Tag Archives: Senator Lamar Alexander

DeVos confirmation hearing fuels concerns

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos, faced her confirmation hearing yesterday in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) committee. The hearing, which was scheduled for late-in-the-day and allowed for each senator to ask only one five-minute round of questions, hardly resulted in a serious vetting of DeVos’s credentials and policy positions, but still provided a look at the potential-next-secretary’s agenda.

HELP committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) opened the hearing with praise for DeVos, pointing to her efforts to expand charter schools and push vouchers in states throughout the country, which he called “mainstream” ideas in public education policy. With his Republican colleagues largely in agreement and Democrats pressing her on concerns about her record, the hearing became a partisan debate that failed to offer specifics on many major education policy issues. In fact, while the hearing offered some perspective on the agenda DeVos would support, it was what she wouldn’t or, in some cases, couldn’t answer that offers the most perspective.

DeVos often turned to some version of the response “I look forward to working with you on that” when answering questions. She used the reply to dig in on her support for vouchers, dodging a question from Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) regarding whether she would promise to prevent funding cuts to public education or privatization of the system. She also leaned on the reply when asked about universal childcare for working families and whether all schools receiving federal funding (think vouchers) should be required to report instances of harassment, discipline, or bullying.

DeVos similarly failed to state whether all schools receiving federal funding should be held to the same accountability standards, instead diverting to the lack of apples-to-apples accountability standards traditional public schools and charter schools currently face.

Another regularly asserted answer by DeVos was that certain education policy issues are better left to states, a response that raised eyebrows when she was asked whether all schools receiving federal money should meet the requirements of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The federal law is the nation’s second largest federal education program and distributes about $13 billion in funding to states. When DeVos later admitted that she “may have confused” the law, one senator and many following the hearing expressed concern over her lack of familiarity. In another exchange, DeVos had trouble deciphering the difference between student growth and student proficiency when using tests to measure student performance.

Democrats on the committee advocated strongly for an additional round of questioning, an opportunity afforded to senators vetting cabinet picks in other committees, but the request was denied by Chairman Alexander who reminded committee members that the same process was used for several previous education secretaries as they faced confirmation. Still, Democrats argued unsuccessfully that those picks had been individuals with established credentials in education, unlike DeVos.

Per the chairman’s instructions, senators have until Thursday evening to submit any additional questions to DeVos in writing. She committed to attempting to answer those questions prior to the committee’s vote on her nomination, which is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, Jan. 24. Committee members were assured that the vote would only take place if the final Office of Government Ethics letter is sent to the committee by this Friday, giving senators time for review the relevant information about potential conflicts of interest.

Despite the above, DeVos has the support of Republicans, which is enough to garner the simple majority needed for her to sail through confirmation in both the HELP committee and on the floor of the Senate. If confirmed, she will take the reins of the Department of Education having no professional experience in our public schools, never attended public schools, and never enrolled her children in public schools.

Federal Update: ESSA accountability rule proposed, ATPE writes to Secretary King

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) published its rule proposal for the accountability piece of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the Federal Register yesterday. The proposal addresses state accountability systems, state and district report cards, and consolidated state plans.

As we reported on Teach the Vote, ED is in the middle of the rulemaking process for several aspects of ESSA. Negotiated rulemaking for the assessments and ‘supplement, not supplant’ portions of the law wrapped up in April. Other provisions, including this accountability piece, are being addressed through the typical rulemaking process over the summer.

medwt16002Initial reaction to the accountability rule proposal was mixed. In Congress, the partisan division again hinges on state control and flexibility versus strong civil rights protections. House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) and Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) announced they will each hold hearings on the proposal and threatened to block the regulation through available means if it “doesn’t follow the law,” which aims to decentralize power away from the federal government. Their Democratic counterparts, Ranking Members Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), praised the proposed rule for protecting and promoting equity.

Outside of the Capitol, stakeholders pointed to more specific issues with the proposal, citing concerns about a definition for “consistently under-performing,” the inclusion of specific punitive consequences for low assessment participation rates (in situations where parents opt children out of state standardized tests), the need for guidance on ways to make school report cards more accessible and transparent for parents, and more.

The proposal requires states to have accountability systems in place by the 2017-18 school year, with the goal for states and districts to identify schools in need of support the following school year.

In other ESSA rule proposal news, ATPE submitted a letter last week to U.S. Secretary of Education John King. The letter identified two areas of the new law where ED is asked to pay particular attention to previous ATPE input to Congress when writing rules or issuing non-binding guidance. Those areas of the law pertain to an innovative assessment pilot and a new avenue for potential funding for educator preparation programs.

ATPE’s previous comments on assessments to the Senate HELP committee outline recommendations for giving states “more flexibility to innovate and choose assessment methodologies that better suit the needs of their students, parents, and educators.” ATPE’s comments note that the high stakes testing regime is ineffective and even harmful to students, and suggest that tests “be low stakes, be administered less frequently, employ sampling, and be truly criterion-referenced.” While the new federal education law requires states to maintain the current annual testing schedule, ATPE’s letter encourages ED to allow states piloting innovative assessments to test these recommendations.

In the letter to ED, ATPE also points to previous comments on supporting educators. Particularly, the letter highlights ATPE’s input on “initiatives to encourage more selective recruitment of educators by setting high standards for educator preparation and certification.” ATPE encourages ED to support states through non-binding avenues as they seek to ensure high standards for educator preparation programs.

Stay tuned to Teach the Vote for more updates on ESSA implementation.

ESEA conference committee advances reauthorization bill

This morning, after a fairly brief and largely bipartisan markup where lawmakers considered a handful of amendments, the U.S. House and Senate joint conference committee tasked with negotiating language to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) overwhelmingly passed its conference report (or negotiated bill).

While the report has not yet been released in its entirety, an “ESEA Conference Framework Summary” was released and summarizes the report’s content in major policy areas such as accountability, testing, standards, intervention, and educator support. The majority of the report was agreed upon by the chambers’ respective education leaders (House Chairman John Kline, R-MN, and Ranking Member Robert Scott, D-VA, and Senate Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-TN, and Ranking Member Patty Murray, D-WA) who negotiated a “framework” prior to beginning the conference committee work.

The Capitol Building

A handful of amendments were discussed at today’s markup prior to passing the bill. Seven easily passed with bipartisan support, one was withdrawn by its author, and only two were voted down. The amendments that passed would authorize a study to examine changes to formula funding through Title I, review early childhood education programs, establish limits on aggregate time spent on assessments, provide funding for educating teachers on the appropriate use of student data, provide for dual or concurrent enrollment for English language learners, integrate arts in STEM education, and offer funding flexibility to carry out dropout prevention and re-entry programs.The two amendments not adopted by the committee would have created a clearinghouse for teacher evaluation programs and put a cap on funding at the funding level for fiscal year 2016, respectively.

The report was ultimately passed out of the conference committee overwhelmingly by a vote of 39-1. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), who is currently campaigning for the presidency, was the only member of the committee to vote against the measure, and he did so by proxy as he was not in attendance.

Chairman Kline said at the close of today’s meeting that the full report in legislative text form will be available Nov. 30 and that the House will vote on the measure Dec. 2 or 3. Senate leaders did not give a precise date for a floor vote in that chamber, but Chairman Alexander said senators will be given at least a week to consider the report prior to voting.

More details on U.S. Senate HELP committee’s ESEA reauthorization bill

The U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) met last week to markup a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The committee considered over 50 amendments to The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, which is co-authored by Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), and ultimately passed the measure unanimously, 22-0.

The markup was conducted over a three day period that was closely managed by both authors in order to prevent controversial amendments from jeopardizing the bill’s bipartisan path forward. In the end, of the 57 amendments considered, 29 were adopted. Controversial amendments including issues such as vouchers and teacher evaluation requirements were kept off of the bill, but those debates are still expected to be had when the bill hits the full senate. Leaders have said that will be later this year, but no debate has been scheduled yet.

Below is a listing of the amendments passed during the committee markup as well as a few noteworthy amendments either withdrawn or defeated during committee.

Amendments adopted:

  • Amendment by Baldwin: creates grants for enhanced assessment instruments and audits of state and local assessment systems.
  • Amendment by Baldwin: requires the reporting of students with career and technical proficiency on report cards.
  • Amendment by Baldwin: provides grants to initiate, expand, and improve physical education programs.
  • Amendment by Baldwin: authorizes grants to encourage the use of technology to improve college and career readiness.
  • Amendment by Bennet: reduces the burden on districts with regard to reporting data for annual report cards.
  • Amendment by Bennet: pertains to financial literacy and federal financial aid awareness efforts.
  • Amendment by Bennet: allows funds to be used for the creation of teacher and principal preparation academies.
  • Amendment by Bennet: increases engagement from the U.S. Secretary of Education to assist rural school districts with competitive grants.
  • Amendment by Bennet: creates grants for education innovation and research aimed at high-needs students.
  • Amendment by Bennet: establishes a weighted student funding flexibility pilot program.
  • Amendment by Burr: alters the funding formula for teachers and leaders to be based 80 percent on poverty and 20 percent on population.
  • Amendment by Burr: adds a hold-harmless provision for Title II formula funding for teachers and leaders by mandating a 14.29 percent reduction each year over seven years. This amendment barely passed: 11-10.
  • Amendment by Casey: authorizes funding for Ready-To-Learn Television.
  • Amendment by Casey: reinserts hold-harmless language in Title II, Part A. This amendment was later amended by Burr’s narrowly passed hold-harmless amendment mentioned above.
  • Amendment by Casey: creates a grant program for districts that wish to reduce exclusionary discipline practices.
  • Amendment by Collins: creates an Innovative Assessment and Accountability Pilot.
  • Amendment by Franken: reinstates the Elementary and Secondary School Counseling program.
  • Amendment by Franken: allows computer-adapted testing and adds other assessment criteria.
  • Amendment by Franken: supports accelerated learning programs.
  • Amendment by Franken: adds language to improve STEM instruction and achievement.
  • Amendment by Franken: creates a grant program for schools that utilize Native American languages for instruction with their students.
  • Amendment by Isakson: allows parents to opt out of testing.
  • Amendment by Mikulski: adds the Javits Gifted/Talented Students Education Act of 2015.
  • Amendment by Murkowski: reinstates 21st Century Community Learning Centers.
  • Amendment by Murphy: ensures that states work to reduce physical and mental abuse related to seclusion/restraint.
  • Amendment by Murray: requires reporting of data on military-connected students.
  • Amendment by Murray:  authorizes Project SERV allowing for services to schools in the aftermath of violent events.
  • Amendment by Murray:  authorizes early learning alignment and improvement grants.
  • Amendment by Whitehouse: establishes a program for literacy and arts education.

Additional amendments of note:

  • Amendment by Scott: would have given states the option to let Title I funds follow a student to any school, including private schools. Scott ultimately withdrew his portability amendment because of the controversial nature, but this is likely to be an amendment debated on the senate floor. Chairman Alexander said he looked forward to voting for such an amendment in the full senate.
  • Amendment by Warren: would have required states to describe how methods used for evaluation were reasonable and reliable, if a state chose to implement an evaluation system. Chairman Alexander said it would unnecessarily put federal requirements on state evaluation systems. The amendment failed on a 10-12 roll call vote.
  • Amendments by Alexander and Casey: would have dealt with bullying. The two offered dueling amendments regarding bullying and underwent extensive debate. Both eventually withdrew their amendments with the expectation to debate the issue again on the senate floor.

Other amendment topics not adopted in committee markup but that could be addressed on the senate floor include Title I comparability (a means of equalizing funding between schools with differing levels of need), interventions for struggling schools, and additional targeted support for certain student populations. Stay tuned for updates once a floor debate is scheduled.

U.S. Senate education leaders release bipartisan bill to rewrite ESEA

This week the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) released their highly anticipated bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), or No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The two authors negotiated the details of the bill, The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, over the past two months and settled on a compromise that would significantly reduce the federal government’s role in education but maintain the annual testing schedule developed under NCLB and exclude a Title I funding portability provision.

To begin, a quick refresher is in order. Chairman Alexander released a draft version of a rewrite of the nation’s primary education law in January and a series of hearings in the HELP committee immediately followed. ATPE submitted testimony in conjunction with those hearings that dealt with testing and accountability and supporting teachers and school leaders. We also weighed in on the discussion draft proposed by Alexander. Meanwhile, on the other side of the U.S. Capitol, House Committee on Education and the Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-MN) released his own version of an ESEA reauthorization bill entitled H.R. 5 – The Student Success Act. H.R. 5 quickly moved through committee in early February and was debated on the floor of the full House in late February. However, in the final hours of debate and with the threat of veto issued from the White House, House leadership delayed the vote. Leaders said that move was made in order to debate a funding bill that faced a midnight deadline, but it is widely understood that the House didn’t have the votes to pass the bill and leaders wanted to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

The Senate HELP Committee will mark up the new Alexander/Murray compromise bill next week on Tuesday, April 14, at 9 a.m. (Central Time). Visit the committee’s website to watch the mark up live or access committee documents on the bill. Some major provisions of the bill are as follows:

Accountability

The Every Child Achieves Act would allow states to develop their own accountability systems, which is a departure from current law. State accountability systems would need to be approved by the U.S. Department of Education (peer review teams would be established to assist the secretary of education in the review of state plans) based on parameters outlined in the bill, such as the inclusion of graduation rates, a measure of post-secondary education or workforce readiness, proficiency rates for English language learners, and standardized test results. However, states would be able to include any additional measures of performance and would have the authority to weight all measures as they see fit. That flexibility would include how much weight is placed on student performance on standardized tests.

States would still be required to report disaggregated data on student subgroups. They would also still be required to identify low-performing schools through accountability system results, but would only monitor school districts as they implement their own methods of evidence-based intervention.

Testing

The most discussed piece of Chairman Alexander’s original draft bill was the portion on testing, which offered two options intended to spur discussion among committee members. The options were to keep the current testing schedule or scrap annual testing and give states a significant amount of leeway in developing their own testing systems. The Every Child Achieves Act maintains the annual testing schedule, but does give states the option to conduct one annual test or a series of smaller tests that combine to a summative score. Additionally, in what is likely an attempt to appease supporters of state-developed systems, the bill creates a pilot program that would initially allow the secretary of education to permit five states to develop innovative testing systems. If successful, the program could be expanded.

Curriculum Standards

States would be required to adopt “challenging state academic standards.” Those standards would not have to be approved by the Department of Education, and the bill specifically states 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 earlier draft bill aimed at school choice involved the portability of Title I funding for low-income students. That language is not included in The Every Child Achieves Act of 2015. Title I portability language has received strong backing from Republicans and would allow Title I funding to follow students from school to school. Democrats and President Obama have opposed the inclusion of such language and the White House based its threat of veto on H.R. 5, in part, on portability language included in the bill.

The new bill consolidates two federal charter school programs into a program that includes three grant programs: High-Quality Charter Schools, Facilities Financing Assistance, and Replication and Expansion. Additional language aims to incentivize better transparency and quality among state charter schools.

Educator Evaluations

States would have a lot of discretion on how to spend money related to teacher quality under Title II. That could include the development of an educator evaluation system, but no state would be required to develop a system, which is departure from current law. Thus, there is no language requiring the inclusion of student outcomes in an educator’s evaluation.

The new bill removes the statutory definition of “highly qualified” as well as some of the requirements surrounding the term and allows states to develop their own definition.

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.

Accountability

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.

Testing

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.

Accountability

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.”

Testing

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.