Newly-elected state Sen. Sarah Eckhardt (D-Austin) was ceremonially sworn into her new office at the Texas State Capitol this week after being formally sworn in a couple of weeks ago. Eckhardt, a former Travis County judge, will fill the Senate District (SD) 14 seat previously held by former Sen. Kirk Watson until its term expires in 2022. Eckhardt posted a photo of the ceremony in a tweet:
Today I was ceremonially sworn in to the Texas Senate. I am the first woman to represent SD 14, and the 10th to serve in this Senate. I am deeply honored for your faith in me. #txlege 1/ pic.twitter.com/GVG3KOpxt9
A shakeup involving a North Texas congressional seat is sending reverberations down through legislative seats in the district. State Sen. Pat Fallon (R-Prosper) was chosen by a GOP committee to replace U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX 4) on the ballot this November. Rep. Ratcliffe vacated his seat in Congress to serve as the appointed Director of National Intelligence (DNI) for the Trump administration. This particular congressional district is considered solidly Republican, which means Fallon will likely be elected the next congressman for the district.
What that means for the Texas Legislature is that Fallon’s Senate seat in SD 30 will likely become vacant, triggering a special election to fill the unexpired term that ends in 2022. State Reps. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), Lynn Stucky (R-Denton), and Jonathan Stickland (R-Bedford) have all been mentioned as potential candidates, as well as Shelley Luther, a Dallas beauty salon owner whose arrest for violating public health orders made her a cause celebre for those who oppose business restrictions tied to COVID-19. Denton Mayor Chris Watts has also been mentioned as a potential candidate.
The vacancy sets up a potential dilemma for GOP House members considering a run in reliably Republican SD 30. Once Fallon vacates his Senate seat, Gov. Greg Abbott is required to set a special election within a set time period. Depending on the timing, that special election could be held on the same day as the Nov. 3 general election. Texas law prohibits a candidate from running for two seats at once, so House members could be required to resign their House seats in order to run for the Senate under that scenario. There are also scenarios in which an election could be held right before or during the 2021 legislative session. Any of those scenarios could leave Republicans down one or more members at the beginning of the legislative session in January when members elect a speaker.
The national story this week was the announcement on Tuesday that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden selected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate. Harris is the first African-American woman and first person of Asian-American descent to appear on a major political party’s presidential ticket. Earlier in the primary, presidential candidate Kamala Harris proposed raising teacher salaries on average by 23%, or roughly $13,500, in order to help close the pay gap between teachers and other professionals. Other Democratic candidates, including Biden, would later include teacher raises in their policy platforms.
This week we’re also highlighting the importance of the U.S. Census and its impact on how Texans are represented. Texas is currently represented in Congress by 36 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with our two U.S. senators. That ranks Texas just behind California (52 members) with the second-largest delegation in Congress overall and the largest Republican delegation. This is important because members representing Texas make up 8% of the total votes in the 435-person U.S. House, giving Texas more legislative power than any other state with the exception of California.
Congressional seats are apportioned to each state based on population, and population is officially recorded every 10 years through the census. The 2020 Census currently underway will determine whether the number of Congressional seats in Texas — and thereby our state’s power in Congress — grows or shrinks. The Trump administration has proposed changes to the way the 2020 Census counts population that would dilute Texas’s power, which makes responding to the census all the more important. You can respond to the 2020 Census right away by clicking here. To find out more about the census and what you can do in order to ensure Texas gets the voting power it deserves, check out this recent article by ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier.
ELECTION UPDATE: Early voting began this week for the Nov. 5 constitutional election. Voters statewide will be deciding whether or not to approve 10 proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution, as well as other local ballot measures. Voters in three House districts will also be electing a new state representative in a special election on the same day.
Early voting continues through Nov. 1. We at ATPE encourage all educators to vote in every election and take advantage of the convenience of early voting at any polling place in your area. Make a voting plan! Use the weekend to learn about what’s on your ballot, and then build and print a sample ballot to take with you to the polls. (Remember that cell phones aren’t allowed to be used in the voting booth!) For additional voting resources, visit TexasEducatorsVote.com.
In other election news, Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced this week that he will not seek re-election in 2020, paving the way for the election of a new speaker in 2021. ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins reported on the announcement, which comes on the heels of a scandal involving a secret recording and allegations of bribery. Read more in this week’s election roundup post on Teach the Vote.
This week we wrapped up our blog series, “New School Year, New Laws,” in which ATPE Lobbyist Andrea Chevalier shared weekly highlights of many education bills passed by the Texas Legislature earlier this year. In the final installment this week, we’re looking at how school districts around the state are implementing the requirements under House Bill (HB) 3 to increase teacher compensation. Check out the compensation-related post here.
Next week, the House Public Education Committee will hold an interim hearing to examine the implementation of HB 3. The meeting on Monday, Oct. 28, 2019, will feature invited testimony only. Stay tuned to Teach the Vote next week and follow us on Twitter for dispatches from the hearing.
The Texas political establishment was rocked by the announcement this week that Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) would not seek reelection. This comes as part of the fallout from a recording scandal involving the speaker, then-chair of the House Republican Caucus Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), and Michael Quinn Sullivan, who leads the political group Empower Texans, which regularly takes anti-public education positions and has spent millions to influence elections in our state, often targeting incumbent legislators who support public schools. Sullivan secretly recorded a meeting with Bonnen and Burrows that took place in June, shortly after the legislative session ended.
Several high-ranking Republican members of the Texas House called on Bonnen to step down earlier this week after audio of the recording was made public. On the tape, both Bonnen and Burrows can be heard attacking cities and counties, as well as seemingly offering to give Empower Texans personnel access to the House floor in exchange for the organization targeting a number of incumbent Republican representatives during the 2020 election cycle. It is worth noting that the majority of the 10 Republicans who were targeted in the recorded discussion are legislators who have been vocal public education supporters. Read more about the recent scandal in this coverage from the Texas Tribune.
ATPE’s state officers met with House Speaker Dennis Bonnen during ATPE at the Capitol in Feb. 2019.
Prior to the events leading up to the speaker’s announcement this week, ATPE worked very closely with Speaker Bonnen and his staff over the course of the 86th legislative session, Bonnen’s first as speaker. In working with the speaker’s office, we were able to help shape House Bill 3, the session’s signature education legislation, and prevent bad bills, such as voucher plans and proposals to do away with educators’ rights to voluntary payroll deduction, from being filed or making significant progress in the House. The leadership vacuum created by Bonnen’s departure will introduce a very different and unpredictable dynamic to the Texas House when members return in January of 2021. This makes electing pro-public education candidates during the 2020 elections all the more important in order to ensure that House members of the 87th Texas Legislature elect a new speaker who supports and prioritizes public education.
In other election-related news, early voting is already underway statewide on proposed amendments to the Texas Constitution. You can find more about those proposals on the ballot in this post by ATPE Political Involvement Coordinator Edwin Ortiz. There are also three special elections for seats in the Texas House currently underway, including one in Fort Bend County that could serve as a bellwether for the 2020 general elections. Read more about that closely watched race here.
Voting in every election is critical in order to keep public education a central focus of legislative and policy decisions. Make sure and vote this week if you haven’t already. Early voting runs through November 1, and election day is November 5. You can find more voting resources by visiting our coalition partners’ website at TexasEducatorsVote.com. Now go vote!
Earlier today, the Office of Texas House Speaker Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) released the committee assignments for the 86th session of the Texas House. Of particular interest to the education community during a session that already appears heavily focused on school finance reform, Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) retains his chairmanship of the House Public Education Committee, and Rep. John Zerwas (R-Fulshear) will continue to chair the House Appropriations Committee.
The list below contains the names of the Chair and Vice-Chair of each respective committee, while the full committee lists for the House can be viewed here:
Agriculture & Livestock
Rep. Drew Springer (R-Muenster), Chair
Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco), Vice-Chair
Rep. John Zerwas (R-Katy), Chair
Rep. Oscar Longoria (D-Mission), Vice-Chair
Business & Industry
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D-San Antonio), Chair
Rep. Drew Darby (R-San Angelo), Vice-Chair
Rep. Four Price (R-Amarillo), Chair
Rep. Joseph Moody (D-El Paso), Vice Chair
Rep. James White (R-Hillister), Chair
Rep. Alma Allen (D-Houston), Vice-Chair
Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Chair
Rep. Dwayne Bohac (R-Houston), Vice-Chair
Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), Chair
Rep. William “Bill” Zedler (R-Arlington), Vice-Chair
Culture, Recreation & Tourism
Rep. John Cyrier (R-Lockhart), Chair
Rep. Armando Martinez (D-Weslaco), Vice-Chair
Defense & Veterans’ Affairs
Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Canton), Chair
Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington), Vice-Chair
Rep. Stephanie Klick ( R-Fort Worth), Chair
Rep. Philip Cortez (D-San Antonio), Vice-Chair
Rep. Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), Chair
Rep. Abel Herrero (D-Robstown), Vice-Chair
Rep. J.M. Lozano (R-Kingsville), Chair
Rep. Ed Thompson (R-Brazoria), Vice-Chair
Rep. Morgan Meyer (R-Dallas), Chair
Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), Vice-Chair
Rep. Chris Turner (D-Tarrant), Chair
Rep. Lynn Stucky (R-Denton), Vice-Chair
Homeland Security & Public Safety
Rep. Poncho Nevarez (D-Eagle Pass), Chair
Rep. Paul Dennis (R-Houston), Vice-Chair
Rep. Charlie Geren (R-Fort Worth), Chair
Rep. Donna Howard (D-Austin), Vice-Chair
Rep. James Frank (R-Wichita Falls), Chair
Rep. Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin), Vice-Chair
Rep. Eddie Lucio III (D-Brownsville), Chair
Rep. Tom Oliverson (R-Cypress), Vice-Chair
International Relations & Economic Development
Rep. Rafael Anchia (D-Dallas), Chair
Rep. John Frullo (R-Lubbock), Vice-Chair
Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), Chair
Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), Vice-Chair
Juvenile Justice & Family Issues
Rep. Harold Dutton (D-Houston), Chair
Rep. Andrew Murr (R-Junction), Vice-Chair
Land & Resource Management
Rep. Tom Craddick (R-Midland), Chair
Rep. Sergio Munoz Jr. (D-Palmview), Vice-Chair
Licensing & Administrative Records
Rep. Tracy King (D-Uvalde), Chair
Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), Vice-Chair
Local & Consent Calendars
Rep. Geanie W. Morrison (R-Victoria) Chair
Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-El Paso), Vice-Chair
Rep. Lyle Larson (R-San Antonio), Chair
Rep. Will Metcalf (R-Conroe), Vice-Chair
Pensions, Investments, & Financial Services
Rep. Jim Murphy (R-Houston), Chair
Rep. Hubert Vo (D-Houston), Vice-Chair
Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood), Chair
Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), Vice-Chair
Rep. Senfronia Thompson (D-Harris), Chair
Rep. John Wray (R-Waxahachie), Vice-Chair
Rep. Phil King (R-Parker), Chair
Rep. Chris Turner (D-Tarrant), Vice-Chair
Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Chair
Rep. Rick Miller (R-Sugar Land), Vice-Chair
Rep. Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont), Chair
Rep. Ana Hernandez (D-Houston), Vice-Chair
Rep. Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Chair
Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa), Vice-Chair
Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Richardson), Chair
Rep. Matt Shaheen (R-Plano), Vice Chair
Ways & Means
Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock), Chair
Rep. Ryan Guillen (D-Rio Grande City), Vice Chair
Again, a full list of the complete House committee assignments for 2019 can be found here. Also, view the Senate committee assignments for this session here.
Tuesday, January 8, kicked off the 86th Texas Legislative Session amid great fanfare at the State Capitol.
Representative Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) was unanimously elected and sworn in as the new Speaker of the House on Tuesday afternoon. For the past 10 years, the House has been under the leadership of Rep. Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) who retired from the position and the legislature at the end of his term this month. Bonnen announced in November 2018 that he had amassed the requisite number of pledged votes to render the speaker’s race not much of a race at all. After that there was only the vote and ceremonial swearing in, which took place on Tuesday. Read more about Bonnen’s ascent to speaker in this post shared from The Texas Tribune.
On the Senate side, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) was missing from Tuesday’s proceedings while visiting with President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, that day on the subject of border security. Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) presided over the upper chamber’s opening ceremonies in his place. The Senate swore in its new members and also elected Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin) to serve as President Pro Tempore this session.
Gov. Greg Abbott spoke briefly to welcome the members of each chamber, signaling his intent for the legislature to tackle school finance reform and property tax relief this session. Bonnen and Watson also highlighted the prominence of the school funding issue this session, with new House Speaker going as far as announcing that he had stocked the members’ lounge with special styrofoam cups to remind them of their top priority: school finance reform. Improving the state’s school finance system is also a top legislative priority for ATPE this year.
ATPE Lobbyists Mark Wiggins and Monty Exter snapped a selfie with Humble ATPE’s Gayle Sampley and her husband at the Capitol on opening day.
ATPE’s lobbyists were at the Capitol on opening day and will be there for all of the action this legislative session. Be sure to follow @TeachtheVote and our individual lobbyists on Twitter for the latest updates from the Capitol.
ATPE members are also encouraged to sign up for free to attend our upcoming lobby day and political involvement training event known as ATPE at the Capitol on Feb. 24-25, 2019. Find complete details here.
While the legislative session officially began on Tuesday, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar made news the day before with his release of the state’s Biennial Revenue Estimate (BRE). The BRE details how much money the state plans to receive and how much of it can be spent in any given legislative session.
Monday’s BRE announcement predicted revenue of $119.12 billion for the 2020-21 biennium. This biennium’s BRE comes with tempered expectations, which Hegar attributed to a drop in oil prices, market volatility, and rising interest rates. “Looking ahead to the 2020-21 biennium, we remain cautiously optimistic but recognize we are unlikely to see continued revenue growth at the unusually strong rates we have seen in recent months.” Hegar said in the report.
Once the comptroller has released the BRE for each legislature, the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) meets to set the session’s constitutionally-required spending limit. ATPE Senior Lobbyist Monty Exter reports that the LBB met today and set a limit of $100.2 billion for spending this session. The constitutional spending limit is set by applying the percentage of growth, which is determined by many factors, to the previous biennium’s spending limit. The constitutional limit applies only to expenditures of general revenue that is not constitutionally-dedicated. By comparison, the non-dedicated-revenue spending limit for the 85th session in 2017 was roughly $91 billion, whereas the total general revenue appropriated by the legislature that year was $106.6 Billion. As Exter explains, neither withdrawals from the Economic Stabilization Fund (the state’s so-called “Rainy Day Fund”) nor supplemental appropriations for the current biennium will count toward the constitutional limit that was announced today.
The Legislature must now decide what to do with its available revenue. Rest assured, they haven’t been given a blank check to do as they please. According to reporting by the Center For Public Policy Priorities the legislature must immediately spend $563 million as back pay for Medicaid funding that was deferred until this session. The legislature will also have to determine where $2.7 billion for Hurricane Harvey recovery costs will come from.
For more detailed reporting on the BRE as well as link to the full report, check out this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
Late last week, the House Committee on Public Education released its interim report covering the committee’s work over the past year on interim charges assigned to it by the House Speaker. The report, which spans 88 pages, includes recommendations on how to approach a variety of education-related issues this session, such as Hurricane Harvey relief, teacher compensation, and school safety.
Rep. Dan Huberty (R-Kingwood) chairs the committee that produced its interim report. Among the suggestions were recommendations to consider possible legislation to help schools quickly replace instructional materials due to Harvey; creating paths to career growth for educators that would allow them to stay in the classroom, such as a “Master Teacher” certification; and making Individual Graduation Committees (IGCs) permanently available for students who have difficulty with STAAR testing.
You can read more about the committee’s interim charge recommendations in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins. Read the interim report here.
In a statement released to the press on Monday, Governor Greg Abbott announced his appointment of Edward Hill, Jr., Ed.D., John P. Kelly, Ph.D., Courtney Boswell MacDonald, and Jose M. Rodriguez to the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). The new appointees are replacing retiring SBEC members Suzanne McCall of Lubbock; Dr. Susan Hull of Grand Prairie; and Leon Leal of Grapevine.
ATPE thanks the members rolling off the SBEC board for their years of service and welcomes the new members. We look forward to working together with them to continue to improve the education profession for the betterment of Texas students.
On Wednesday, the board voted to increase its distribution from the Public School Fund to 2.9%. This action takes place after a dispute earlier this year between the SBOE and the General Land Office’s School Land Board (SLB). Both the SBOE and the SLB manage investment portfolios that fund public education, but an unusual move by the SLB to bypass the SBOE and put funding directly into the Available School Fund (ASF) means that the SBOE will have less money to support classrooms directly.
Other topics of discussion this week included the streamlining of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) for social studies, the board’s final discussion on the Long Range Plan (LRP) for public education, and the SBOE’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session in 2019.
The Board also heard from Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner Mike Morath. The commissioner addressed concerns that the agency’s Legislative Appropriations Request (LAR) seeks less state funding than in previous years, telling the board the agency is simply following the funding formulas established by the legislature.
During the Board’s discussion with Commissioner Morath, members also requested updates on issues such as Senate Bill (SB) 1882, a bill passed during the 85th legislative session that allows public school districts to partner with privately-run charter schools; the recent ruling by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld the U.S. Department of Education’s punitive actions against Texas for underfunding special education programs; and transparency regarding the instructional materials portal launched in 2017.
In a press conference earlier this week, state Rep. Dennis Bonnen (R-Angleton) announced that the race for Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives was “over,” as he had secured enough pledges for votes to make him the definitive winner. While the Speaker’s race won’t officially be over until January, when the House convenes for the 86th legislative session and formally votes for the next speaker, that hasn’t stopped Bonnen from proceeding as the presumptive speaker-elect, hiring key staff and putting in place a transition team.
Rep. Bonnen suggested that school finance will be the top priority of the Texas House in the upcoming legislative session, and he has vowed to work with his counterpart across the rotunda. Bonnen and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick released a joint statement this week affirming their commitment to unity and working together in the upcoming session. Rep. Bonnen wrote, “The Lieutenant Governor and I share a strong commitment to doing the people’s business.”
School finance commission working group on revenues meeting, November 13, 2018.
On Tuesday, the Texas Commission on Public School Finance working group on revenues discussed the issue of wealth equalization through recapture, which is commonly referred to as “Robin Hood” under the current school finance system.
Led by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston), the group heard testimony from a variety of stakeholders, including former state Sen. Tommy Williams, who testified on behalf of the governor’s office. Williams delivered the first public explanation of the governor’s plan to cap local tax revenue. A detailed account of the meeting can be found in this blog post by ATPE Lobbyist Mark Wiggins.
The Democrat wants to draw teachers and education-minded voters away from the Republican Party. But can he win over enough educators to unseat a powerful incumbent?
Democrat Mike Collier (left) is challenging Republican incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Photos by Bob Daemmrich: Collier/Marjorie Kamys Cotera: Patrick.
TAYLOR — It was a weekday morning, and Williamson County’s retired teachers were back in school.
Dozens of them gathered one October Friday in a large conference room off of Main Street Intermediate School, where the walls were beige concrete blocks, the sunlight was sneaking through the blinds, and the speakers — a slate of Texas candidates — were fighting to keep the room’s interest. Casting a shadow on the projector screen at the front of the room was Mike Collier, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, who was preparing to hit a softball: Does Texas need its state retirement benefits system for teachers?
“Yes,” he said simply. “First of all, it’s the right thing to do. … It’s self-evident.”
He began to make a pulpit of his plastic table.
“And we’re a prosperous state! And we can afford it!” he continued, finger-wagging for emphasis. When he sat down, the room applauded.
On his longshot campaign to unseat incumbent Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Collier is hoping he’s popular in a lot of rooms that look like this one — where after hearing from him, education-focused voters in a reliably red county said in interviews that they planned to vote for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, then cross over to back Collier.
Collier, a Houston accountant and a failed 2014 candidate for Texas comptroller, is at a deep, perhaps insurmountable disadvantage in deep-red Texas, where Patrick has served in state government for more than a decade and accumulated about 35 times as much cash on hand.
Still, Collier says he can see a path to victory — and it starts here, in a crowd of retired teachers, scribbling on the bingo card-like sheets they’ve prepared for the occasion, sipping coffee out of teeny foam cups, some nodding along and a few nodding off.
But are there enough rooms like this to carry him to victory?
“The most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas”
Patrick is the heavy favorite to keep his seat in a state that hasn’t elected a Democrat to statewide office in more than 20 years. He has the fundraising muscle, the endorsements and, more than likely, the reliable voters of a reliably dominant majority party.
As the leader of the Texas Senate, Patrick is one of the most powerful Republicans in the state, and he’s used his influence to push socially conservative policies through the upper chamber at an impressive clip — abortion restrictions, border enforcement, anti-“sanctuary cities” laws. Republican senators credit him with firm, effective leadership; liberals consider that effectiveness perhaps the state’s greatest threat to their values.
Patrick chaired President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign efforts in Texas, and shared the stage with him at a campaign rally in Houston this week, drawing some of the loudest applause of the night. Patrick is, state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, said at a recent campaign event, “the most conservative lieutenant governor in the history of Texas.”
But his party isn’t without its disagreements. Some have pointed to a split between Patrick, who heads a Tea Party-aligned faction of the party, and retiring House Speaker Joe Straus, a more moderate figure. During the last legislative year, that split emerged in full force when Patrick pushed forward a bill that would have restricted transgender individuals’ access to certain public facilities. Straus condemned it as bad for business, and never brought it to the House floor for a vote — a move that contributed to his censure by the State Republican Executive Committee.
Tensions from the 2017 legislative sessions have bled into this fall’s campaign, if in limited fashion. One example: Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, a Republican who leads Texas’ most populous county, said he plans to vote for Collier.
But a family feud won’t keep a Republican incumbent from getting re-elected, strategists and elected officials predict. Patrick has the public support of Texas’ top Republicans; his campaign boasts the endorsements of both of Texas’ U.S. senators, the governor and all but one Republican state senator.
“There’s no question” that Patrick will win re-election, said state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, an ally of the lieutenant governor. Bettencourt represents the Houston district Patrick served until 2014 — heavily overlapping with Emmett’s turf — and said he’s confident that Patrick has the support of the region. “Dan Patrick is going to be re-elected. Dan Patrick is very popular in the Republican party.”
Still, if there are disenchanted Republican moderates to be picked off, Collier is working to endear himself to them.
In a year when even Texas Democrats are running as unabashed progressives, Collier has charted a more careful path. His party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate is a former punk rocker who went viral for skateboarding in a Whataburger parking lot while on the campaign trail. For governor, Democrats have nominated Lupe Valdez, the state’s first openly gay and Latina candidate to win the nod.
Collier does not ride a skateboard. At 57, he’s spent much of his life working as an accountant, and he only recently committed to the Democratic party — he voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. He seems most comfortable talking numbers — “I’m Dan Patrick’s worst nightmare! I’m a Democrat and an auditor!” he likes to say — and seems less sure-footed discussing social issues.
On the death penalty, for example, Collier said he is still “evolving” toward a more liberal point of view. Collier justifies his support for undocumented immigrants in Texas in financial terms, not on moral grounds: They draw about $2 billion in state resources a year, but contribute about $2.7 billion back through property taxes, he says, so, “it doesn’t bother me that they’re here.” His line is similar on LGBTQ rights. In an interview last month, he couldn’t list inclusive legislation he’d push, but said he did “have in mind blocking” measures considered hostile to the gay community, like the so-called “bathroom bill.”
“Tolerance and inclusiveness is good for business,” Collier said, a line he could almost have borrowed from Straus.
“Public enemy number one for public education”
If Collier is positioning himself to draw center-right Republicans back over the line, public education may be his best issue. Patrick is not an uncontroversial figure among teachers, retired teachers and public school parents.
As a former chair of the Texas Senate’s public education committee and as the leader of the upper chamber, Patrick has championed what he calls “school choice” and critics, many of them public school educators, call “vouchers” — programs that would give Texas families subsidies to fund private school tuition for their kids. During last summer’s special session, as the Legislature debated an influx of cash for public schools, the Texas House offered up $1.8 billion — $1.5 billion more than Patrick’s Texas Senate proposed.
“When you have 700,000 school employees, they’re not all going to be on the same page. That said, I do feel like if there’s any one person out there that they’re most unified about it’s probably the lieutenant governor,” said Monty Exter, a lobbyist at the Association of Texas Professional Educators.
As a senator, Exter said, Patrick “was pushing reforms that lots of educators are not necessarily in favor of. He doesn’t seem to favor class-size restrictions and they really, really do. He really does favor vouchers and they really, really don’t. And the funding issues have died in his hands or at his hands.”
Meanwhile, Patrick portrays himself as a champion for public schools. This summer, after his urging, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas opted not to raise health care premiums for retired teachers. In an ad last week, he reiterated his proposal to raise teacher salaries by an average of $10,000.
“Teachers are more valuable than expensive buildings and fancy stadiums,” Patrick says in the commercial, standing on a sunny hill in front of a truck. “It’s my priority, it’s best for our kids and it’s the right thing to do.”
But many in the public education community are skeptical about that plan in a system they say is already underfunded. Tracy Fisher, the president of Coppell ISD’s board and a Republican precinct chair in Dallas County, called the lieutenant governor’s proposal “deceptive.” He is “public enemy number one for public education,” she added.
And the effort hasn’t won Patrick favor from major teachers groups, some of whom have called his efforts disingenuous. Collier won the endorsements of the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas’ chapter of American Federation of Teachers; AFT president Louis Malfaro said Patrick has “tried to browbeat local school districts.” In its first-ever endorsements of statewide candidates, the public education group Texas Parent PAC also backed Collier, calling Patrick a bully and ideologue “who cannot be trusted to protect and strengthen our neighborhood public schools.”
Patrick’s campaign said those groups hardly speak for all Texas teachers. But the incumbent’s recent teacher raise ad shows he’s still focused on courting educators.
“While almost all the organizations that represent teachers are left-leaning and Democrat, in fact, Texas teachers tell us that most are Republicans who support border security, property tax reform and the innovative education reforms, including career tech, that have been championed by the Lt. Governor,” said Sherry Sylvester, a top Patrick aide.
Republican strategist Brendan Steinhauser said dissatisfied educators may narrow Patrick’s margin of victory, but they won’t threaten it.
“Do I think that feeling is widespread enough to cause concern for Dan Patrick? No,” he said.
A “sleeping giant”?
There are about 700,000 public school employees in Texas; that number doubles when you include retirees in the system, and multiplies if you add parents who consider public education their top voting issue. Collier is counting on that diverse group to back him as a block — but those voters have a wide range of backgrounds and political leanings. And they don’t always show up.
“The expectation is that teachers just don’t vote,” Exter said. “But I feel like what we’ve been seeing over the last couple of elections is that the enthusiasm and participation of educators is on the rise.”
Last year, in the wake of disappointments at the Legislature, many educators pledged to come together — including, and especially, across party lines — to support pro-public education candidates. In the months since, they’ve moved their advocacy from the Capitol steps to the internet, where nearly 27,000 have joined a Facebook group, Texans For Public Education, whose stated mission is block voting. The group, which color-codes its list of candidates, marked Collier green — “friendly,” “block vote” — and Patrick red: “unfriendly” to public education.
Collier is counting on turning them out to vote for him. But that bet has failed before.
Just ask Jim Largent, who retired as Granbury ISD superintendent this year after a failed primary challenge to state Rep. Mike Lang, a fellow North Texas Republican. Running as the pro-public education candidate, Largent won just 38 percent of the vote. In the Houston area, Fort Bend ISD board president Kristin Tassin suffered the same fate, taking just 27 percent of the vote in a challenge to state Sen. Joan Huffman that Tassin hoped teachers would swing in her favor.
A similar pattern emerged in the lieutenant governor’s race, where Patrick was one of just a few statewide officials to draw a serious primary challenger. Patrick’s opponent was Scott Milder, the founder of the advocacy group Friends of Texas Public Schools, who drew some attention for bad-mouthing Patrick — he called the incumbent a “bully,” a “jackass” and even a “fake conservative” —but remained the clear underdog in financial support and name recognition. Milder pushed the Patrick campaign to spend over $5 million on advertising, but ultimately won just under a quarter of Republican primary voters — a smaller share than either Tassin or Largent. Within days of the loss, Milder endorsed Collier.
Looking back on his attempt, Largent called Texas educators the electorate’s “sleeping giant.” The question, he said, is whether in a general election they’re more likely to wake up.
“I have always thought that Mike had a better shot than I did in the primary,” Milder said. “So few people actually turn out in the primary. … But a much broader base of Texans shows up in the general.”
Collier argues that the pro-public education voting block he envisions is more likely to swing a general election than a primary. Considering Democrats and Republicans who backed Milder, more people voted against Patrick in the primary than for him, Collier likes to point out.
There is also a Libertarian candidate in this fall’s race, Kerry McKennon.
“I do think that my race is as competitive as any,” Collier said. “There are going to be Republicans who stay home because they hate Dan Patrick. There are going to be a lot of Democrats who turn out because they hate Dan Patrick.”
The incumbent’s team isn’t so sure of that, though they did spend some $6.5 million on advertising in the last quarter to make extra sure. They have history on their side — and history suggests they have the numbers on their side, too.
At a rainy get out the vote rally in New Braunfels last week, Patrick projected confidence.
“There are folks like us who are going to keep Texas red — who are not going to let the blue wave take us out,” Patrick promised a cheering, bundled-up crowd.
While introducing Patrick, Campbell, the Republican state senator, summed it up neatly.
“I’ll tell you, they are motivated!” she said of Democrats. “But there are more of us than them.”
Disclosure: The Association of Texas Professional Educators, the Texas State Teachers Association and Texas AFT have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.
On Tuesday, the House Select Committee on Economic Competitiveness released its formal report containing recommendations for ensuring Texas remains the nation’s most desirable destination for relocating or opening up new businesses.
Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) formed the committee in October 2017 in response to concerns that the 85th Texas Legislature pursued a number of legislative proposals that resulted in Texas dropping precipitously in the rankings of America’s Top States for Business.
“Texas has long enjoyed a booming economy and staggering job growth. Our economic strength has been predicated on a number of factors: high oil prices, geography, the tax and regulatory environment within the state, and the can-do attitude of millions of Texans,” Straus explained when he announced the committee. “However, there are forces, if left unchecked, that could derail the success our state has enjoyed.”
The committee conducted several hearings and weighed testimony from 42 prominent and influential witnesses from the business, law enforcement and local communities. The committee documented several findings related to education. Most notably, the report underscored the important role public schools play in ensuring the educated workforce necessary to sustain businesses operating in today’s economy. The following passage is taken directly from the committee’s report:
Public education teaches students basic skills before entering the workforce and fosters innovation. Policymakers must deal with school finance, examining not just the amount of money allocated for education, but how we distribute it — and how we can better incentivize public educators and institutions. The governor’s recently proposed 2.5 percent cap on property tax revenue will be detrimental to school funding since school districts receive 40 to 60 percent of property taxes across the state. The Texas House passed a 6 percent cap during the 85th Legislature, but the measure was killed by the Senate; this new proposal will severely reduce school resources unless more funding is appropriated by the legislature.
House Bill 21 of the 85th Legislature would have increased the state’s share of school funding and reduced the need for higher property taxes — easing the burden on homeowners — but the legislation died after being altered by the Senate. After all, how can the challenges facing the future competitiveness of the state’s workforce be addressed if Texas turns its back on its public school system, or does not address its method for allocating resources to public schools?
The importance of local control for school districts was stressed with the explanation that local control granted from the state is important for hiring staff and providing a safe campus for students. Educators want their graduates to meet the specific needs of where their district is located, which makes local control imperative for creating curriculum and making decisions about how to meet those needs. Testimony also demonstrated the need for presenting high school students with information about technical programs, rather than only promoting four-year universities. Public schools must address the needs of students with disabilities, but programs to help them transition to the workplace and speech, occupational and physical therapies are consistently underfunded.
Based upon these observations, the committee included a number of proposals specifically related to public education. From the report:
Recommendation: The legislature must prioritize funding for public education that is regularly adjusted to account for growth in population and inflation. Policymakers should closely examine the effectiveness of public education expenditures to ensure that dollars are used to maximize student success, and ensure the state’s academic accountability system increases the performance of schools and students.
In response to declines in state tax revenue, the 82nd Legislature reduced entitlement funding for public education by $5.4 billion. While subsequent legislatures have increased funding for public education, the majority of funds have been used only to cover costs created by the growth in the number of students.
Adjusted for increases in population and inflation, state spending on public education has decreased by nearly 16 percent since 2008. At the same time, there has been an increase in the number of students who are classified as “economically disadvantaged” and are therefore more expensive to educate.
As the majority of new funding provided by the legislature simply addresses population growth, there have been few opportunities to invest in programs that have proven to increase academic achievement — such as technical career education, science, technology, engineering and mathematics or STEM courses, dual-credit offerings, and bilingual education.
As the state’s share of public education funding has declined, the burden on local property taxes and recapture payments has grown, eliminating any opportunity for local property tax rates to be reduced. About 54 percent of all property taxes paid in Texas are collected by school districts. Therefore, the fastest and most effective way to reduce the property-tax burden is for the state to pay more of the cost of public education.
Many of the school finance formula weights and allotments — such as the Cost of Education Index or Transportation Allotment — have not been updated or adjusted for the effects of population and inflation in more than two decades. Increases in state funding should be tied to regular adjustment of these weights, combined with the elimination of funding elements that are inefficient or no longer represent the diverse needs of Texas’ public education system.
The legislature must increase funding for special education programs and Early Childhood Intervention programs so that children with disabilities can successfully enter pre-kindergarten programs, while also providing more reliable funding for programs that help students with disabilities transition to the workplace.
Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R-Corsicana) submitted the report Tuesday. It will be presented to the 86th Texas Legislature, which is scheduled to meet in January 2019. You read the full report here, courtesy of the Texas Tribune.
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) is sending a strong message to educators across Texas: The Speaker stands with educators who are encouraging a culture of voting across the state, and against recent voter intimidation efforts directed at the education community.
As the first week of early voting continues, Speaker Straus reminded voters that the polls are open this weekend for those who would like to vote early in the March 6 primary. Early voting continues through March 2, and polls will be open again from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day, March 6.
In his letter, the Speaker explicitly called out voter intimidation efforts aimed at educators. It’s no secret that educators are mobilizing like never before ahead of the March 6 primary elections, and many school districts are enthusiastically exercising their legal obligation to encourage voting and civic engagement. As a member of the Texas Educators Vote coalition, ATPE has worked alongside other education and civic groups to increase voter turnout among educators and share nonpartisan election resources with school employees. These efforts came under attack earlier this year when state Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) engaged Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in a naked attempt to chill these efforts.
Soon after, the state’s most notorious privately funded special interest group staged its own voter intimidation campaign directed at teachers. The campaign backfired spectacularly, with the internet uniting behind the social media hashtag #BlowingTheWhistle to highlight the impactful stories of dedicated educators making a difference. ATPE wrote about the Twitter backlash on our Teach the Vote blog.
In his letter Friday, Straus wrote:
“I’ve often said that we need more Texans voting in primaries so that candidates are responsive and accountable to a broader set of Texans and their concerns. Unfortunately, some elected leaders in Austin and their allies have been trying to discourage voting among one important group of Texans: School teachers.
Some members of our community have received a letter from an Austin special interest group criticizing local school leaders for promoting a “culture of voting.” This group apparently feels threatened by the fact that education leaders are encouraging civic participation.
It’s easy to understand why educators and others who support public schools want to vote. Those of us who have prioritized public education have been met with resistance from other elected leaders. As a result, our school finance system still desperately needs reform, and the lack of state dollars going into public education is driving local property taxes higher and higher.”
During the 2017 legislative session, Speaker Straus led the Texas House in blocking harmful bills aimed at weakening the public education system and fought to pass a school finance reform bill that would have increased school funding by as much as $1.9 billion. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and the Texas Senate killed that bill, which would have benefited 5.4 million Texas students, as payback.
ATPE lobbyists presented House Speaker Joe Straus with an honorary resolution adopted by the ATPE House of Delegates in July 2017.
Speaker Straus was honored as “Texan of the Year” by the Dallas Morning News for his efforts to avoid controversial crusades and keep the legislature focused on the business of improving Texans’ lives. This week, he was awarded “International Citizen of the Year” as well by the World Affairs Council of San Antonio. During the 2017 special session, ATPE also presented Straus with an honorary resolution adopted by our House of Delegates last summer in recognition of his support for public education.
Educators MUST VOTE NOW or risk facing a hostile legislature in 2019. ATPE encourages you to look up who’s running in your area on the CANDIDATES page of our website, then go to the polls and use your teacher voice!
Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) issued five interim charges today related to Hurricane Harvey. He tasked three House committees, including the House Committee on Public Education, with studying issues related to the recent hurricane as well as preparations for future natural disasters. House Public Education Committee Chairman Dan Huberty (R-Houston) plans to hold a public hearing on the charges in the coming weeks.
The five interim charges:
Committee on Appropriations: Examine the use of federal funds by state agencies responding to the effects of Harvey and identify opportunities to maximize the use of federal funds to reduce the impact of future natural disasters. Also identify the need for state resources to respond to Hurricane Harvey relief and recovery efforts, as well as opportunities for state investment in infrastructure projects that will reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Committee on Public Education: Determine, to the extent possible, the scope of financial losses, including facilities, that resulted from Harvey. Recommend possible state actions, such as changes to student counts or property valuation, to mitigate any negative impact on districts and ensure governance structures and parameters allow for effective responses.
Committee on Public Education: Recommend any measures needed at the state level to prevent unintended punitive consequences to both students and districts in the state accountability system as a result of Harvey and its aftermath.
Committee on Public Education: Examine the educational opportunities offered to students displaced by Harvey throughout the state and the process by which districts enroll and serve those students. Recommend any changes that could improve the process for students or help districts serving a disproportionate number of displaced students.
Committee on Natural Resources: Examine the following issues within the committee’s jurisdiction regarding Harvey and flooding in general: the role of regional entities in developing projects to control flooding, both through new infrastructure and enhancing existing infrastructure; mitigation efforts that would reduce the impact of future flood events, and strategies to fund those efforts; and the response of public entities that own or operate dams to large-scale rain events, including how such entities make decisions regarding dam and reservoir operations during such events, coordinate with state and local emergency management officials, and communicate with the public.
Speaker Straus plans to release a full list of interim charges, which will include additional charges related to Hurricane Harvey, in the next couple of months. His full press release on the announcement can be read here.
A NONPARTISAN VOTER EDUCATION PROJECT OF THE ASSOCIATION OF TEXAS PROFESSIONAL EDUCATORS