. Glenn Rogers, HD 72 Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), HD 100 Rep. Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), HD 119 candidate Jennifer Ramos, HD 127 Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), HD 128 candidate Robert Hoskins (R), and SD 27 candidate Ruben Cortez (D).

Texas Parent PAC is endorsing at least two candidates who are challenging incumbent legislators. Robert Hoskins is facing Rep. Briscoe Cain (R-Deer Park) in the House. Ruben Cortez, currently serving on the State Board of Education, is challenging Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) for a Senate seat. Both races have attracted media attention recently. As the Houston Chronicle reported, Hoskins has the support of nearly all the local officials in his suburban Houston district, while a handful of state representatives from other districts have been stumping for Cain. Meanwhile Sen. Lucio’s office was the site of protests this week by progressive activists who are unhappy with the senator’s voting record, as reported by KGBT.

The Austin American-Statesman endorsed Rep. Erin Zwiener (D-Driftwood) and Republican candidate Bud Wymore in the HD 45 Democratic and Republican primaries, respectively. The newspaper also endorsed Jenny Roan Forgey for the Republican nomination in HD 47, which is held by Rep. Vikki Goodwin (D-Austin), and recommended Jenai Aragona-Hales in the Republican primary for HD 49, a seat held by Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin). While Hinojosa’s seat is safely Democratic, Zwiener and Goodwin both managed to flip seats in 2018 that were previously held by Republicans.

Earlier this week, new Gary Gates (R-Rosenberg), Lorraine Birabil (D-Dallas), and Anna Eastman (D-Houston) were sworn into office as new state representatives for House Districts 28, 100, and 148, respectively. All three won special runoff elections in late January and are on the ballot in 2020 vying for a full term.

In federal election news, the Texas Tribune reported Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg announced plans to employ 24 staffers in Texas after strong finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. Michael Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders all have staff working in Texas ahead of the March 3 primary on “Super Tuesday.”

With early voting just a few days away, it’s important to remember that elections are decided by who shows up! Check out the election-related resources from our coalition partners over at Texas Educators Vote, including text message reminders when an important election is coming up. You can also research candidates in your own local races here at Teach the Vote. Please make plans to vote next week, and encourage your family and friends to do the same!