Tag Archives: Senator Lamar Alexander

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.

Legislative Update: Vouchers get committee approval, Senate votes to scrap salary schedule, House advances pre-K

The Texas Senate approved two major bills relating to teacher quality yesterday, including one opposed by ATPE and most other groups representing Texas educators.

First, the Senate passed Senate Bill (SB) 892 by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), which deals with educator preparation. ATPE supported the bill as filed when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19, since the bill called for enhancing the existing GPA requirements for admission into an educator preparation program (EPP). The bill, however, was subsequently amended to a version that ATPE does not support. In its current form, SB 892 adds language enabling alternative certification programs to take advantage of “late hire” provisions that place teachers into the classroom before they’ve had sufficient training, and it caps the minimum GPA requirement for EPP candidates at 2.5, which is lower than what is provided for in current statute. SB 892 passed the Senate on April 7 by a vote of 30 to 1, with Sen. Don Huffines (R) offering the only vote against the bill. (Huffines similarly opposed the bill when it was approved by the Senate Education Committee.)

SB 893, also by Sen. Seliger, was approved by the full Senate yesterday, too. The bill deals with teacher appraisals, employment, and compensation; most notably, it calls for elimination of the state minimum salary schedule for teachers. ATPE and most educator groups opposed the bill when it was heard by the Senate Education Committee on March 19. Several floor amendments were added to SB 893 yesterday, including one by Senate Education Committee Chairman Sen. Larry Taylor (R) requiring the commissioner of education to develop a training course to help administrators implement new appraisal processes and another floor amendment by Sen. Jose Rodriguez (D) that modifies Advanced Placement Incentives that may be paid to teachers. The Senate rejected by a vote of 24 to 7 a floor amendment by Sen. Jose Menendez (D) that attempted to restore the minimum salary schedule for teachers in the bill. The Senate ultimately passed SB 893 by a vote of 27 to 4, with Sens. Menendez, Rodney Ellis (D), Eddie Lucio (D), and Royce West (D) voting against the bill on third reading.

The House Public Education Committee met April 7 to hear several high-profile bills. The hearing began with Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock (R) providing new details on his bill to overhaul the state’s school finance system. Aycock explained that House Bill (HB) 1759 will eliminate many of the existing funding allotments for special populations and circumstances and place those funds into the basic per-student allocation instead. Watch for more details on HB 1759 coming soon from ATPE Lobbyist Josh Sanderson.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter testified against a controversial bill to do away with the minimum salary schedule for teachers. House Bill (HB) 2543 by Rep. Marsha Farney (R) is a bill relating to teacher appraisals, professional development, salaries, and employment. The bill was identical at the time of filing to SB 893, which passed the full Senate yesterday in an amended format. Exter’s testimony highlighted ATPE’s concerns about eliminating the minimum salary schedule for teachers and the potential for school districts to rely heavily on students’ standardized test scores and value-added measures of student performance in evaluating and making employment decisions about teachers. The bill was left pending in the committee yesterday. ATPE appreciates those members who have contacted their legislators asking them to oppose HB 2543 and SB 893, and we encourage you to keep letting members of the House of Representatives know how these bills would negatively impact teachers. Visit our Officeholders page to find contact information for your state representative.

ATPE Lobbyist Monty Exter also testified yesterday in support of SB 149, by Sen. Kel Seliger (R), a measure that would give some high school students a chance to graduate despite failing a STAAR exam. SB 149, sponsored on the House side by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), has broad support from the education community and parents, and the bill already passed the Senate by a vote of 28-2 last month. Exter asked the committee to consider amending the bill to provide similar options for students who were high school seniors during the previous two school years and were denied an opportunity to graduate based on failing a STAAR test that was required. The House Public Education Committee approved SB 149 unanimously during yesterday’s hearing.

The Senate Education Committee also met April 7 to hear bills relating to interventions for low-performing schools and to vote out pending bills. The committee considered SB 669 by Sen. Royce West (D), along with two bills by Sen. Larry Taylor (R), who chairs the committee: SB 895 and SB 1241. The first two bills would place certain low-performing schools into a statewide “Opportunity School District.” Read more about the legislation in our blog post from yesterday. Chairman Taylor’s SB 1241 also subjects low-performing schools to the possibility of alternative management through the creation of “Innovation Zones.” ATPE Governmental Relations Director Brock Gregg testified against the aforementioned bills based on concerns about enabling private entities to manage public schools, the potential impact on educators’ contract rights, and the likelihood that parents and local voters would lose their ability to have input on school governance decisions. All three bills were left pending, but the committee did vote out a related piece of “parent trigger” legislation. A committee substitute version of SB 14 by Chairman Larry Taylor was approved by the committee on a vote of 7 to 1, with one committee member present not voting.

Also in yesterday’s Senate Education Committee hearing, Gregg testified in support of SB 1483 by Sen. Sylvia Garcia (D), a bill promoting the use of a community schools model for turning around struggling schools as an alternative to reconstitution or privatization. The bill was left pending.

The Senate Education Committee also approved Chairman Larry Taylor’s private school voucher bill, SB 4, which ATPE opposes. The bill was amended and substituted, and its new text has not yet been made available, but the new version incorporates elements of another privatization bill, SB 642 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R). ATPE testified against the voucher bills during their March 26 hearing, and you can read more about them on our Issues page. The committee’s vote yesterday on SB 4, though not yet officially reported, was 7 to 3.

On the House floor today, state representatives debated House Bill (HB) 4, by Rep. Dan Huberty (R), a bill relating to a hig- quality pre-kindergarten program provided by public school districts. The bill, which ATPE supported when it was heard by the House Public Education Committee on March 10, is aimed at flowing additional money to school districts that agree to implement certain quality control measures in their pre-K programs. Several floor amendments were considered during today’s lively debate. The House approved an amendment by Rep. Eric Johnson (D) to prohibit state standardized testing of pre-K students and rejected an amendment by Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D) attempting to impose an 18:1 pre-K class-size limit. A small group of legislators who oppose the bill raised points of order (procedural objections) against the bill and offered amendments attempting to reduce the state’s pre-K plan to a limited pilot program with reduced funding. Those attempts were unsuccessful, and the House ultimately voted 129 to 18 to advance the bill to third reading.

Tomorrow, April 9, the Senate Education Committee will meet again to consider a number of bills. The agenda includes a bill that would prevent school districts from hiring employees with certain criminal histories, bills relating to the procedures by which school districts adopt textbooks, a measure to give the commissioner of education the ability to issue subpoenas when investigating educator misconduct allegations, and even a bill pertaining to the use of sunscreen in schools. Visit Teach the Vote for updates after the hearing.

In national news, U.S. senators leading an effort to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), are making progress. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) announced yesterday that they have reached a bipartisan agreement on a rewrite that they believe will fix many of the problems of the ESEA. A committee hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, April 14. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for additional details from ATPE Lobbyist Kate Kuhlmann later this week.

U.S. House education committee passes ESEA reauthorization bill

As we reported last week, Congressman John Kline (R-MN), chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, filed his version of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), commonly referred to as no Child Left Behind (NCLB). The bill, H.R. 5–The Student Success Act, is similar to a bill he filed last Congress, which passed the House education committee and House floor but stalled in the Senate.

Chairman Kline’s education committee met to mark up his recently filed piece of legislation on Wednesday. The bill passed the committee on a partisan vote, with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats opposing the measure. Several amendments were adopted during the markup and many more were defeated. One failed amendment came from Democrats who offered their own version of a reauthorization bill; the amendment was voted down on another party-line vote, this time with all Republicans opposing. Below is a look at The Student Success Act by issue following revisions made during this week’s committee markup.


Similar to Senator Alexander’s draft legislation, Kline’s bill would scrap adequate yearly progress (AYP) and allow states to develop their own systems of accountability based on parameters outlined in the bill. Approval of states’ plans would be subject to those parameters as well as to a peer review process developed by the secretary of education. Under Kline’s bill, the peer review teams would be appointed by the secretary and would be made up of at least 65 percent practitioners and 10 percent representatives of private sector employers. In addition, states’ plans would have to support effective parental involvement practices at the local level.

Kline’s legislation also requires that states and school districts continue to prepare and disseminate annual report cards. The report cards would be required to include certain information, like graduation rates and disaggregated data of student performance on state assessments. An amendment adopted during the committee markup added data on military dependent students to the list of disaggregated data that states and districts are required to collect.

Another accountability system amendment passed during the markup allows states to delay the inclusion of English language learners’ assessment scores during students’ first few years in US schools.


Kline’s bill would keep the current NCLB-designed testing schedule, which requires that students be tested in reading and math every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school and that they be tested in science once in grades 3-5, 6-9, and 10-12. States would still be required to disaggregate data based on certain student populations.

One amendment offered during the committee markup would have supported the study of states’ assessments through a grant program aimed at eliminating redundant or unnecessary tests. The amendment was ultimately withdrawn. Republicans expressed opposition throughout the hearing to measures that would grow government or cost money. This also meant the defeat of amendments dealing with early childhood education, dropout prevention, STEM programs, and technology, among other issues.

Curriculum Standards

Under the House committee’s proposal, states would be required to adopt their own curriculum standards in math, reading/language arts, and science, as well as any additional subjects a state may choose. Each state would also be required to adopt English language proficiency standards and have the option to develop alternate academic achievement standards for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

As we predicted in a previous Teach the Vote blog post, Common Core is specifically addressed in Kline’s legislation; the bill would prohibit the secretary of education from requiring that states adopt any particular set of standards, including Common Core.

School Choice and Privatization

As is also the case in Senator Alexander’s draft bill, the primary provision in Kline’s bill aimed at school choice is the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. The bill would allow Title I funding to follow eligible students from one public school to another public school. Kline’s bill does not include provisions related to voucher programs, but an amendment was offered during markup that would have expanded the Title I portability provision to include students attending private schools. The amendment was ultimately withdrawn during committee due to lack of support, but we can expect to see similar amendments offered when the bill is debated by the full House.

One additional amendment offered during the committee markup would have increased accountability and transparency for charter schools, but the amendment was defeated.

Educator Evaluations

The bill would allow states to develop their own educator evaluation systems, if they chose, and would not require that student outcomes be included in an educator’s evaluation. While Kline has been a proponent of tying teacher evaluations to students’ performance on state tests (such language was included in Kline’s bill last Congress), he ditched the provision in the current bill in order to seek broader support from those who oppose the evaluation mandate.

A few amendments aimed at teacher quality were proposed during the markup but were defeated. The Kline bill gets rid of the “highly qualified teacher” requirements in current law and consolidates several teacher quality programs that exist in current law.

Other Issues

Kline’s legislation would consolidate several major programs aimed at educating certain populations of students, such as English language learners and migrant students, into the larger Title I program for low-income students, and states would receive block grant funding with far fewer strings attached to how the money is spent.

Ultimately, only four amendments were added to the bill during committee markup. All were authored by Republicans. In addition to the two adopted amendments mentioned above (pertaining to the disaggregated data of military dependent students and accountability requirements for English language learners), the committee passed an amendment to address student and teacher privacy and an amendment to require an annual report on the reduced federal role in education and cost savings resulting from H.R. 5.

The House has scheduled the bill for debate and a floor vote on February 24th. We will provide an update on Teach the Vote following any floor action, and you can follow the debate live here.

Legislative Update: TX Congressman pursues Social Security fix, NCLB talks continue in Washington, plus more TX Legislature news

Congressman Kevin Brady (R-TX) has re-filed his “Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act” this week. H.R. 711 is a bill to address the controversial Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) in federal law that reduces the amount of Social Security benefits some educators may receive. As we reported when it was first introduced in November, Brady’s legislation would replace the WEP’s arbitrary and punitive formula with a revised calculation of benefits and result in a significant benefit increase for numerous retirees. ATPE and the Texas Retired Teachers Association have worked closely with Congressman Brady on this proposed legislation. Read our most recent letter in support of the bill, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates as we work to get the Equal Treatment for Public Servants Act passed.

Congress continues to discuss reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There is strong bipartisan support for giving states more spending flexibility and room to construct their own policies around issues such as accountability system designs, educator qualifications, and evaluations. Despite the public backlash over standardized testing, many in Congress still favor keeping the requirement for annual testing of most students, which is expected to be the key focus of the ongoing debates.

ATPE has submitted testimony to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) in conjunction with its recent hearings, entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability” and “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.” We also weighed in on the discussion draft of a reauthorization bill proposed by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), deemed the “Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015.” Earlier this week, the Senate committee also hosted a roundtable discussion entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Innovation to Better Meet the Needs of Students.” Testimony included a discussion of various innovative ideas that have been tested in schools around the nation, including alternatives to traditional school environments, professional learning communities for teachers, improving students’ morale in order to foster discipline, blended learning models, and dropout prevention strategies.

On the House side, Rep. John Kline (R-MN), who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has filed another proposal to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB. The bill is H.R. 5, coauthored by Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education Subcommittee Chairman Todd Rokita (R-IN), and known as the “Student Success Act.” It is a revival of a 2013 House proposal that similarly aims to give states more control over school accountability and funding decisions, while also promoting charter school expansion. Kline’s bill is scheduled for a committee markup on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Watch for additional information about the House proposal on Teach the Vote next week.

As we reported Wednesdaythis week, members of the Texas House of Representatives learned their committee assignments for the 84th session. While the House Public Education Committee chairmanship remained unchanged from last session, there are some new faces heading other important committees that handle education-related bills. Rep. John Otto (R–Dayton), an accountant by profession, takes over the House Appropriations Committee, which has budget oversight. Speaker of the House Joe Straus also tapped Rep. Dan Flynn (R–Van) to chair the House Pensions Committee, which oversees matters related to the Teacher Retirement System (TRS). ATPE looks forward to working with all the new and returning chairs this session.

Early voting begins Monday for special election runoffs in four legislative districts with vacancies. Voters in House Districts 13, 17, and 123, along with Senate District 26, are urged to familiarize themselves with the candidates and cast an early vote. Visit our 2014 Races pages to view profiles of the candidates.

Legislative Update: Senate sacks debate rule, Congress contemplates testing, Dallas ditches home-rule

On its first day of debate following yesterday’s inauguration festivities, the Texas Senate took historic action today, changing its rules for debating bills. New lieutenant governor Dan Patrick (R) presided over the action today as the Senate voted to adopt its rules for conducting business this legislative session.

In a move that was predicted by many after the 2014 election cycle, senators voted today to replace a long-standing tradition that had been unique to the state’s upper chamber – requiring a vote of two-thirds of the senators (21 of the 31 members) before any bill could be considered on the Senate floor. The two-thirds rule, which had been in effect since 1947, often forced senators to reach a compromise on controversial bills before bringing them up for contentious debates in a public forum.

Now, it will take a vote of only three-fifths of the senators (19 of the 31 members) to bring up a bill for discussion, which benefits the Republican majority in the Senate. All Democratic senators with the exception of Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. (D-Brownsville) voted against the rule change; all Republican senators voted for the change with the exception of Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls), who abstained from the vote.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held a hearing this morning in Washington, D.C., entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.” As we have reported on Teach the Vote, the committee’s chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), recently released a discussion draft of a bill to reauthorize the  Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which contains the federal government’s requirements for student testing and school accountability. Many have called for an end to the federal testing mandates in ESEA/NCLB. Today’s hearing (video available here) featured presentations by teachers and other education stakeholders. On Jan. 27, the committee will conduct another related hearing, entitled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Supporting Teachers and School Leaders.” Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for continuing coverage of the efforts to reauthorize the federal law and ATPE’s involvement.

A commission tasked with drafting a plan to convert the Dallas Independent School District to the state’s first home-rule charter district has decided not to propose such a charter. The 15-member commission voted yesterday on a 10-5 margin to proceed with some non-binding reform recommendations for Dallas ISD, but commissioners stopped short of an agreement to write a charter proposal based on concerns that it would not be the right move for the struggling district.

The home-rule conversion effort in Dallas was spearheaded by a group calling itself “Support Our Public Schools,” which was funded by a wealthy former executive of Enron and supported by the mayor of Dallas. That group oversaw a successful petition drive that resulted in the creation of the charter commission, but members of the commission observed this week that the general public never rallied behind the idea of converting Dallas ISD to a charter district.

For many years, Texas has had a state law on its books that would permit school districts to convert themselves to district-wide charter schools and thereby avoid many of the regulations in the Texas Education Code, including laws pertaining to teacher contracts and student discipline. The move requires local voter approval of a charter drafted by a charter commission, and Dallas ISD was the first school district in Texas to attempt those steps.  At yesterday’s hearing, the chairman of the Dallas home-rule charter commission characterized the state’s home-rule charter enabling law as “a very bad piece of legislation.”

More on Sen. Alexander’s draft bill to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB

As we reported last week, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), released his version of a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The ESEA/NCLB is a law that determines the federal government’s role in public education. The contents of Alexander’s draft bill, the Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2015, are summarized below.

It is important to remember that this bill is in draft form. The Senate must still debate the bill in committee as well as the full Senate. If Alexander’s bill is voted out of the Senate, it will still have to undergo the same process in the House of Representatives. Should this bill advance through the process, many changes can be expected and ATPE will provide updates as warranted via Teach the Vote.

Related Teach the Vote content: For a quick recap on NCLB and what’s at stake in the reauthorization process, check out Predictions on No Child Left Behind in the 114th Congress.


In a departure from current law, Alexander’s bill would allow states to develop their own accountability systems that would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education based on parameters outlined in the bill. However, the department would be strictly prohibited from requiring anything outside of those parameters, such as imposing certain standards, curriculum, or assessments.

States’ plans would also be subject to a peer review process developed by the secretary of education. Peer review teams would be appointed and would have to include teachers, principals, researchers, and others who have had experience through direct employment in a school, school board, or local or state government. The goal of the peer review is to “promote effective implementation,” “provide transparent feedback,” and support “state- and local-led innovation.”


The portion of Alexander’s bill that deals with testing is designed to spur discussion. The intent is for the HELP committee to look at and debate two options:

  • Option 1. States would be required to develop an assessment system that tests students in math, reading/language arts, and science, but states would have a lot of leeway in developing the system.  States could implement annual testing, grade-span testing, summative testing, performance-based testing, a combination of annual and grade-span testing, or any other system of assessment developed by the state. States would not be required to seek approval from the secretary of education.
  • Option 2. This option would maintain the current testing schedule as implemented under NCLB, which requires states to test reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school and also requires states to test science three times at some point during grades 3-12.

In either case, states would be required to disaggregate data based on certain student populations, including race, poverty level, English proficiency, and disability status. For students with severe cognitive disabilities and English language learners, the bill would provide states with some testing flexibility.  Additionally, the bill would give school districts that wish to implement their own assessment plans authority to do so as long as they have approval from their state education agency and meet the parameters outlined under either option.

Related: In the first of a series of hearings, the HELP committee will meet Wed., Jan. 21, starting at 9:30 a.m. EST to discuss “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability.” Watch a webcast of the hearing here.

Curriculum Standards

States would be required to adopt “challenging state academic standards” that are consistent across all public schools in math, reading/language arts, and science, as well as any additional subjects a state may choose. Each state would also be required to adopt English language proficiency standards aligned with the state’s approved challenging state academic standards. States would also have the option to develop alternate academic achievement standards for students with severe cognitive disabilities.

States would not have to get approval of their curriculum standards from the Department of Education. Further, Alexander’s bill provides that the secretary of education would not have the authority to “mandate, direct, control, coerce, or exercise any direction or supervision” with regard to the adoption of state standards.

School Choice and Privatization

The primary provision in Alexander’s bill aimed at school choice is the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. It would provide an option for states to set up plans allowing students to move among public schools in their districts, with Title I funding following the students from school to school. For students wishing to move schools, priority would be given to students in the lowest-performing schools.

Alexander’s bill does not include provisions related to voucher programs, but it is expected to be a topic of discussion during debate.

Educator Evaluations

The bill would allow states to develop their own educator evaluation systems and would not require that student outcomes be included in an educator’s evaluation. States would have a lot of discretion on how they spend their money related to teacher quality (under Title II). They could choose to use it develop educator evaluation systems, for professional development, or on other initiatives aimed at teacher quality. In line with provisions included throughout the document, Alexander’s bill would prohibit the secretary of education from mandating or directing educator evaluation systems.

Related Teach the Vote content: Visit our Educator Evaluation Reform Resources page to learn more about Texas’s ongoing efforts to revise the state’s recommended system for teacher evaluation as a condition of a federal waiver of certain provisions in the ESEA/NCLB.

Legislative Update: 84th Legislature kicks off, another special election headed to a runoff, NCLB rewrite unveiled

Yesterday was the opening day of the 84th Texas Legislature in Austin. After being sworn in, members of the House of Representatives participated in a rare recorded vote on the election of their House speaker. Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio), who has served as speaker since 2009, was re-elected to that post by a vote of 127 to 19. Straus survived a challenge by Rep. Scott Turner (R-Frisco). In remarks to his colleagues following the vote, Straus emphasized the need for cooperation in the House in order to deal with challenges such as transportation and taxes. On the topic of public education, Straus notably said, “It’s important that we work with our educators and not against them.”

On the Senate side, former lieutenant governor David Dewhurst, who was defeated last year by incoming lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, was recognized for his years of service. Senators also elected Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen) to serve as president pro tempore of the Senate. Hinojosa will preside over the Senate at times when Patrick is not available during the session.

If you added up the votes in the speaker’s race, you are aware that not all 150 House districts were represented on the floor yesterday. As recently reported on Teach the Vote, there are four vacancies in the House on account of pending special elections spurred by resignations. Elections were held earlier this month in Senate District 26, House District 17, and House District 123, with all three of those races headed to a runoff in the weeks to come. Another special election yesterday in House District 13 is similarly headed to a runoff between Carolyn Bilski, who earned 43.45 percent of the vote, and Leighton Schubert, who earned 32.79 percent. View profiles of all the candidates on Teach the Vote.

In Washington, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), is gearing up for a Jan. 21 hearing on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), more commonly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Last night Alexander released a discussion draft of his proposal for the rewrite. Watch for more details about the draft in a separate post this week, and stay tuned to Teach the Vote for updates about the hearing.

General Election Results: Education impact beyond Texas’ borders

Changes in Congress

The Republican gains seen in Texas after this Tuesday’s general election were not exclusive; the party also gained substantial ground in the U.S. Congress, and the changes are likely to have an impact on education policy, at least in part.

Prior to Nov. 4, Republicans controlled the U.S. House of Representatives while Democrats made up the majority of members in the U.S. Senate. The seats picked up by Republicans in this election were enough for the party to gain control of both chambers of Congress. While this change is likely to spur more movement of education legislation in the House and Senate, the process still faces a Democratic president with the power of veto.

The change in the U.S. Senate majority party will mean a new chairman driving the legislation and policy decisions impacting education. Senator Lamar Alexander, a Republican from Tennessee and the current ranking member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP), is likely to be named chairman of the committee with jurisdiction over federal public education policy.

Based on previous education initiatives championed by Republican leaders in both chambers, we have a good idea of the legislation we can expect from the new Congress after January: a rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which is more commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind (NCLB); measures aimed at creating school choice; and a change in funding for federal education programs and initiatives.

In a letter jointly authored by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the likely next majority leader of the U.S. Senate, the party’s top leaders committed to addressing the current education system, which they referred to as “under-performing.”

Education Measures on States’ Ballots

Although there were no statewide education initiatives on the ballot here in Texas, voters in several other states were given a chance to determine the fate of various education measures on Election Day. The issues included class size restrictions, vouchers, preschool education and school funding.

Colorado: Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have expanded gaming to include casino gambling at horse race tracks with a percentage of the proceeds made through gambling-related taxes to be directed for K-12 education.

Hawaii: Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the state to spend public money on private preschool programs.

Illinois: Voters approved a referendum question on a 3 percent tax increase for incomes that exceed $1 million, which would be used to help fund education. (Referendum questions do not change laws but give legislators and other state leaders an idea of how voters feel on certain issues.)

Missouri: Voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made major changes to the state’s teacher evaluation system and teacher contracts. The plan would have created a teacher evaluation system based on student performance data, prohibited teachers from collectively bargaining around the new evaluation system, limited teachers’ contracts to no more than three years, and determined teachers’ employment based on the new evaluation system.

Nevada: Voters rejected a statutory amendment that would have increased funding to education through a 2 percent tax increase on businesses with revenue exceeding $1 million.

New York: Voters approved a proposition allowing the state to borrow up to $2 billion in bonds for certain public and non-public school initiatives: increased technology, better access to high-speed Internet, improved facilities for pre-kindergarten programs, and high-tech security features.

North Dakota: Voters rejected a measure that would have required the K-12 school year to start after Labor Day.

Seattle: Voters approved a proposition to create a preschool program that will eventually cover the cost of preschool for up to 2,000 three- and four-year-old children of low-income earners. The funding will come from a four-year tax increase totaling $58 million. Voters were given the option to choose one of two proposals or reject both options. The competing proposal would have raised the minimum wage for childcare workers to $15 per hour and created a childcare worker training program.

Washington: Votes are still being counted on an initiative that would direct the legislature to increase funding for the hiring of additional teachers, administrators, and support staff in order to reduce class sizes. (The initiative includes no new funding. Legislators will ultimately decide how to respond to the initiative. Their many options include redirecting funding from other state and local funding sources, leaving the initiative unfunded, or partially funding the initiative.)

GOP members of Congress request GAO study of USDE waivers

Senator Lamar Alexander, Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education Labor and Pensions, and Representative John Kline, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce, sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on Tuesday requesting that the GAO conduct a study of the Department of Education’s Early and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) waivers.

The letter primarily focuses on the Department’s approval, denial, renewal and revocation of waivers. They ask the GAO to study the criteria used for determination, the changes states have made to comply, the average time, resources and legislative action required to seek and maintain approval, and some of the requirements surrounding implementation of the teacher and principal evaluation systems.

Texas has a received a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and unveiled its new teacher and principal evaluation system in May. Approximately 65 school districts will pilot the program during the coming school year. Currently, the evaluation system is planned to be implemented statewide in the 2015-2016 school year, but the Texas Commissioner of Education is seeking an extension from the Department of Education that would most likely add an additional pilot year to the implementation process. At ATPE’s request, a bipartisan group of 22 Congressmen in the Texas delegation also sent a letter to the USDE supporting an extension for Texas. Visit Teach the Vote’s educator evaluation resource page for more information on this topic.